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CD Reviews:
The Listeing Room: Adele, Jeff Beck and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011

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British singer Adele Adkins was the Esperanza Spalding of 2009 — a surprising Best New Artist winner at the Grammy Awards, where she also snared honors for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Now Adele makes good on that bold selection with a sophomore album on which she’s even better, and in bigger voice, than on 2008’s star-making “19.” “21” — named, like its predecessor, for the age the now 22-year-old singer was when she recorded it — brings in plenty of big-name helpers, including producer Rick Rubin and hitmaking collaborators Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Dan Wilson and Fraser T. Smith along with Francis “Eg” White from “19.” Their contributions are certainly estimable, but the star of the show is still Adele’s voice — full-throated and husky in the best possible way, able to not just sing a lyric but also wrap around it and lock into every emotional nuance. So an early album line like “don’t underestimate the things that I will do” is no empty warning. That gives genuine depth to wealth of multi-layered, never-say-die love songs on “21,” right up to a closing piece, “Someone Like You,” in which she still holds a torch even after the object of her affections has settled down and married — a kindlier, gentler “You Oughta Know.” But even if her heart is breaking on most of “21,” Adele gets ours soaring with killer performances, from the bluesy first single “Rolling in the Deep” to the soul-rocking “Rumour Has It,” the robust and torchy “Take It All” and “One and Only,” the more contemporary groove of “He Won’t Go,” the anthemic “I’ll Be Waiting” and a smooth, Latin-flavored cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.” Best New Artist has been the kiss of death for many a winner, but on “21” Adele shows it was just the harbinger of more good things to come.


Jeff Beck, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul)” (Atco) ***1/2

Guitar legend Jeff Beck couldn’t ask for a better lead-in to a new album, winning three Grammy Awards at last week’s ceremony in Los Angeles. But “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party...” was already a special endeavor, culled from a June show the Iridium Jazz Club in New York to celebrate his late friend and guitar innovator, Les Paul. (Beck, ironically, plays a Fender rather than Paul’s Gibson, but still...) Beck is in fine, fiery form throughout, especially on instrumentals such as “Peter Gunn,” “Apache” and “Sleep Walk,” while guest vocalists (Imelda Ray, Gary U.S. Bonds, Brian Setzer and Darrell Higham) and a horn section featuring Trombone Shorty provide passionate complements to the endeavor. Paul could not have asked for a more heartfelt sendoff.

New & Noteworthy:

Joan Armatrading, “Live at Royal Albert Hall” (429): A live CD and DVD document of the veteran singer-songwriter’s 2010 concert in London.

Bayside, “Killing Time” (Wind-Up): The melodic modern rock group from Queens teams with producer Gil NOrton (the Pixies, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World) for its fifth album.

Johnny Burke, “Distance and Fortune” (Dreamcar): The Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter’s debut was produced by former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford.

Johnny Cash, “Bootleg, Volume 2: From Memphis to Hollywood” (Columbia/Legacy): The latest trolling of the Man in Black’s vaults unearths 11 previously unreleased Sun Records demos and a rash of rarities from the 60s, including a duet with actor Lorne Greene.

The Cave Singers, “No Witch” (Jagjaguwar): The Seattle-based indie folk-rock trio recorded its third album across the border in Vancouver.

Celtic Thunder, “Heritage” (Decca): The album companion to the vocal sextet’s new show includes versions of “Belfast Polka,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose” and “Buachaill O’n Eirne.”

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, “Forever” (Concord Jazz): Three-quarters of Return To Forever recreate some of the group’s best-known songs with help from guests Chaka Khan, Jean-Luc Ponty and original RTF guitarist Bill Connors.

Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, “D.R.U.G.S.” (Sire): The debut outing from former Chiodos frontman Craig Owens’ new band, which also includes past members of Story of the Year, Matchbook Romance, From First to Last and Underminded.

DevilDriver, “Beast” (Roadrunner): The headbangers’ fifth studio album includes a cover of 16 Horsepower’s “Black Soul Choir.”

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, “Bright Examples” (Ninth Street Opus): The husband-wife couple’s first set of new material in five years includes guest appearances by Jayhawks frontmen Gary Louris and Mark Olson as well as Neal Casal and Vetiver’s Otto Houser.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, “We’re New Here” (XL): Hot young producer Jamie xx joins Heron for a reworking of his well-received 2010 comeback album “I’m New Here.”

G. Love, “Fixin’ to Die” (Brushfire): Produced by the Avett Brothers, the Special Sauce troubadour’s latest solo album includes a fired-up treatment of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”

The Low Anthem, “Smart Flesh” (Nonesuch): The Rhode Island folk quartet created limited edition artwork for the first 5,000 copies of its fourth album.

Brad Mehldau, “Live in Marciac” (Nonesuch): The pianist’s second live set, a two-CD/DVD combination, includes his versions of songs by Nirvana, the Beatles, Radiohead, Nick Drake, Cole Porter and Rogers & Hammerstein.

Joell Ortiz, “Free Agent” (E1): The Brooklyn rapper gets help from his Slaughterhouse compatriots — including Detroit’s Royce da 5’9 — and others on his third full-length studio set.

Lauren Pritchard, “Wasted in Jackson” (Universal/Island): The American-born, England-based soul singer, a star of “Spring Awakening” on Broadway, unleashes a CD version of her debut album after its digital release in October.

Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (XL): The British group’s eighth studio album rolled out on short notice this weekend on its web site, with a physical release to follow in March.

Soundtrack, “Blue Valentine” (Lakeshore): Brooklyn folk-rockers Grizzly Bear contributed enough songs here — 11, mostly instrumental — to consider it the group’s own next album.

Soundtrack, “No Strings Attached” (Red): The companion to this Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman comedy hops around pop decades with songs from Elvis Presley, Leona Lewis, Plain White T’s, Color Me Badd and more.

Strong Arm Steady, “Arms & Hammers” (Blacksmith): The third album from the southern California hip-hop group features collaborations with Kobe, DJ Khalil, Kurupt, KRS-One, Notzz, Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius and label boss Talib Kweli.

Tahiti 80, “The Past, the Present & the Possible” (Human Sounds): The French rock troupe shows some decided Britpop leanings on the first release for its own label.

John Waite, “Rough & Tumble” (Model Music Group): The former Babys and Bad English singer gets back to rocking on his latest release, which includes a remake of “Mr. Wonderful” from his first solo album, 1982’s “Ignition.”

From The Vaults: The Crystals, “Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of...” (Sony Legacy); Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Live at Nassau Coliseum 78” (Shout! Factory); The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Authorized Bootleg: Fillmore East Ny Ny Late Show” (Hip-O Select); Darlene Love, “The Sound of Love: The Very Best of...” (Sony Legacy); The Ronnettes, “Be My Baby: The Very Best of...” (Sony Legacy); Connie Stevens, “Complete Warner Bros. Singles” (Collector’s Choice); Thin Lizzy, “Johnny the Fox: Deluxe Edition” (Mercury/UMe); Tower of Power, “40th Anniversary"; Twisted Sister, “Love is For Suckers” and “Come Out and Play” (both Eagle Rock); Various Artists, “Alligator Records 40th Anniversary” (TOP Records); (Alligator); Various Artists, “Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 61-66” (Sony Legacy)

New Music DVDs: Jeff Beck, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul)” (Eagle Rock)

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