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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Rob Thomas, Wilco and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2009

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Rob Thomas, “Cradlesong” (Atlantic) ***

Rob Thomas is a jack of many musical trades — and a master of most of them. Not only has he (pop-) rocked the world with matchbox twenty, but he’s also staked a claim as a Grammy Awardwinning hitmaker with Santana’s “Smooth” and, on his platinum solo debut “...Something to Be” in 2005, a craftsman adept at an array of styles and feels. “Cradlesong,” which follows Thomas’ 2008 reunion with matchbox twenty, offers more of the same, flitting through approaches with deft ease and even finding a couple of new paths for Thomas and longtime producer Matt Serletic to explore. Thomas’ strengths are still evident here — the fleet melodies and swelling choruses that stick hard after the first listen. But many of these 14 songs have a more rhythmic, beat-centric flavor, from the polyrhythms that kick off the album-opening first single, “Her Diamonds,” to the electro bleeps of “Gasoline,” the African-styled lope of “Hard on You” and the ambient, folk-derived “Fire on the Mountain,” a burnished sonic trip that’s “Cradlesong’s” best track. At times Thomas and Serletic get too carried away — the ’90s dance-pop of “Real World ’09” is downright messy — but the percolating funk of “Give Me the Meltdown” and the token rock track “Still Ain’t Over You” work, as does quieter fare such as the earnest, piano-led “Someday” and the rootsy album-closing couplet of the hymn-like title track and “Getting Late,” which shuffles “Cradlesong” to a gentle finish. Thomas’ lyrical forte is still relationships and the struggle within, but he ultimately concludes that in all of life “you can’t stop now” — and you can bet Thomas won’t be stopping, on his own or with his band any time soon.


Wilco, “Wilco (the album)” (Nonesuch) ***

Over the course of 15 years and seven albums, Wilco has quietly staked a place for itself as America’s most interesting and, arguably, best rock band. It’s been challenging but still accessible, experimental — especially on 2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and 2004’s “A Ghost is Born” — without losing the melodic strength inherent in frontman Jeff Tweedy’s songs. “Wilco (the album)” finds the sextet reunited with Jim Scott, who mixed some of the band’s earlier albums, and retrenching somewhat with a set of straightforward songs closer to the vein of 2007’s “Sky Blue Sky,” though Tweedy and fellow guitarist Nels Cline stretch a bit on “Bull Black Nova” and “Sonny Feeling.” “I’ll Fight” and “You Never Know” dip into Beatlesque flavors, while Canadian singer Leslie Feist provides echo vocals on “You and I.” Wilco may not reinvent the wheel this time out, but it certainly continues to cement the group’s lofty status.

New & Noteworthy:

Johnnie Bassett, “The Gentleman is Back” (Sly Dog): The Detroit blues guitarist’s first new album in more than a decade was produced by Chris Codish of the Brothers Groove and the Motor City Horns’ trumpeter Keith Kaminski.

Bjork, “Voltaic” (Nonesuch): The Icelandic vocalist’s souvenir of last year’s Volta Tour comes in five different audio and video configurations. Collect ‘em all!

The Builders and the Butchers, “Salvation is a Deep Dark Well” (Gigantic Music): The sophomore album from the raucous, Alaskanformed quintet, which now makes its home in Portland.

Darkest Hour, “The Eternal Return” (Victory):

The mosh ‘n’ metal Washington, D.C. quintet recorded its sixth album in nearby Baltimore with its very first producer, Brian McTernan.

Ginuwine, “A Man’s Thoughts” (Notifi/Warner Bros.): The R&B singer’s sixth album features guest appearances by Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Brandy and Bun B.

Levon Helm, “Electric Dirt” (Dirt Farmer Music/ Vanguard): The Band’s drummer and vocalist digs in again on this follow-up to his Grammy Award-winning “Dirt Farmer” in 2007, taking on songs by the Grateful Dead, Randy Newman and Happy Traum in addition to his own material.

Cledus T. Judd, “Polyrically Uncorrect” (E1 Entertainment): The country humorist’s 10th album is his first since leaving his radio gig in Atlanta last November.

The Mars Volta, “Octahedron” (Warner Bros.): The progressive hard rockers’ fifth album follows the Grammy Award-winning success of “Wax Simulacra” from 2008’s “The Bedlam in Goliath.”

Meese, “Broadcast” (Atlantic): Patrick Meese and his pop quartet from Denver already has music fans buzzing with their first single, “Next in Line.”

Moby, “Wait For Me” (Mute): The multi-faceted electronic music hero chills out on his latest sets after partying on 2008’s “Last Night.”

Ted Nugent, “Motor City Mayhem” (Eagle Rock): A two-CD souvenir of Terrible Ted’s 6,000th career concert, recorded a year ago at the DTE Energy Music Theatre and featuring guest performances by Derek St. Holmes, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and the Nuge’s guitar teacher, Joe Podorsek.

Brad Paisley, “American Saturday Night” (Arista Nashville): The country star gets back into the vocal swing of things after the mostly instrumental approach of 2008’s “Play.”

Regina Spektor, “Far” (Sire): The Russian-born singer-songwriter-pianist give us a “Dance Anthem of the 80s” — two decades later — on her fifth studio album.

Various Artists, “NOW That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 31” (Sony Legacy): Current hits by the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, 3OH!3, the Fray and more populate the latest edition of this perennially popular series.

Various Artists, “Wu-Tang Chamber Music” (E1 Music): Assorted Wu-Tang Clan members and guests (AZ, Havoc, Koo G rap and more) gather for old school-styled rap excursions built over live music by the band Revelations. Wu-Tang leader RZA helmed the circus.

From The Vaults:

Jefferson Airplane, “Volunteers: The Woodstock Experience” (RCA/Legacy); Janis Joplin, “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!: The Woodstock Experience” (Columbia/Legacy); The Miracles, “Depend On Me: The Early Albums” (Hip-O Select); The Rolling Stones, “Some Girls,” “Emotional Rescue,” “Tattoo You” and “Undercover” (Universal Music Group); Santana, “Santana: The Woodstock Experience” (Columbia/Legacy); Sly & the Family Stone, “Stand!: The Woodstock Experience” (Epic/Legacy); Rod Stewart, “Atlantic Crossing (Collector’s Edition)” and “A Night on the Town (Collector’s Edition” (Rhino); Sylvester & the Hot Band, “The Blue Thumb Collection” (Hip-O Select); Various Artists, “NOW That’s What I Call the ‘80s Vol. 2” (Sony Legacy); Johnny Winter, “Johnny Winter: The Woodstock Experience” (Columbia/ Legacy); The Rationals, “Think Rational” (Ace).

New Music DVDs:

Bjork, “Volcaic: The Volta Tour” (Nonesuch); The Black Crowes, “Warpaint Live” (Eagle Rock); “Blue Cheer Rocks Europe” (Rainman); Ted Nugent, “Motor City Mayhem” (Eagle Rock); “John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers & Friends” (Eagle Rock Blu-ray); The Rolling Stones, “The Biggest Bang” (Universal Music Group Blu-ray).

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