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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Bob Dylan, Heaven & Hell and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009

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Bob Dylan, “Together Through Life” (Columbia) ***

When you ponder what makes Bob Dylan great — still great — 48 years and 46 albums into his recording career, it’s the fact that he not only remains vital and engaged in his work but also has the capacity to change and surprise in a way that few of his peers have demonstrated. This time he comes off one of his most successful albums, 2006’s sweeping and highly contemporary sounding “Modern Times,” with a rootsy gem whose dusty soundscape sounds like it could have been recorded at Chess Studios in the mid’50s, or in some garage on the Texas-Mexico border — which does not mean “Together Through Life” sounds bad, just that it captures a discernible mood from the brassy, Latin-flavored blues groove of “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” to the lively, name-checking shuffle of “It’s All Good.” The project grew from “Life is a Hard,” a gentle, melancholy piece Dylan wrote for French director Oliver Dahan’s (“La Vie En Rose”) next film, then branched out in a decidedly bluesy direction, with Dylan mashing guitars with Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Hearbreakers and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, who also plays accordion on most of these 10 tracks. Dylan growls his way through the playfully acerbic “My Wife’s Home Town” and “Jolene” and puts a bit of dirty old man leer on for “Shake, Shake Mama.” “This Dream of You” blends Old Tyme country with more Latin accents, while “If You Ever Go to Houston” strikes a more melodic pop bounce and “Forgetful Heart” stirs in a wistful, understated prettiness. About the only time Dylan frustrates us here is at the end of “Feel a Change Coming On,” when the beginning of what promises to be a hot guitar solo fades out, making us want to hear the rest that much more. But if Dylan’s proven anything during his career is that more will likely come — and it’ll probably surprise us when it does.


Heaven & Hell, “The Devil You Know” (Rhino) **1/2

The first album in 17 years from the third version of Black Sabbath — rechristened two years ago after the title of its 1980 album — is exactly what fans would expect and want. Perhaps to a fault. But the sound of this particular quartet, no matter what you call it, is so definitive and identifiable that to alter it in any way would be foolhardy. So “The Devil...” is fulled with doomy, descending power chords, galloping rhythms and an epic, gothstyled majesty that’s oft imitated but never really duplicated. Ronnie James Dio still has one of metal’s most commanding voices, but guitarist Tony Iommi remains the star of the show, particularly shining on tracks such as “Bible Black,” “Neverwhere” and “Rock and Roll Angel” — which even closes with a bit of acoustic! guitar, which once would have made heaven and hell freeze over.

New & Noteworthy:

A Camp, “Colonia” (Nettwerk): The Swedish group, fronted by the Cardigans’ Nina Persson, makes its U.S. debut with its overall sophomore album, which features guest appearances by former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, Joan (as Policewoman) Wasser and Kevin March (Dambuilders, Guided By Voices).

Black Crowes, “War Paint Live” (Eagle Rock): The Georgia-bred rockers deliver their entire latest album live, along with some other select favorites.

The Cocktail Slippers, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (Wicked Cool): Little Steven Van Zant returned to the production ranks to helm the debut set from this all-female Norwegian garage rock quintet.

Chick Corea & John McLaughlin, “Five Peace Band Live” (Concord): A fierce concert set from the jazz fusion masters and some famous mates — Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, Vinie Colaiuta and Brian Blade.

Will Daily, “By the Blue Hill” (CBS): The Boston singer-songwriter continues to release his sophomore album, “Torrent,” in the form of EPs, with this one following January’s “Fashion of Distraction.”

The Disciplines, “Smoking Kills” (Second Motion/ Redeye): Ken Stringfellow of Posies, R.E.M. and Big Star fame joined forces with three members of Norway’s Briskeby for this set of literate garagestyled rock. “Nobody Left to Crown.”

Tim Easton, “Porcupine” (New West): Easton stays true to his folk-rock sound on his fifth album, which features guitar contributions by Lucinda Williams band alumnus Kenny Vaughn.

Ben Folds, “Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella!” (Epic): The piano man introduces vocal-only versions of his songs by 15 college troupes (plus two of his own recordings) that prove to be as engaging as Folds’ own original renditions.

Melody Gardot, “My One and Only Thrill” (Verve): The jazz-pop singer’s second album was produced by the seemingly, but deservedly, ominipresent Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Madeline Peyroux).

Great Northern, “Remind Me Where the Light Is” (Eenie Meenie): The Los Angeles duo shows the lessons of heavy touring in support of its 2007 debut on this sophomore effort.

Ben Lee, “The Rebirth of Venus” (New West): The Australian expatriate found the muse for his seventh studio outing in Venus, the god of love and beauty — in other words, more songs about girls.

Los Straitjackets, “The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets” (Yep Roc): The masked men return for their first all-instrumental album since “Supersonic Guitars in 3-D” in 2003.

Marion Meadows, “Secrets” (Heads Up):

Saxophonist Meadows taps an array of friends — including trumpeter Jesse McGuire, singers Charlie Karp and Brian Chartrand, and percussionists Orly Penate and Tony Verdejo — on his latest outing.

Alice Peacock, “Love Remains” (Peacock Music):

The Chicago-based singer-songwriter struts her stuff on her first release in three years.

Pilot Speed, “Wooden Bones” (Wind-Up): The Canadian rock quartet explores economy (i.e. shorter songs) rather than the lengthy opuses found on 2006’s “Into the West.”

Zachary Richard, “Last Kiss” (Artist Garage): Celine Dion guests on this Louisiana artist/activist’s charged new set of songs.

Asher Roth, “Asleep in the Bread Aisle” (Universal Motown): The Philadelphiaarea rapper has heard enough Eminem comparisons to name one of his tracks “As I Em,” but neither Roth nor those who hear him are likely to confuse the two.

Spyro Gyra, “Down the Wire” (Heads Up): The longlived jazz troupe welcomes back former member Marc Quinones, now with the Allman Brothers Band, on its new album.

Various Artists, “Playing For Change — Songs Around the World” (Hear Music): U2 frontman Bono, Keb’ Mo’ and, by tape, the late Bob Marley contribute to this CD/DVD collection of recordings made by an ad hoc collective of artists from around the world.

Young Love, “One of Us” (Island Def Jam): The second album from the dance music auteur who had the club crowd grooving to 2007’s “Too Young to Fight It.”

From the Vaults

Joan Baez, “Ring Them Bells” and “Gone From Danger” (both Bobolink/ Razor & Tie); Boyz II Men, “Cooleyhighharmony — Expanded Edition” (Hip-O Select); Sweet, “Action: The Sweet Anthology” (Shout! Factory)

New Music DVDs

Rivers Cuomo, “Not Alone — Rivers Cuomo & Friends Live at Fingerprints” (DGC/ Interscope); Miles Davis, “That’s What Happened: Live in Germany 1981” (Eagle Rock); Charles Mingus, “Epitaph” (Eagle Rock); Barbra Streisand, “Streisand The Concerts” (Live Nation/S2BN)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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