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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: George Strait, Cobra Starship and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2009

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George Strait


MCA Nashville

** 1/2

When George Strait so much as exhales the country music world genuflects, so you can imagine the excitement his 38th album is causing now that the current king of country has started writing songs again for the first time since his 1982 debut, “Strait Country.” In fact, Strait penned three songs for this set with his son, Bubba — the lush love song “Living For the Night,” the lost-love waltz “Out of Sight Out of Mind” and “He’s Got that Something Special,” another paean to a one that got away. Despite the personal investiture, however, “Twang” ultimately sounds like most other Strait albums — which is not a bad thing but is definitely more the work of a singer than a writer. A couple cases in point are the gentle “Beautiful Day For Goodbye,” where Strait’s rich tenor conveys the song’s melancholy tone well enough but doesn’t really sell the idea that his heart is breaking, and the Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson rocker “Some Kind of Crazy,” which n lives up to the “wild, wild nights” described in the lyrics. What Strait does as well as always on “Twang’s” 13 songs is glide through an array of styles while still sounding stone country, whether it’s the upbeat shuffle of the Jim Lauderdale co-written title track, the Tex-Mex strains of “I Gotta Get to You” (another Lauderdale creation) and the Tejano “El Rey,” the folk-flavored balladry of Bubba Strait’s “Arkansas Dave” and the rowdy boogie-woogie of “Hot Grease and Zydeco.” There are a few old school country hall of fame lyrical moments — “These days broccoli doesn’t taste so bad/And neither does swallowing my pride,” for instance — but for the most part “Twang” stays on the Strait and narrow, and his legion of fans wouldn’t have it any other way.


Cobra Starship, “Hot Mess” (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen) ***

The “serious” rock ‘n’ roll cognescenti has never really known what to do with bands that are all about fun, so it’s no surprise that Cobra Starship has caused a bit of hand-wring the quintet comes from the cred-heavy Fall Out Boy universe but messes around (effectively, no less) with dance floor grooves and melodies that Backstreet Boys would kill for these days. “Hot Mess,” the Starship’s third tune trip, further refines that blend and has plenty of, well, fun doing so, from the glam-rock bounce of “Nice Guys Finish Last” to the hand-clapping club funk of the title track and the synthy swagger of the first single, “Good Girls Go Bad,” co-written by “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi and featuring Gabe Saporta dueting with “Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester. There’s also a sly reference to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” (“The Scene is Dead...),” while Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz drops in for “You’re Not In on the Joke” and Atlanta rapper B.o.B. toasts on the reggae-flavored album-closer “The World Will Never Do.” “Hot Mess” is more clever than intellectual, but rest assured you’ll enjoy it all the more if you just shut up and dance.

New & Noteworthy:

Behemoth, “Evangelion” (Metal Blade): The Polish death metal band named its latest album after a Christian term, with cover art of the Great Harlot of Babylon. Make of that what you will...or are we thinking about it too much?

Between the Trees, “Spain” (Bonded): Amidst constant touring to support its 2007 debut, including three Vans Warped Tours, the Florida trio found time to record its sophomore outing.

The Bottle Rockets, “Lean Forward” (Bloodshot): The veteran St. Louis roots rockers worked with long-time pal and producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on their first album in three years.

Tommy Castro, “Hard Believer” (Alligator): The California singer and guitarist contributes half a dozen of his own songs to his 12th overall career album.

Robert Cray, “This Time” (Nozzle/Vanguard): The blues and R&B veteran sings about “Chicken in the Kitchen” and other delights on his 18th studio album.

Erika Jayne, “Pretty Mess” (E1): The dance music diva offers up a full-length sampling of her work, including the club hits “Roller Coaster” and “Stars.”

Imelda May, “Love Tattoo” (Verve Forecast): The Irish singer brings her debut album to these shores after topping the charts in her homeland and wowing the U.K. earlier this year.

Pacific Theater, “Animals at Night” Whale Heart): The genre-blending New York trio journeyed to Quebec to record its debut outing.

The Pines, “Tremelo” (Red House): The Minneapolis roots duo includes a pair of fan-favorite covers of songs by Mississippi John Hurt and Spider John Koerner on its latest release.

Rhythms del Mundo, “Classics” (Decca): The Cuban music collective fuses new contributions from the Killers, KT Tunstall, Editors, OneRepublic and others with existing recordings from the Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Jack Johnson, Fall Out Boy and John Mayer for an exotic listening experience.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, “Running For the Drum” (Appleseed): The veteran singer and songwriter recorded her first batch of new material in 13 years at her home studio in Hawaii. The set also comes with a DVD documentary.

Sam & Ruby, “The Here & the Now” (Rykodisc): The debut album from the Nashville-based duo whose “Heaven’s My Home,” recorded by the Dukhs for “The Secret Life of Bees” soundtrack, received a Grammy Award nomination.

Maia Sharp, “Echo” (Crooked Crown): The singer-songwriter’s fourth album was produced by Detroit native Don Was and features a guest appearance by Bonnie Raitt, who’s recorded some of Sharp’s songs.

Slaughterhouse, “Slaughterhouse” (E1): Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9” teams with Joell Ortiz, Joe Budden on Crooked I on the debut from this hip-hop “supergroup.”

Mindy Smith, “Stupid Love” (Vanguard): The Nashville songstress steps up to co-produce her third album, with guest appearances by Amy Grant, Vince Gill and Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash.

Mike Stern, “Big Neighborhood” (Heads Up International): The jazz guitarist welcomes Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Randy Brecker and the trio of Medeski, Martin & Wood on his latest album.

Terra Terra Terra, “Mind Like a Man, Soul Like a Child” (Rough Kid/Universal): Rest assured that the heavy/prog bent of this Florida quartet’s sophomore album is not kid stuff.

The Wailin’ Jennys, “Live at the Mauch Opera House” (Red House): The female folk trio kicks up a lot of noise on this concert set recorded a year ago in Jim Thorpe, Pa.

Jack White, “Fly Farm Blues” (Third Man): The Detroit-born White Stripes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather leader brings out a solo single he wrote while being filmed for the upcoming film documentary “It Might Get Loud.”

Keller Williams, “Odd” (kellerwilliams.com): The avant guitarist has already released all 12 tracks from his new album, one per week, via his web site.

From the Vaults

801, “801 Live (Collector’s Edition)” (MVD Audio)

New Music DVDs

Chris Isaak, “Chris Isaak Greatest Hits — Live” (E1)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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