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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Pearl Jam, Sean Kingston and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2009

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Pearl Jam




He may be mixing oddball metaphors, but when Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder sings that “what used to be a house of cards has turned into a reservoir” on the group’s ninth studio album, he’s come up with an apt assessment of the Seattle quintet’s status. Some 18 years ago Pearl Jam staked its multi-platinum claim with angst, disaffection and a roiling rage that propelled its music. Nearly two decades later, it’s still around and, judging by the 11 tracks on “Backspacer,” comfortable in its durability and continuing vitality. This is Pearl Jam at its happiest and hardest-rocking, offering up a forceful 37-minute set that reunites the group with producer Brendan Benson for the first time since 1998’s “Yield.” The band comes out charging with a blast of punchy, punky and mostly sub-three-minute assaults that includes the garagey “Gonna See My Friend,” the galloping “Got Some” and the poppy melodies of “The Fixer” and “Johnny Guitar.” Vedder catch their breath on the acoustic-flavored “Just Breathe,” and the rest of “Backspacer” offers a more expansive but still charged sampler plate of styles, from guitarist Stone Gossard’s rootsy “Amongst the Waves” to Vedder’s prominent piano features “Unthought Know” and “Speed of Sound” to the smooth groove of guitarist Mike McCready’s “Force of Nature” and the razor-sharp blister of Gossard’s “Supersonic.” Shucking off the Bush-era politics of Pearl Jam’s last couple albums, Vedder spends his time sounding settled and genuinely happy — “I’m still holding tight to this dream,” he intones in “Speed of Sound” — but, well, it wouldn’t be a Pearl Jam album without some semblance of dark cloud in the silver lining, would it? So we have “The End,” a quiet concluding piece in which Vedder cautions us that “I’m here, but not much longer.” Don’t fret, though; “Backspacer” sounds like anything but a swan song.


Sean Kingston, “Tomorrow” (Epic) **1/2:

The fire has been burning for the Jamaican-born ion singer’s sophomore album since, well, “Fire Burning” came out as its lead single five months ago. The 19-year-old Kingston is certainly riding momentum into “Tomorrow” thanks to his 2007 chart-topper “Beautiful Girls” and a guest shot with Flo Rida on last year’s “Roll.” The new album mines the same blend of Caribbean, hip-hop and New Jack styles, with a fixation on girlfriends and club life that sounds a bit more authentic than it did when Kingston was barely driving age. Rockers Good Charlotte guest on “Shoulda Let You Go” while Wyclef trades rhymes on “Ice Cream Girl,” and tracks such as “Face Drop,” “Magical” and “Why U Wanna Go” feature the island flavor that makes Kingston stand out from the other young lions of the current R&B scene.

New & Noteworthy:

Vic Chesnutt, “At the Cut” (Constellation): Members of Fugazi, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion join the Athens, Ga. singer-songwriter on his follow-up to 2007’s “North Star Deserter.”

Harry Connick, Jr., “Your Songs” (Columbia): Connick teamed with legendary hitmaker Clive Davis for this set of familiar songs — favorites by Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett and others — performed in big band arrangements.

Alex Cuba, “Agua del Pozo” (Caracol): Percolating Cuban soul-rock from the artist who also duets with Nelly Furtado on her new, Spanish language album.

Deadmau5, “For Lack of a Better Name” (Ultra): The second album from the Canadian-born, Grammy Award-nominated techno specialist (it’s pronounced Dead Mouse, by the way).

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, “Brother’s Keeper” (Shanachie): Meshell Ndegeocello, former Black Crowes guitarist Mark Ford and others help the Greyboy Allstars saxophonist on his latest, funkiest side project.

Drake, “So Far Gone” (Young Money): The “Degrassi: The Next Generation” star turned Lil Wayne protege gives us a seven-song EP to tide us over until next year’s release of his first full album, “Thank Me Later.”

Ora Fallon, “Distant Shore” (Green Hill Music): The Irish singer goes solo after a long run as part of the Celtic Woman company.

Five Finger Death Punch, “War is the Answer” (Prospect Park): The hard-hitting Los Angeles rockers release their sophomore disc on the heels of being named Best New Band at this year’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards.

Bebel Gilberto, “All in One” (Verve): The New York-born Brazilian singer gets help from an array of collaborators on her latest release, including Mark Ronson, the Dust Brothers’ John King and Daniel Jobim, grandson of Brazilian great Antonio Carlos Jobim.

David Gray, “Draw the Line” (Mercer Street): The British singer-songwriter of “Babylon” fame retooled his style and crew of collaborators for his eighth studio album, which features guest appearances by Annie Lennox and Jolie Holland.

Kid Cudi, “Man on the Moon: The End of the Day” (Dream On/GOOD/Universal Motown): The Kanye West protege’s debut includes guest appearances by West, Common, MGMT, Ratatat and others.

KSM, “Read Between the Lines” (Disney Sound): The debut outing by the all-female Disney rock band whose cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” created a stir this summer.

Kyp Malone, “Rain Machine” (Anti-): The TV on the Radio guitarist goes solo with a set of songs he’s been working on since 2000.

Method of Defiance, “Nihon” (RareNoise): The latest band formed by Michigan-born auteur Bill Laswell debuts with this in-concert recording, the precursor for a 2010 studio set.

Monsters of Folk, “Monsters of Folk” (Shangri-La Music): The all-star indie quartet, which includes members of Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket, has been playing together since 2004 but finally got around to putting their magic on disc.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Speed of Life” (NGBD): The long-lived country rockers’ first release in five years includes a remake of Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle.”

Yoko Ono Plastic Band, “Between My Head and the Sky” (Chimera Music): John Lennon’s widow revives the spirit of the couple’s original music enterprise with a new version of what was once the Plastic Ono Band.

One EskimO, “One EskimO” (Shangri-La Music): The British group that recently toured with Tori Amos tapped Dido’s brother Rollo Armstrong of Faithless to produce its debut set.

Porcupine Tree, “The Incident” (Roadrunner): Guitarist Steve Wilson and his prog crew’s latest is a thematic song cycle inspired by many events from his own life.

Vertical Horizon, “Burning the Days” (Outfall): The first album in nearly four years from the “Everything You Want” crew.

From the Vaults:

Jerry Garcia Band, “Pure Jerry: Bay Area 1978” (Rhino); Grateful Dead, “Road Trips No. 4: Cal Expo 93” (Rhino); Hiroshima, “Legacy” (Heads Up International); Manassas, “Pieces” (Rhino); Soundtrack, “The Legacy: The Best of Big Pun (Music From the Film)” (Columbia/Legacy); Various Artists, “Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968” (Rhino)

New Music DVDs:

Bob Marley, “Stations of the Cross” (MVD); “The Willie Nelson Special featuring Ray Charles” (Eagle Rock); Dan Zanes and Friends, “The Fine Friends are Here!” (Razor & Tie)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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