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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Dave Matthews Band, Iggy Pop and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, June 1, 2009

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Dave Matthews Band, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” (RCA) ***

“Grux,” the somber, freestyle sax piece that opens the Dave Matthews Band’s seventh studio album, is no mere overture. Rather, it’s one of the last recordings by founding member Leroi Moore — nicknamed the GrooGrux King by his bandmates — who died last August after being injured in an ATV accident. But Moore also ushers the album out, with a more upbeat, jazzy loop that serves as a coda to the closing track “You and Me” — and a sonic symbol of the DMB’s resolve to go on and continue to pursue the mostly joyous musical stew that’s been its stock in trade since the group formed in Charlotesville, Va., 18 years ago. There’s no question that Moore’s death made its impact on “Big Whiskey...;” more than a few tracks — such as “Funny the Way It Is,” “Dive In,” “Squirm,” “Time Bomb” and “Why I Am” (in which Matthews declares that he’s “still here dancing with the GrooGrux King”) — find the bandleader and songwriter in a pensive and peflecting on mortality and mojo and seeking some higher plane of existence. As he asks in “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” “Do you know what it is to feel the light of love inside you/When all the darkness fades away?” That spirit lends a resilience to the 13 songs here which, thanks partly to hitmaking producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, Kid Rock) and to an expanded edition of the DMB lineup is a polished affair that blends the punch of the group’s live show with a textured and decidedly radio (and headphone) friendly soundscape. Richly orchestrated pieces such as “Funny the Way It Is” and the trancey “Lying in the Hands of God” sit comfortably alongside rootsy, twanged-up fare like “Alligator Pie,” which features a shoutout to Matthews’ daughter Stella, and the kinetic, brassy hard rock of “Why I Am” and “Seven.” Banjo brings a fresh lilt to “Spaceman,” while “Squirm” works a middle eastern motif before building into a heavy rock opus. “Big Whiskey...” ends on a love-conquers-all note, with the gentle lullabye “My Baby Blue” and the gently upbeat “You and Me,” finding that “light of love” that doesn’t completely eclipse the mourning but does place it in some life-affirming perspective.


Iggy Pop, “Preliminaires” (Astralwerks) ***

After four-odd years back in the Cro-Magnon rock land of the Stooges, Iggy Pop has decided to branch out again — and he does so in that idiosyncratic way he does so well. “Preliminaires” was inspired by French author Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel “The Possibility of an Island” and started as a set of music for a film documentary about Houellebecq’s life. But while it’s book-ended by versions of the jazz-tinged French piece “Le Feuilles Mortes,” the Ypsilanti-bred Pop cuts a wide stylistic course through the album’s other 10 songs, from the New Orleans flavor of “King of the Dogs,” the ambient and rootsy flow of “Je Sais Que Tu Sais” and “He’s Dead/ She’s Alive,” the familiar rock attack of “Nice to Be Dead” and laid-back, Leonard Cohenreferencing tracks suchast” and “Party Time.” Pop still wants to be your dog, too — or at least sing about them on this engaging and adventurous excursion.

New & Noteworthy:

Ryan Bingham, “Roadhouse Sun” (Lost Highway): The Texas troubadour’s second release was produced by former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford.

Diane Birch, “Bible Belt” (S-Curve): The debut album from the Michigan-born preacher’s daughter, who’s now based in Portland, features members of the Roots, Galactic, the Patti Smith Group and the Meters.

Elvis Costello, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” (Hear Music): Costello and producer/pal T-Bone Burnett reunite on this acoustic-flavored set made in Nashville and featuring reinterpretations of older Costello material as well as songs written for “The Secret Songs,” his Danish opera commission on the life of author Hans Christian Andersen.

Marshall Crenshaw, “Jaggedland” (429): The Berkley-raised rocker recorded his latest at home in upstate New York and in Los Angeles with help from the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and session luminaries such as Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz and Emil Richards.

Drop Dead, Gorgeous, “The Hot N’ Heavy” (Suretone): The Denver rock group’s third album updates the Buggles on the track “(The) Internet Killed the Video Star.”

Ronnie Earl, “Living in the Light” (Stony Plain):

The former Roomful of Blues guitarist features Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman (and Oxford resident) Kim Wilson on his latest album.

Kyle Eastwood, “Metropolitain” (Mack Avenue): Clint’s son brings out his fourth album after spending a couple of years scoring his dad’s films, including the Detroit-made “Gran Torino.”

The Eels, “Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire” (Vagrant): Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) has his beard back and his howl in fine form on his seventh album and first set of new material in four years.

Emery, “...In Shallow Seas We Sail” (Tooth & Nail): The loud ‘n’ proud of it screamo quintet follows its latest single, “Cutthroat Collapse,” with its fourth full-length album.

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, “Twisted” (Alligator): The chief songwriter of Little Charlie & the Nightcats puts his own name in front of the group’s for his first solo sojourn.

David Garrett, “David Garrett” (Deccca): The violin virtuoso plays the PBS card with a special, “Live in Berlin,” to accompany his debut album.

Girl in a Coma, “Trio B.C.” (Blackheart): The Joan Jett proteges pay homage to their grandfathers’ Tejano band from the ‘50s with the title of their sophomore outing.

Little Black Dress, “Snow in June” (Exploding Plastic/ Idol): The Dallas sextet combines synth pop with droning guitar noise on its debut set.

Sophie Milman, “Take Love Easy,” (E1): The Juno Award-winning jazz singer covers Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” as well as songs by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon on her new album.

Mitchell Musso, “Mitchell Musso” (Walt Disney): The Mouse’s latest pop roll-out is the “Hannah Montana” co-star whose brother, Mason Musso of Metro Station, joins him on the song “Shout It.”

Paolo Nutini, “Sunny Side Up” (Atlantic): The Scottish singer-songwriter’s second album was produced by Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams) and follows his successful 2007 debut “These Streets.”

Rancid, “Let the Dominoes Fall” (Hellcat/Epitaph): The punk rock veterans’ first new album in six years was produced by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz and features a guest appearance by Booker T. Jones, who plays Hammond B3 organ on one track.

Taking Back Sunday, “New Again” (Warner Bros.): The New York modern rockers’ fourth album, and first in three years, introduces new guitarist Matt Fazzi.

Vitamin String Quartet, “Per_Versions” and “Radiohead’s In Rainbows” (CMH): The experimental Los Angeles chamber outfit takes on Tom Waits, of Montreal, the Decemberists, Cat Power, Radiohead and others on its two new collections.

Vanessa Williams, “The Real Thing” (Concord): The former Miss America steps out of her “Ugly Betty” role for her 23th album, which features songs written by Stevie Wonder, Babyface, Bill Withers and Babel Gilberto.

From the Vaults: Jeff Buckley, “Grace Around the World” (Columbia/ Legacy, CD/DVD); Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Demos” (Rhino); Freddie Hubbard, “Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969) (Blue Note); Frank Sinatra, “Classic Sinatra II” (Capitol/EMI/FSE); Various Artists, “Music From the Original Soundtrack and More: Woodstock” (Cotillion/ Rhino); Various Artists, “Woodstock Two” (Cotillion/ Rhino); Neil Young, “Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972” (Reprise).

New Music DVDs: Various Artists, “Fillmore: The Last Days” (Rhino); Deep Purple, “History, Hits and Highlights” (Eagle Rock).

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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