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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Uncle Kracker, Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2009

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Uncle Kracker

“Happy Hour”

Top Dog/Atlantic


Nothing stokes expectations like time away, and it’s been five years since Detroit’s Uncle Kracker last put out an album. The former Kid Rock DJ and hype man hasn’t been invisible, however; his charttopping duet with country star Kenny Chesney, “When the Sun Goes Down,” kept him in the public’s eyes and ears, as has recurrent airplay for his hit remake of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away.” That gave Kracker (real name Matt Shafer) a window to labor over his fourth album, and he actually recorded another version of it before scrapping it and hitting pay dirt with producer Rob Cavallo, who also worked on Rock’s double-platinum “Rock N Roll Jesus.” It was worth the wait; “Happy Hour” is Kracker’s most solid and consistent release to date, a set of solid and solidly written songs that blend rock, country and R&B into a good-time fusion that frames Kracker’s typically clever lyrics about “life and love and the lack thereof.” The spirited “Good to be Me,” which was produced by Rock, could slide smoothly into the Chesney or Buffett songbooks, while “I Hate California” and “Hot Mess” boast a polished modern pop-rock quality ala Weezer or Sugar Ray and “Livin’ the Dream” stirs together New Jack and country influences with a chorus that evokes Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” “Another Love Song” manages to be one while asking if the world really needs that, “My Girlfriend” laments lost love — but with a twist — and the grooving “Corner Bar” offers some down-to-earth social commentary inspired by current Detroit economic woes. “Me Again” and “I’m Not Leaving” offer requisite ballads, and a faithful cover of Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” may not do what “Drift Away” did for Kracker but still lets him subtly fly his Motor City colors proudly. This is one “Happy Hour” that’s well worth pulling up a stool for.


Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, “Break Up” (Atco) **1/2

OK, so actress Johansson’s Tom Waits covers set, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” was so wispy it was barely heard, much less dismissed, and could well have rendered futile any future musical projects. But “Break Up,” which was actually recorded before “Anywhere...,” in 2006, merits some attention primarily because of what Yorn brings to the party as an ace songwriter and credible artist in his own right. The nine-song concept piece about the break-up (duh!) of a relationship carefully uses Johansson’s limited range in character settings, often as spectral echoes or a flat-line kind of main vocal that Yorn accents. There’s a retro, noir-y quality throughout “Break Up,” from the upbeat bounce of “Relator” to the Country-Western flavor of “I Don’t Know What to Do,” the lush underpinning of “Blackie’s Dead,” the dry, Velvet Underground-like touches of “Search Your Heart” and “Someday,” and the spectral remake of Big Star alum Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos.” It’s a low-key but winning effort that at least slightly redeems Johansson’s musical ambitions.

New & Noteworthy:

Anvil, “This is Thirteen” (VH1 Classic): The influential Canadian heavy metal trio’s latest gets a wide release thanks to the popularity of the documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.”

Marie Digby, “Breathing Underwater” (Hollywood): What can a popular YouTube video singing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” get you? How about a label deal and a Victoria’s Secret campaign. We bet Marie’s breathing easy right now.

Ace Frehley, “Anomaly” (Bronx Born): the former Kiss guitarist’s first solo album in two decades includes a cover of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run.”

Nelly Furtado, “Mi Plan” (Universal Music Latino):

The Canadian singer’s first full-length Spanish album includes guests such as Josh Groban, Alex Cuba, Concha Buika and others.

Gordon Gano & the Ryans, “Under the Sun” (Yep Roc): The Violent Femmes frontman’s latest group is folkier in flavor, meaning there’s no blister on this “Sun.”

Mark Knopfler, “Get Lucky” (Warner Bros.): The former Dire Straits leader recorded his sixth solo studio album at his own award-winning British Grove Studios in West London.

Honor Society, “Fashionably Late” (Jonas/ Hollywood): The Jonas Brothers executive produced the debut album from the youthful pop-rock quartet that opened its most recent tour.

Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, “Levitate” (Verve): Hornsby pulls away from his trademark piano this time for a song-focused set that includes a guest appearance by Eric Clapton and lyrics on one song, “Cyclone,” by Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter.

Living Colour, “The Chair in the Doorway” (Megaforce): The hard-rocking quartet recorded its first new album in five years in the Czech Republic.

The Lovemakers, “Let’s Be Friends” (Fontana): The San Francisco rock duo’s sophomore album comes four years after its debut and two years after an interim EP.

Manic Street Preachers, “Journal for Plague Lovers” (Columbia): The Welsh rockers’ latest is its first to feature lyrics written by former guitarist Richey Edwards — who disappeared on the eve of the group’s 1995 North American tour — since “The Holy Bible” in 1994.

John Mayall, “Tough” (Eagle Rock): The British blues great continues to work into his eighth decade, selfproducing his 57th studio album.

Megadeth, “Endgame” (Roadrunner): The headbangers recorded their 12th studio album at the group’s own Vic’s Garage studio, with founder Dave Mustaine producing.

M.O.P., “Foundation” (E1): The long-lived Brooklyn hip-hop duo is joined by Busta Rhymes, Beanie Siegel, Redman, Styles P and others in its latest joint.

Muse, “The Resistance” (Warner Bros.): The proggy British trio ends a three-year wait with its self-produced fifth studio album, led by the single “Uprising.”

Shudder to Think, “Live From Home” (Team Love): The Washington, D.C., hardcore quartet’s first concert album comes from a 2008, fangenerated reunion tour.

Ricky Skaggs, “Ricky Skaggs Solo (Songs My Dad Loved)” (Skaggs Family): The country and bluegrass star dips into his heritage for a one-man set of mostly public domain material he heard while growing up.

Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats, “Meet the Meatbats” (Warrior): An engaging instrumental set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, a Detroit native, and his pals.

Status Quo, “In Search of the Fourth Chord” (Eagle Rock): The veteran British rockers of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” fame roll out their latest effort stateside after a 2007 release across the pond.

Ten Out of Tenn, “TOT Volume 3” (self-released): A new generation of Tennessee singer-songwriters populates the latest compilation in this ambitious series.

Thrice, “Beggars” (Vagrant): The modern hard rockers return to a more traditional kind of song album after their ambitious four-EP “The Alchemy Index” project.

Works Progress Administration, “Works Progress Administration” (self-released): The debut outing by the “supergroup” featuring members of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nickel Creek, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and more.

From the Vaults:

Big Star, “Keep An Eye On the Sky” (Ardent/Rhino); Sunny Day Real Estate, “Dairy” and “LP2” (both Sub Pop expanded reissues); Various Artists, “Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 (Rhino)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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