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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Swell Season, Rod Stewart and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009

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The Swell Season

“Strict Joy”



Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova were neither a former band nor a couple when they filmed and performed the songs for the surprise 2007 hit “Once,” which netted them an Academy Award for the hit “Falling Slowly.” Their famed swelled subsequently as the Swell Season, however, but somewhere amidst the film’s afterlife the duo lost the relationship — and, of course, found fuel for a break-up album that rivals Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” for raw emotion and heartbreaking potency. “Let’s put it down to life/The story of two lovers/Who danced both edges of the knife,” Irglova sings in “Fantasy Man,” while in “Two Tongues” Hansard accused that “Your heart’s not in it...It’s plain to see/You’re still wondering/What’s underneath.” Since Hansard is the dominant writer, penning 10 of the 12 tracks here, Irglova is played as the villain, and she even fesses up to that role in “I Have Loved You Wrong,ology that finds their two voices intertwined in the song’s long outro, finishing the song a capella. Those moments of delicate but confident beauty give “Strict Joy” its strength; rather than the purposefully fragile and cautious character songs of “Once” this is a stark but melodic coming-to-terms, filled with accusations, recriminations, defiance, sorrow and regret but fortified by the knowledge that they’ve survived and lived to sing about it. Aided by producer Peter Katis and a corps of players that included members of Hansard’s band, the Frames, and Leonard Cohen’s guitarist Javier Mas, the Swell Season explores Van Morrison-style soul on “Low Rising,” galloping folk-rock on “Feeling the Pull,” a spare, jazzy construct on “I Have Loved You Wrong” and deftly executed dynamic ebbs and flows on tracks such as “The Rain,” “High Horses” and “The Verb.” Despite the pain, the “Once” team has managed to delight us, well, twice.


Rod Stewart, “Soulbook” (J Records) **1⁄2

OK, Rod Stewart had puccess over four albums singing the Great American Songbook, but we did get tired of it — some sooner than others. He’s no stranger to the “Soulbook,” of course; Stewart’s career is dotted with covers, some of them hits, of the American R&B classics that were favorites of his youth. “Soulbook,” co-produced by “Songbook” cohort Steve Tyrell, is more urbane than urban and smooth enough to be safe for the “Songbook” crowd, but Stewart’s heart is clearly in it from the a capella start he adds to the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song” to the tender rendering of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” — with other nods to Motown in-between, including a rendition of “Tracks of My Tears” with Smokey Robinson and a take of “My Cherie Amour” featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Jennifer Hudson (“Let it Be Me”) and Mary J. Blige (“You Make Me Feel Brand New”) also guest, and if “Soulbook” winds up being another recording series for Stewart, rest assured he could do far worse.

New & Noteworthy:

Atreyu, “Congregation of the Damned” (Hollywood): The California headbangers portray themselves as “Metalhead Zombies” on their fifth album.

Devendra Banhart, “What Will Be” (Reprise): The singer-songwriter lets his “freak folk” flag fly on his sixth album, recorded with the same musicians he used for 2007’s “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.”

Creed, “Full Circle” (Wind-Up): The hard rockers cap their reunion with their first new studio set in eight years, though it sounds like barely a minute has passed.

Flyleaf, “Memonto Mori” (A&M/Octone): The Texas hard rockers roll out their sophomore set five years after winning fans with its debut.

Gov’t Mule, “By a Thread” (Evil Teen): The heavy rockers made their first album in three years at Willie Nelson’s Texas Hill Country studio and recruited ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons to play on the track “Broke Down on the Brazos.”

Hem, “Twelfth Night” (Waveland/Nettwerk): The New York group scored this Shakespeare in the Park production for the city’s Public Theater, with Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway in a starring role.

Jack Johnson, “En Concert” (Brushfire): The Hawaiian singer-songwriter’s combo captures his 2008 European tour on DVD, while the accompanying CD weaves in U.S. performances and guest appearances by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and others.

Los Lobos, “Los Lobos Goes Disney” (Walt Disney): The East L.A. icons give a Latin-flavored twist to favorites from “The Jungle Book,” “101 Dalmations,” “Lady and the Trump” and other Mickey Mouse favorites.

Del McCoury Band, “Family Circle” (McCoury Music): Bluegrass vet McCoury may have celebrated his 50th anniversary in the music biz earlier this year, but this new set shows he’s a long way from done.

Brian McKnight, “Evolution of a Man” (E1): The platinum R&B singer and writer switches labels for his first set of new material in three years.

Morningwood, “Diamonds & Studs” (VH1): The sophomore album from the much buzzed-about New York modern rock quintet.

Joe Nichols, “Old Things New” (Universal Records South): The country singer from Arkansas turns out his sixth album before heading to Broadway for a starring role in the new “Pure Country.”

Chuck Prophet, “Let Freedom Ring” (Yep Roc): The singer-songwriter and company endured swine flu, an earthquake and crashing hard drives while making his latest album in Mexico City.

R.E.M., “Live at the Olympia” (Warner Bros.): A two-CD set capturing the energetic Dublin, Ireland “working rehearsals” in 2007 during the making of the group’s “Accelerate” album.

Carly Simon, “Never Been Gone” (Iris): Simon revisits her past, including hits such as “You’re So Vain” and “Anticipation,” in new, acoustic-flavored arrangements — the brainstorm of her son, Ben Taylor.

Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Lost at Sea” (Southern Broadcasting/MRI): The idiosyncratic roots group’s first album in nine years is also its first live album, chronicling a reunion that started in 2007.

Taylor Swift, “The Fearless Platinum Edition” (Big Machine): The country/pop star re-releases her four-times platinum sophomore album with six new songs and a DVD of videos, tour footage and her CMT Music Awards performance with T-Pain.

Tegan and Sara, “Sainthood” (Vapor/Sire): The Canadian twin sisters’ sixth album is their second produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla.

Chip Taylor, “Yonkers, N.Y.” (Trainwreck): The songwriting legend (“Wild Thing,” “Angel of the Morning”) shows his performing chops on this 11-track set.

Train, “Save Me, San Francisco” (Aware/Columbia): The earnest rock troupe taps into the spirit of the city where it started, mashing the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” into its own “I Got You.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Night Castle” (Atlantic): The bombastic symphony rock troupe’s first new release in seven years is a two-disc epic with a rock opera and extra tracks.

Wolfmother, “Cosmic Egg” (Interscope): Australian rocker Andrew Stockdale didn’t let losing the rest of his band divert him from delivering a fierce sophomore album.

Holiday Albums: Melissa Etheridge, “A New Thought For Christmas: Deluxe Edition” (Island Def Jam); Rob Halford, “Halford III — Winter Songs (Metal God); REO Speedwagon, “Not So Silent Night” (CMG)

From The Vaults: The Carpenters, “40/40” (UMe); Jethro Tull, “Live at Madison Square Garden 1978” (Virgin/EMI CD/DVD); King Crimson, “Red” (Panegyric); Nazareth, “The Anthology” (UMe); Dolly Parton, “Dolly” (RCA/Legacy); Stephen Stills, “Live at Shepherd’s Bush” (Rhino CD/DVD); String Cheese Incident, “Trick or Treat” (Sci Fidelity); U2, “The Unforgettable Fire” (Mercury); Barry White, “Unlimited” (UMe); Weird Al Yankovic, “The Essential Weird Al Yankovic” (Legacy/Way Moby/Volcano)

New Music DVDS: Monty Python, “Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut)” (Eagle Rock/IFC); Status Quo, “Live at Montreux 2009” (Eagle Rock)

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