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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Kings of Leon, Elton John and Leon Russell, and more

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2010

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Kings of Leon

“Come Around Sundown”


** 1/2

This is a first for Kings of Leon — an album that’s expected and even anxiously awaited, especially in the Tennessee quartet’s homeland. But after 2008’s platinum and Grammy Award-winning “Only By Night” and its breakout hits “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” the Kings have arrived and its fifth album is riding a wave of justifiable expectations. It’s to the group’s credit that rather than retrench and repeat, Kings of Leon holds true to the adventurous sonic trajectory its pursued since the release of its debut album in 2003. “Come Around Sundown,” produced by the “Only By Night” team of Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King, takes the band out of Nashville and into New York, with a clear sense of freedom to explore different styles and add new instruments to the mix. “The End” begins the 13-song set with a big drum beat and a trancey drone and keyboards laying extra, gauzy textures over the proceedings. The single “Radioactive” rides a ringing guitar signature and forceful rhythm, while “Pyro” channels vintage Tears For Fears, “The Immortals” and “Birthday” dip into reggae and island textures, and “Mary” delivers a full-on ’50s soul vibe. The fiddle-flavored “Back Down South” is rootsy but restrained in an effective way, “Mi Amigo” flaunts — big surprise — a light Mexican influence and “No Money” gallops with guitar-driven propulsion. Frontman Caleb Followill’s lyrics stay on the undefined, impressionistic side throughout, which is usually good for repeated listenings, though “Pickup Truck” in particular offers a weird kind of narrative not unlike something out of a David Lynch film. All of this renders “Come Around Sundown” a bit more subtle and less immediate than its platinum predecessor, but it certainly lives up to our expectations of Kings of Leon to take us on an intriguing musical ride.


Elton John and Leon Russell “The Union” (Rocket/Decca) ** 1/2

This meeting of two musical titans comes together 40 years after John and Russell, who the former cites as his “biggest influence in the late ’60s and early ’70s” in the album’s liner notes, first played together in New York. That’s a long time, and there’s a stateliness and restraint to these 14 songs — produced by Grammy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett — that makes you wonder just how fiery it would have been in those early days. But the level of craft and taste here is high, from the gospel-flavored shimmy of “A Dream Come True” and “Hearts Have Turned to Stone” to the Sun Records shuffles “Jimmie Rogers’ Dream” and “Monkey Suit,” the gothic drama of “There’s No Tomorrow” and torchy ballads such as “Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes,” “When Love is Dying” and “Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody).”

New and Noteworthy

Glenna Bell, “Perfectly Legal: Songs of Sex, Love and Murder” (Honey Island): The Texas vocalist recorded these songs about real-life women at the turn of the 21st century in Austin, Houston and eastern Pennsylvania.

The Bombastic Meatbats featuring Chad Smith, “More Meat” (Warrior): The second album from Detroit native and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Smith’s instrumental side project.

California Guitar Trio, “Andromeda” (CGT): The three alumni of Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists celebrate their 20th anniversary by giving over the cover of its new album cover to the Hubble Telescope, which also launched two decades ago.

Corinne Chapman, “Dirty Pretty Things” (self-released): The California native’s latest set of self-described “hippie rock” was produced by former Uncle Tupelo/Wilco member Ken Coomer.

Halestorm, “Live in Philly 2010” (Atlantic): The hard rockers from Red Lion, Pa., follow up their well-received debut with this document from a de facto hometown gig.

Will Hoge, “The Living Room Sessions” (Rykodisc): The Nashville rocker and songwriter strips down a half-dozen of his songs, recorded during just two days in, yes, his living room.

Mt. Desolation, “Mt. Desolation” (Cherrytree/Interscope): The first release from the Keane side project features contributions from friends in the Killers, Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale.

Oceansize, “Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up” (Super Ball): The Manchester rock troupe’s fourth album, and first in three years, comes to these shores after making a big splash across the pond.

Steven Page, “Page One” (Zoe/Rounder): Page’s first solo album since leaving Barenaked Ladies last year finds him working with longtime collaborators Stephen Duffy and Craig Northey.

Carl Palmer, “Working Live — Volume 3” (Eagle Rock): The ELP drummer’s latest includes the entirety of his group’s rock adaptation of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Philistines Jr., “If a Band Plays in the Woods...?” (Tarquin/Embarque): The experimental rockers led by producer Peter Katis (Interpol, the National) returns after a nine-year hiatus.

Shakira, “Sale El Sol (The Sun Comes Out)” (Epic): The Colombian singer’s latest is her third bilingual affair, fronted by the World Cup single “Waka Waka” and featuring guest appearances by rappers Dizzee Rascal, Pitbull and Calle 13.

Senses Fail, “The Fire” (Vagrant): The New Jersey hardcore group’s fourth studio album is the last to feature guitarist Zach Roach, who’s since been replaced.

Soundtrack, “Glee: The Rocky Horror Glee Show” (Columbia): So guess what the “Glee” kids are doing for their Halloween episode this year?

Rod Stewart, “Fly Me to the Moon...The Great American Songbook Volume V” (J): Stewart’s fifth collection of pop standards runs a bit more uptempo and includes “Moon River,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “That Old Black Magic” and the title track.

Sugarland, “The Incredible Machine” (Mercury Nashville): The country duo’s fourth studio album cuts in a number of different stylistic directions, while the first single is already “Stuck Like Glue” on radio playlists.

Third Day, “Move” (Essential): The Christian rock quartet has already made a mark for its latest album via the single “Lift Up Your Face.”

Tye Tribbett, “Fresh” (Columbia): The fourth album from the New Jersey gospel artist who’s also worked with Andrae Crouch, Kirk Franklin and Justin Timberlake.

Various Artists, “AfroCubism” (Circuit/Nonesuch): Malian and Cuban musicians — including Eliades Ochoa, Toumani Diabate and others — come together for sessions that were originally to take place in 1996, as the original Buena Vista Social Club, but were curtailed by customs.

Yanni, “Mexicanismo” (Universal Latino): The World Music artist from Greece mines Mexican inspirations for his latest musical sojourn.

From The Vaults: The Beatles, The Beatles, “1967-1970”; Bob Dylan, “Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964” (Columbia Legacy); Bob Dylan, “The Original Mono Recordings” (Columbia Legacy); Bob Dylan, “The Best of the Original Mono Recordings” (Columbia Legacy); George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, “Collaborations” (Dark Horse/Rhino); Iggy Pop and James Williamson, “Kill City (Remastered)” (Alive); Soft Boys, “A Can of Bees” (Yep Roc); Tammi Terrell, “Come On and See Me: The Complete Solo Collection” (Hip-O Select)

New Holiday Albums: Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, “Crazy For Christmas” (Surfdog)

New Music DVDs: Kylie Minogue, “Rare and Unseen” (MVD); Luciano Pavarotti, “Bravo Pavarotti” (Decca); Phish, “Coral Sky” (JEMP); Michael Schenker Group, “Love in Tokyo: 30th Anniversary” (Inakustik); Twisted Sister, “Live at Wacken” (Eagle Rock)

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