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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Iron & Wine, Amos Lee, Wanda Jackson and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011

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Iron & Wine

“Kiss Each Other Clean”

(Warner Bros.)


Amos Lee

“Mission Bell”

(Blue Note)

*** 1/2

The acoustic guitar-strumming troubadour is a timeless kind of figure, but it can become a tired format as well. So on their latest albums, two of America’s most potent troubadours smartly expand and fill out their sounds, to good effect in both cases. Sam Bream (aka Iron & Wine) began that process with “The Shepherd’s Dog” in 2007, but on “Kiss Each Other Clean” he sounds even more assured and ambitious, bringing in R&B grooves, horns and synthesizers along with plenty of rhythm for tracks such as “Walking Far From Home” and “Monkey Uptown,” while “Half Moon” is peppered with doo wop vocal flavors and “Rabbit Will Run” in a more ethereal direction spiced by flute and whistles.

Amos Lee, meanwhile, enlists Calexico’s Joey Burns, as well as his band, to flesh out his songs with new layers of sonic textures and a rootsy kind of folk/soul/gospel blend that only make a good thing better. “Jesus,” with legendary R&B drummer James Gadson providing echo vocals, has some grit while “Clear Blue Eyes” with Lucinda Williams has more ambience, and “Flower” boasts a majestic chorale beauty. Both Bream and Lee sing about tried-and-true themes of love, loss and redemption, but the new sounds they embrace make each of their albums sound fresh.


Wanda Jackson, “The Party Ain’t Over” (Third Man/Nonesuch) ***

Jack White proved his deft touch for resurrecting a female music icon with Loretta Lynn’s Grammy Award-winning “Van Lear Rose” in 2004. His outing with 50s rock pioneer Wanda Jackson, her first release in five years, isn’t quite as striking but it’s definitely an eye-opener that lets us know the 73-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is still a sharp ‘n’ sassy force to be reckoned with, as formidable in her own way as the Lady Gagas and Ke$has of today. Surrounded by top-flight players and a horn section, with White producing and playing guitar, Jackson tears through fare such as Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over,” the Bill Haley/Little Richard hit “Rip It Up,” an energetic romp through Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” a slinky take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and particularly hot take of Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown.” The country-gospel staple “Dust on the Bible” gets a soulful makeover, while Jackson and White strip things down for an intimate version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #6.” All of that Makes Jackson’s comeback “Party” well worth attending.

New & Noteworthy

Jon Anderson & Rick Wakeman, “Living Tree” (101): The two Yes veterans collaborate on a nine-song studio set.

Pete Anderson, “Even Things Up/Deluxe Edition” (Little Dog/Vizz Tone): The Detroit-born Americana artist and producer adds four new songs to make his 2009 album even more potent.

David Berkeley, “Some Kind of Cure” (self-released): The American troubadour wrote the songs on his fourth studio album while living in a village in the Corsican mountains, where he also conceived the short stories in the accompanying book, “140 Goats and a Guitar.”

Eva Cassidy, “Simply Eva” (Blix Street): The singer-songwriter’s latest posthumous release (eighth overall) features a dozen solo acoustic performances, including an a capella “I Know You By Heart.”

Cold War Kids, “Mine Is Yours” (Downtown/Mercury): The third album from the earnest Long Beach, Calif., indie rock quartet.

Destroyer, “Kaputt” (Merge): The ninth album from the artful Canadian rock groups includes an 11-minute-plus closing track “Bay of Pigs (Detail).”

Carrie Elkin, “Call It My Garden” (Red House): The buzzed-about Austin singer covers Dar Williams’ “Iowa” on her latest album.

Fujiya & Miyagi, “Ventriloquizzing” (Yep Roc): The fourth album from the British electronic funk quartet.

The Gaddabouts, “The Gaddabouts” (racecarLOTTA): The first outing by the new band fronted by Edie Brickell and featuring ace players such as drummer (and namesake) Steve Gadd, guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and bassist Pino Palladino, among others.

Gang of Four, “Content” (Yep Roc): The British New Wave veterans show they haven’t lost a step on their first new album in 16 years.

Deitrick Haddon, “Church on the Moon” (Verity): The Detroit gospel singer delivers an 18-song “fever dream” filled with space metaphors and high-tech sonics.

David Guetta, “One More Love” (Astralwerks): The French DJ and producer gathers together hit club tracks recorded with Akon, Kelly Rowland, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, will.i.am and more.

Kate Jacobs, “Home Game” (Small Pond): The Virginia-born singer-songwriter returns to recording after seven years of starting and raising a family, all of which she writes about on her fifth album.

Grace Kelly, Man With the Hat” (PAZZ): The saxophone prodigy pays tribute to forebear Phil Woods on her latest album, with Woods himself guesting.

LCD Soundsystem, “London Sessions” (DFA): The New York dance-rock collective’s live-in-studio set emerges in hard copy after a digital release in November.

Lori McKenna, “Lorraine” (Signature Sounds): Thirteen new songs from the Massachusetts singer-songwriter best known for writing songs for Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Mandy Moore and Jimmy Wayne.

Pavlov’s Dog, “Echo & Boo” (Rockville): The first studio album in two decades from the St. Louis-based art rockers.

Corinne Bailey Rae, “The Love” (Capitol): The British singer and songwriter has Valentine’s Day in her commercial crosshairs with this five-song EP covering love songs by Prince, Paul McCartney & Wings, Bob Marley, Belly and Doris Day.

Various Artists, “2011 Grammy Nominees” (Jive): Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum are among those appearing on this pre-Grammy ceremony disc.

Young the Giant, “Young the Giant” (Roadrunner): The southern California indie rock quintet’s first album comes out on CD three months after its digital debut.

From The Vaults: Annie Haslam, “Annie in Wonderland” (Friday Music); Joe Nichols, “Greatest Hits (Show Dog/Universal);” Louis Prima, “Rarities & Hits! A Centennial Celebration” (101); Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., “The Very Best of the Rat Pack” (Reprise/Rhino); Various Artists, “Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads & Beyond: The Arhoolie 50th Anniversary Boxset” (Arhoolie)

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