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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Mariah Carey, Alice In Chains and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 27, 2009

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Mariah Carey

“Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel”

Island Def Jam


With her romantic past, “Glitter” meltdown and some unfulfilling musical choices during her 19-year career, Mariah Carey is something of a poster girl for imperfection. But on her 12th studio album the octave-leaping vocalist, whose hairstyle is back to the soft brown curls of her first releases, gets it as close to right as she’s ever come. The key may be that rather than employing tag teams of producers and writers to throw seemingly every style at the wall in hopes that they stick, Carey — who dedicates the album to Michael Jackson and takes co-writing and producing credits on all 17 tracks — shrinks the crew a bit. She works primarily on “Memoirs...” with Tricky Stewart, The-Dream and Big Jim Wright, resulting in a more consistent and unified approach that puts the spotlight where it belongs — on her singing. Excepting upbeat, hip-hop flavored moments like the Eminem-bashing first single “Obsessed,” “Ribbon” and “Up Oemoirs...” is populated by slow-burn torch ballads built upon delicate keyboard and beat patterns and, most importantly, strong melodies and soaring, layered performances by Carey herself. What’s curious about the album is that for someone who’s been cooing about her happy marriage to actor/singer Nick Cannon who she calls her “soul mate” in “Memoirs’...” acknowledgements, Carey writes and sings an awful lot about broken love affairs and men who done her wrong, catching one guy cheating in “Betcha Gon’ Know (the prologue),” pleading with another to “call my phone” in “Insuperable” and giving a “Standing O” to a cad “who played the one that loved you the most.” Even the warmly sentimental tones of “Candy Bling” carry the melancholy of a relationship that’s decidedly in the past tense. All of this, of course, manages to set up her jaw-dropping cover of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” that closes the album and gives it a bit more conceptual weight. “Memoirs...” may not be Carey at her happiest, but fans will certainly be happy to hear her singing like she should.


Alice In Chains, “Black Gives Way To Blue” (Virgin) ***

The hard rocking Seattle quartet announces its first album in 14 years as “a new beginning/a time to start living,” but the best part about the 11-song set is it doesn’t sound that new. In fact, it could well have been recorded in the same session as 1995’s “Alice in Chains.” New member William DuVall’s voice boasts the same kind of cadence and weight as the late frontman Layne Staley’s, and DuVall’s vocal blend with guitarist Jerry Cantrell insures that integral harmonic trademark remains intact. So does the dark ‘n’ doomy tone that’s Alice in Chains’ sonic trademark, from the twisting opening of “All Secrets Known” to the sinewy groove of “Check My Brain,” the trancey drones of “Private Hell” and “Your Decision,” the seven-minute epic “A Looking In View” and the lush, album-closing title track, a salute to Staley that features Elton John on piano. It sounds like t old friend, a bit weathered but no worse for the wear.

New & Noteworthy:

AFI, “Crash Love” (Interscope): The modern rockers started their eighth studio album with producer David Bottrill but ultimately switched to the team of Joe McGrath and Jacknife Lee.

The Avett Brothers, “I Land Love and You”

(American/Columbia): After six albums and two EPs, the folk rock trio from North Carolina makes its major label bow with Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Rubin at the helm.

Joshua Bell, “At Home With Friends” (Sony Classical): Sting, Josh Groban, Chris Botti, Marvin Hamlisch and Emmy Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth are among the “Friends” making a house call on the violinists new album.

Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, “Great American Bubble Factory” (Vintage Earth Music): The Georgia quartet regroups for its first new album in 13 years, led by frontman Kevin Kinney’s homage to “Detroit City.”

Drummer, “Feel Good Together” (Audio Eagle): Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney picks up the bass as part of a band that includes four other Buckeye State sink-pounders.

Foreigner, “Can’t Slow Down” (Rhino): Foreigner’s first new album in more than 15 years is a Wal-Mart exclusive packaged with a disc of re-recorded hits and a live DVD.

Ghostdini (aka Ghostface Killa), “The Wizard of Poetry” (Def Jam): The Wu-Tang MC adopts a new persona for this more R&B-focused set that features duets with John Legend, Estelle, Rahemme DeVaughn, Fabolous and others.

Selena Gomez & the Scene, “Kiss & Tell” (Hollywood): Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” star follows good pal and “Barney & Friends” co-star Demi Lovato into the music


Will Hoge, “The Wreckage” (Rykodisc): The hard-touring singer-songwriter bounces back from a near-fatal traffic accident with this 11-song set.

Kill Hannah, “Wake Up the Sleepers” (Original Signal): The Chicago hard rockers get help from Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden, Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer and others on their fifth album.

Kris Kristofferson, “Closer to the Bone” (New West): Ex-Detroiter Don Was produced Kristofferson’s latest set of personal and poignant songs, including a cover of the late Stephen Bruton’s “From Here to Forever.”

Miranda Lambert, “Revolution” (Columbia Nashville): The country spitfire keeps kickin’ things up on her third album, co-writing a dozen of these 15 songs with a number of collaborators, including boyfriend Blake Shelton.

La Roux, “La Roux” (Cherrytree): Elly Jackson, the 21-year-old “red-haired one” Britian is buzzing about, debuts with a 12-song set of danceable melodic confections.

Patty Loveless, “Mountain Soul II” (Saguaro Road): A stellar studio crew that includes Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, members of the McCoury family and more helps Loveless on this sequel to her lauded 2001 release.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “God & Guns” (Loud ‘N Proud/Roadrunner): The Southern rock icons’ first new album in six years features contributions by late bandmates Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Hughie Thomasson and Ean Evans.

The Manhattan Transfer, “The Chick Corea Songbook” (Four Quarters): The long-lived quartet gives the famed jazz keyboardist’s repertoire a vocal overhaul on this tribute set.

Karen O and the KIds, “Where the Wild Things Are: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Interscope): The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ O brought together a group of friends, including Ferndale’s Dean Fertita from the Dead Weather and Queens of the Stone Age, to create music for ex-boyfriend Spike Jonze’s filmic adaptation of the beloved children’s book.

Paramore, “Brand New Yes” (Fueled By Ramen): The Nashville rockers’ third album was produced by hitmaker Rob Cavallo and features lyrics offering insight into the quartet’s inner-band dynamics.

Saigon, “Warning Shots 2” (Amalgam Digital/E1): The “Entourage” rapper’s latest album features guest shots by M.O.P., Quan, Ransom, Grand Puba and others.

Barbra Streisand, “Love Is the Answer” (Columbia): Pop’s biggest diva (sorry Madonna) teamed with producer Diana Krall for this 13-song standards set, her first new material since 2005’s “Guilty Pleasures.”

Three Days Grace, “Life Starts Now” (Jive): The Toronto rockers’ third album comes three years after 2006’s successful “One-X.”

Various Artists, “Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy” (Shout! Factory): Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and R.E.M’s Michael Stipe are among those who contributed tracks to benefit former Miracle Legion frontman Mulcahy as he raises twin daughters following the sudden death of his wife.

From the Vaults:

Ray Charles, “The Genius Hits the Road” (Concord); Genesis, “Live 1973-2007” (Rhino); Al Jarreau, “The Very Best of Al Jarreau: An Excellent Adventure” (Rhino); Ludo, “Ludo/You’re Awful, I Love You” (Redbird); Madonna, “Celebration” (Warner Bros.); Rod Stewart, “The Rod Stewart Sessions” (Rhino)

New Music DVDs:

Little Feat, “Skin it Back: Live in Germany” (Eagle Rock); Willie Nelson, “The Willie Nelson Special featuring Ray Charles” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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