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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Dead Weather, Taproot and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 9, 2010

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The Dead Weather

“Sea of Cowards”

Third Man


When Jack White gets excited about something it’s hard to stop the train. So here we are, just 10 months after the curious all-star group The Dead Weather released its first album, “Horehound,” White and company are back with a follow-up that’s even more raucous and sonically daring. The grungy, psychedelic-leaning garage blues of “Horehound” is still evident on “Sea of Cowards,” but the quartet has achieved a discernible new comfort level that’s allowed it to stretch and bend the template into an aural thrill ride with slinkier grooves, more disjointed melodies and a punchy but defiantly lo-fi attack. While White and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart certainly relish the opportunity to unleash their vocal lines from standard rules of play, the chief beneficiary here is Royal Oak’s Dean Fertita (the Waxwings, Queens of the Stone Age). He’s given ample space and plenty of effects pedals for both his guitars and his keyboards, dotting effects-laden squonks, hiccups and other twists through all 11 tracks while still delivering some classic riffery in “I’m Mad” and “Jawbreaker” and driving “No Horse” with a dirty garage groove. “Hustle and Cuss” is as funky as we’ve heard the Dead Weather to this point, while the single, “Die By the Drop,” is a comparatively straightforward gallop punctuated by White and Mosshart’s vocal trades. “I Can’t Hear You” is dark and slinky while “The Difference Between Us” is a dynamic cascade of ear-catching sonic schizophrenia and “Old Mary” ends the affair as a partially spoken tone poem that sounds like it was made up right on the spot. That spirit of recklessness, in fact, marks “Sea of Cowards” in a good way, causing the Dead Weather’s ship to list dangerously from side to side but never completely sink.


Taproot, “Plead the Fifth” (Victory) ***

Ten years after their major label debut, these thinking-man’s headbangers from Ann Arbor are still around — with a track record of seven Top 40 Mainstream Rock chart hits and a new album that may be their most ferocious yet. Following the more experimental “Our Long Road Home” in 2008, the quartet doesn’t waste any time slamming into its fifth album, with “Now Rise” defiantly in your face with its tricky rhythmic patterns, Mike DeWolf’s twisting guitar figures and frontman Stephen Richards’ blend of angsty howls and melodic harmonies. The rest of “Plead the Fifth” follows a similar course, from the fury of “Game Over” and “Left Behind” to more accessible fare like the single “Fractured (Everything I Said Was True)” and the dynamic roller coasters of “Release Me,” “Stolage” and “911ost.” Early on Richards asks, “Can you join us?” Absolutely.

New & Noteworthy:

A Loss For Words, “Motown Classics” (Paper + Plastick): The Boston pop-punk quintet revs up favorites by the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations and others on this Motor City homage.

As I Lay Dying, “The Powerless Rise” (Metal Blade): The San Diego headbangers work again with producer Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage after their last collaboration, “An Ocean Between Us,” debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Jackson Browne and David Lindley, “Love is Strange” (Inside): A two-CD live set documenting a 2006 Spanish tour by the two longtime friends and musical cohorts.

Carney, “Mr. Green Vol. 1” (Interscope): The debut album by the 2009 Lollapalooza favorite whose frontman, Reeve Carney, is signed on for the lead role in U2’s Broadway version of “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark.”

Crash Test Dummies, “Oooh La La” (RED): The “Mmm Mmm...” Canadian group joined forces with edgy producer Stewart Lerman for its first new album in six years.

4Troops, “4Troops” (Sony Masterworks): Four recent U.S. military veterans join forces on a set featuring mostly covers by Glen Campbell, Sarah McLachlan, Toby Keith and others.

Sage Francis, “Li(f)e” (Anti-): The fourth solo album by the Rhode Island-born rapper was recorded with collaborators from Grandaddy and Califone.

Hoodoo Gurus, “Purity of Essence” (Virtual Label/ADA): The Australian rockers reunite with early producers Ed Stasium and Charles Fisher on their first new album in six years.

John5, “The Art of Malice” (60 Cycle Hum/Rocket Science): Grosse Pointe-born guitar ace John Lowery, now with Rob Zombie, covers Ace Frehley’s “Fractured Mirror” on his fifth solo album.

Keane, “Night Train” (Cherrytree/Interscope): The British trio is joined by rapper K’Naan and Japanese MC Tigarah on its ambitious fourth album.

Jennifer Knapp, “Letting Go” (RED): The Dove Award-winning singer-songwriter returns with her first new music after a seven-year hiatus.

Jim Lauderdale, “Patchwork River” (Emmergent): The Grammy-winning country/Americana artist collaborates again with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter on his 18th album.

Meat Loaf, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” (Loud & Proud): The theatrical rocker turns in a characteristically epic set with help from guests such as Queen’s Brian May, Steve Vai, “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi, Jack Black and “Hugh Laurie” from TV’s “House.”

The National, “High Violet” (4AD): The Cincinnati indie rockers recorded their fifth studio album in Brooklyn and Bridgeport, Conn.

Portugal, The Man, “American Ghetto” (Approaching AIRballoons/Equal Vision): The Alaska-formed, Portland-based indie rockers’ sixth studio album comes out in terrestrial form two months after its online release.

Arturo Sandoval, “A Time For Love” (Concord Jazz): Chris Botti, Monica Mancini and the Shelley Berg Trio join the Cuban jazz luminary on this survey of American standards.

Stereophonics, “Keep Calm and Carry On” (Mercury): The Welsh modern rock quartet’s seventh album, named after a British World War II poster, comes out nearly six months after its release in the U.K.

Otis Taylor, “Clovis People, Vol. 3” (Telarc): The rootsy Colorado troubadour features Gary Moore on this collection — for which there was no Vol. 1 or 2 — inspired by an ancient civilization that lived near his home.

Various Artists, “American Idol — Season 9” (RCA): The Top 10 from what’s considered a weak season by “Idol” standards delivers a collection of mostly classic rock covers.

We Are the Fallen, “Tear the World Down” (Universal): Three members of Evanescence’s “Fallen” lineup, including songwriting principal Ben Moody, join forces with “American Idol” finalist Carly Smithson to bring themselves back to life in the music world.

From The Vaults: Bon Jovi — “Special Edition” versions of the group’s first 10 albums, with bonus tracks, different artwork and new liner notes (Island Def Jam); Nat King Cole & Friends, “Riffin: The Decca, JATP, Kennote & Mercury Recordings” (Hip-O Select); Judas Priest, “British Steel: 30th Anniversary Edition” (Columbia Legacy); Kris Kristofferson, “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-72” (Light in the Attic).

New Music DVDs: Various Artists, “Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense” (IndiePix Films/FilmBuff)

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