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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Bon Jovi, Switchfoot and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, November 8, 2009

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Bon Jovi, “The Circle” (Island Def Jam) ***

Bon Jovi positions itself as “fast cars on a long ride” on its 11th album — and it’s certainly been a longer and more successful ride, counting 26 years and more than 120 million albums sold, than some might have imagined when the New Jersey rockers came steaming out with “Runaway” in 1983. The road has taken the group in a number of different directions, but after a Nashvilleflavored side trip with the 2005 hit “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and the 2007 album “Lost Highway” Bon Jovi gets back to the business of rocking on “The Circle,” which started life as a few new songs for a greatest hits album and turned into a 12-song state-of-the-world treatise along the lines of 2002’s “Bounce” and 2005’s “Have a Nice Day,” filled with plain-spoken paeans about the continuing travails — and durability — of the working class folk Jon Bon Jovi and company have been singing about since introducing us to Tommy and Gina in 1986’s “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The album strikes a classic Bon Jovi stride out of the gate with the first single, “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” a common-man anthem that announces “this ain’t about giving up or giving in” and draws its buoyant chorus straight out of 1988’s “Born to Be My Baby.” Tracks such as “Work For the Working Man,” “Thorn in My Pride” and “Broken Promiseland” stay in that mold, while U2-flavored songs like “Love’s the Only Rule,” “Happy Now” and “Learn to Love” feature more ambient dynamics. Bon Jovi gets heavy and political on “Bullet,” while “When We Were Beautiful” is wistfully nostalgic, right down to the sha-la-la backing vocals, with its own brief of social commentary about living on a continuing prayer. One can certainly hear where “Lost Highway’s” fiddle and steel guitars could fit into something like “Live Before You Die,” but this time the group has brought “The Circle” back to what it did first — and, arguably, best.


Switchfoot, “Hello Hurricane” (Atlantic) **1/2

Time may not heal all wounds — because Switchfoot sure works through plenty of ‘em on these 12 songs — but it has benefited the inspirationally minded San Diego quintet. During the three years since its last studio album “Oh! Gravity,” Switchfoot has changed labels, built its own recording facility and essentially recharged its batteries, yielding a powerful energy on its seventh set of original material. It’s hard not to acknowledge a creep ing U2itis throughout these earnest tracks, from the rolling gait of “Needle and Haystack Life” to building melodramatics of “Your Love is a Song.” But Switchfoot digs into some deep and heavy grooves on “Mess of Me,” “The Sound” and “Bullet Soul,” as well as a martial crunch on “Free” and some Celtic overtones for the title track. Frontan Jon Foreman, who spent some of the time off in the side project Fiction Family, declares that “I want to spend the rest of my life alive!,” and at this juncture Switchfoot certainly sounds like its pulse is still strong.

New & Noteworthy:

Tori Amos, “Midwinter Graces” (Universal Republic): As is her individualistic, and idiosyncratic, wont, Amos puts her own spin on holiday classics and adds a couple of originals to the canon as well.

Bad Lieutenant, “Never Cry Another Tear” (Triple Echo): The terrestrial debut of the new band led by former Joy Division/New Order member Bernard Sumner, following a limited digital release in October.

Big Kenny, “The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy” (Love Everybody Music LLC): The taller half of Big & Rich delivers a second solo album of “music without prejudice,” recorded at his own Last Dollar studio in Nashville.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Live” (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant): The trio offers up a CD and a pair of DVDs from its 2007 shows in Berlin, Dublin and Glasgow.

The Bravery, “Stir the Blood” (Island): The New York electro rockers hooked up with Santogold/M.I.A. cohort John Hill to shake up the beats on its third studio effort.

Pieta Brown, “Shimmer” (Red House): Greg Brown’s daughter teams with Detroitborn producer Don Was on this EP of seven stripped-down and intimate songs.

Dashboard Confessional, “After the Ending” (Interscope): Chris Carrabba and company’s hard-hitting sixth studio album comes in a deluxe edition with acoustic performances of all 12 songs.

Ray Davies, “The Kinks Choral Collection” (Decca):

The Kinks frontman takes a fresh look at his band’s body of work via these new choral arrangements.

Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy, “Onward & Upward” (Memphis International): Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, the Black Crowes) pays tribute to his late father, producer/writer/artist Jim Dickinson, with a set of gospel songs recorded with members of his dad’s old band.

Flyleaf, “Memento Mori” (A&M/Octone): The title of the Christian heavy rockers’ sophomore album cautions us to “be mindful of death.” A cheery thought for the holiday season.

Robyn Hitchcock, “I Often Dream of Trains in New York” (Yep Rock): A live album and DVD from a New York City show during the British troubadour’s 2008 tour.

Hollywood Undead, “Desperate Measures” (A&M/Octone): Three new songs, covers and live tracks populate this CD/DVD collection from the masked Los Angeles rap-rock troupe.

Hot Chelle Rae, “Lovesick Electric” (Jive): The debut album from the Nashville rock quartet whose members are progeny of some of Nashville’s most successful songwriters.

Jason Mraz, “Beautiful Mess — Live on Earth” (Atlantic): A CD/DVD set, complete with a “mockumentary,” culled from the singersongwriter’s performance in Chicago this past summer.

Dolly Parton, “Dolly: Live From London” (DollyPartonMusic.net):

A CD/DVD document of the country-and-more vocalist’s 2008 stand at the O2 Arena in London.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez, “Xenophanes” (RLP): The Mars Volta guitarist brings his solo effort Stateside after a late September release in Europe.

Soundtrack, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (ABKCO): The soundtrack from the Wes Anderson film includes a new song by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker as well as vintage fare from the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and others.

Ronnie Spector, “The Last of the Rock Stars” (Bad Girls Sounds): The famed Ronette is joined by Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Raconteurs and Dead Weather on her first U.S. release in more than 20 years.

The Starting Line, “Somebody’s Gonna Miss Us” (Image Entertainment):

The Philadelphia group says farewell (at least for now) with this CD/DVD set documenting its final home town show.

Steve Wariner, “c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins” (Selectone): The Nashville sixstringer pays homage to another “certified guitar player” and personal hero.

From The Vaults: AC/DC, “Backtracks” (Columbia); Anthrax, “Caught In a Mosh: BBC In Concert” (Island/UMe); The Doors, “Live in New York” (Bright Midnight/Rhino); Jerry Garcia Band, “Let It Rock” (Dead. net/Rhino); Jackson 5, “I Want You Back: Unreleased Masters” (Motown/UMe); Kid Creole & the Coconuts, “Anthology Vols. 1 & 2 (Rainman); Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs, “Amchitka, The 1970 Concert That Launched Greenpeace” (Greenpeace Canada); Nirvana, “Live at Reading” (Geffen/UMe CD and DVD); Pylon, “Chomp More” (DFA): Pete Seeger, “Live in ‘65” (Appleseed); Snow Patrol, “Up to Now” (Fiction/A&M); Britney Spears, “Singles Collection” (Jive)

New Holiday Albums:Mary McBride, “Every Day is a Holiday” (Bogan); Soundtrack, “A Christmas Story” (Rhino); Various Artists, “Songs to Celebrate 25 Days of Christmas” (Walt Disney)

New Music DVDs: ABBA, “In Japan” (UMe); Alter Bridge, “Live From Amsterdam” (DC3); the Killers, “Live From the Royal Albert Hall” (Island); Meat Loaf, “The Original Tour” (Eagle Rock); Thin Lizzy, “Are You Ready?” (Eagle Rock); UB40, “Food For Thought” (Eagle Rock); Various Artists, “Deep Sea Blues” (Infinity)

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