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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Green Day, Hill Country Revue and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009

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Green Day

"21st Century Breakdown"


3.5 stars

Twenty-two years ago, the Jam declared that "This is the Modern World." Now Green Day, an acknowledged descendent of that late '70s punk movement, doesn't want to live in it. That's part of the sprawling, multi-leveled message on "21st Century Breakdown," the San Francisco Bay Area trio's follow-up to 2004's career-reviving decade highlight "American Idiot." "...Breakdown" -- which comes out Friday -- is another rock opera, its 18 songs divided into three "acts" as frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sends two characters -- Christian and Gloria -- defiantly sailing through the wake of George W. Bush's America, serving as the lenses for his wide-ranging commentaries about war, politics, culture, religion and relationships in, well, the modern world that Armstrong contends he doesn't want to live in during the late-album epic "American Eulogy." "...Breakdown" reminds us, five years on and nearly seven million copies sold, how audacious "American Idiot" seemed at the time of its release, reinventing the unrepentant punkers of "Longview" and "Basket Case" as the most ambitious band of its generation, taking its lead from the Beatles -- not to mention "Quadrophenia"-era Who and Queen -- rather than the Buzzcocks. Armstrong and his compatriots still kick up the fury here -- check out "Know Your Enemy," "Christian's Inferno," "Murder City" and most of the third act, "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" -- but with polish and a great degree of attention to craft. The title track is itself a three-part mini-suite, cascading from a melodic piano start into a Celtic-flavored reel. The gentle starts of "Viva La Gloria" and "Before the Lobotomy" lull us into before Green Day fires off the electric guitars, while the dynamic build of "Restless Heart Syndrome" is done gracefully, but without sacrificing firepower. Ballad fans are served by "Last Night on Earth," "Last of the American Girls" feels like a garage pop classic, and the aforementioned "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" brings out the big guns at just the right time. It's indulgent, a bit verbose and not quite as focused or pointed as "American Idiot," but at a time when one of our modern world afflictions is the demise of the album, Green Day reminds us of how formidable a good one can still be.


Hill Country Revue, "Make a Move" (Razor & Tie): [3 stars] Fans of the North Mississippi Allstars fretted when guitarist Luther Dickinson decided to sign on with the Black Crowes last year, but "Make a Move" shows there's no reason to panic. Led by remaining NMAS members Cody Dickinson (Luther's brother) and Chris Chew -- and featuring the late R.L. Burnside's younger son Garry and a variety of other players from the Memphis-Mississippi corridor, Hill Country Revue blows with its own kind of rootsy energy, a funky, bluesy melange of slide guitar and harmonica and full, phat grooves that could wiggle the wall of any joint the band would play. The troupe is as smooth as kindred spirits like Los Lonely boys on tracks such as "Ramblin' " and "Let Me Love You," while "You Can Make It" boasts a double-time, gospel-flavored fervor and "Growing Up in Mississippi" mines a heavy and deep brand of electrified rural blues. The Allstars are missed, but the Revue is certainly a welcome way to fill the breach.

New & Noteworthy:

Buckwheat Zydeco, "Lay Your Burden Down" (Alligator): The accordion master's latest outing finds him taking on songs by Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Cliff, Captain Beefheart and Memphis Minnie, among others.

Stanley Clarke, "Jazz in the Garden" (Heads Up): The virtuoso bassist delivers his first acoustic jazz trio album, joined by drummer Lenny White and pianist Hiromi Uehara.

Crimson Jazz Trio, "King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2" (Inner Knot): Former King Crimson member Mel Collins helps the CJ3 on its second set of Crimson covers.

Crisis in Hollywood, "Safe and Sound" (Financial): Bayside frontman Anthony Raneri produced the sophomore album by this Orlando, Fla., modern rock quartet.

The Crystal Method, "Divided By Night" (Tiny e): Matisyahu, Metric's Emily Haynes, New Order's Peter Cook and Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge are among the guests on the electronic duo's fourth studio album.

James Luther Dickinson, "Dinosaurs Run in Circles" (Memphis International): The famed producer, session vet and North Mississippi Allstars parent includes standards from the Louis Jordan, Johnny Mercer and Walt Disney canons on his third album in three years.

Casey Driessen, "Oog" (Red Shoe): The five-string fiddler continues to pursue adventurous, genre-blending paths on his sophomore album.

Candy Dulfer, "Funked Up!" (Heads Up): The saxophonist continues to keep the phat content high on her latest release, with vocal contributions by Monique Baker, Leona and Pete Philly.

Steve Earle, "Townes" (New West): The renegade singer-songwriter pays homage to friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt on these 15 covers, with Tom Morello, Time O'Brien and Earle's wife Allison Moorer, along for the ride.

The Meat Puppets, "Sewn Together" (Megaforce): The Kirkwood brothers return to the racks with their second album since reuniting in 2006.

Charnett Moffett, "The Art of Improvisation" (Motema Music): The title says it all on this guest-studded collection by the well-credentialed jazz bassist.

Alecia Nugent, "Hillbilly Goddess" (Rounder): Bradley Walker, J.D. Crowe, members of the Dan Tyminski Band and Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder help the "Goddess" on her fourth album.

Operation Aloha, "Operation Aloha" (self-released): An all-star side project by members of Maroon5, Gomez, Phantom Planet and other bands, recorded during a communal trip to Maui.

The Poison Arrows, "First Class, and Forever" (File 13): The debut full-length by the Chicago trio fronted by former Atombombpocketknife member Justin Sinkovich.

Paul Potts, "Passione" [cq] (Columbia): The "Britain's Got Talent" winner returns to disc with renditions of Chopin, Puccini and Andrew Lloyd Webber, as well as a duet with Hayley Westenra.

Roman Candle, "Oh Tall Tree in Ear" (Carnival): The rootsy North Carolina rock troupe enlisted luminaries Chris Stamey and Jason Lehning to produce its sophomore set.

David Serby, "Honky Tonk & Vine" (Harbor Grove): The third release by the singer, songwriter and lucid lyricist from Southern California.

Michelle Shocked, "Soul of My Soul" (Megaforce/MRI): The nomadic singer-songwriter continues to make provocative and pointed commentaries throughout the 10 songs on her latest endeavor.

Various Artists, "Causes 2" (Waxploitation): My Morning Jacket, Gnarls Barkley, the Decemberists and Matthew Dear are among the artists contributing songs to this ongoing benefit series for Darfur.

New Music DVDs

Return to Forever, "Live at Montreux 2008" (Eagle Rock, DVD and Blu-Ray)

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