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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Lady Gaga, Brad Paisley and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011

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Lady Gaga

“Born This Way”

Streamline/Kon Live/Interscope


Lady Gaga is a good ways from “The Edge of Glory” — the closing track and third single from her sophomore full-length album. She’s arguably the world’s biggest and most provocative pop star of the past three years (meat dresses and egg vessels will do that for you), with the most highly anticipated release of the year so far. And Gaga makes good on those lofty expectations with “Born This Way,” a polished, pumping set of dance pop that has the same catchy club virtues of its predecessors — “The Fame” and the expanded “The Fame Monster” — but digs a little deeper into both the Gaga psyche and especially her skills as a record maker. The album’s tracks — 14 on the regular release, 17 on the special edition — mix requisite angst (“I’m a soldier to my own emptiness”) with fist-pumping affirmations (“I love my life, I love this record”) and dig into some autobiography on “Black Jesus/Amen Fashion” and the rebellious “Bad Kids.” There are amusing rhymes (“Put your hands on me/John F. Kennedy”) and provocative declarations (“Jesus is the new black” — whatever), as well as a few unsubtle sexual entendres and occasional moments where it sounds like she just needed to fill a line (“Follow that unicorn on her lonely run,” anybody?). None of that really breaks up the groove, however, and “Born This Way” keeps us the dance floor full with the title track, “Marry the Night,” “Judas,” the muscular thump of “Heavy Metal Lover” and the icy cool of “Government Hooker.” Gaga camps it up on the Latin-flavored “Americano,” the Germanic girl-power anthem “Scheibe” and the gothy “Bloody Mary,” while “Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” boasts an anthemic, “Bat Out of Hell” drama. “Born This Way’s” highlight, however, is its most organic — and for fans, familiar — moment; “You and I” is a soulful love ballad she’s been playing live for awhile, though on record it’s dressed up with epic production by rock hitmaker Mutt Lange, a sample from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and solos by Queen guitarist Brian May that for a rich counterpoint to the synthetics that propel the rest of the album.


Brad Paisley, “This is Country Music” (Arista Nashville) ***

Over the course of his eight studio albums, a good time has been pretty consistently had by all when Brad Paisley releases an album — and “This is Country Music” is no exception. Declaring in the title track that “this is real/this is your life in a song,” Paisley cheerfully mixes light-hearted uptempo tracks (“Camouflage,” “Working on a Tan,” “Toothbrush”) with heartstring-pulling ballads such as “I Do Now,” “A Man Don’t Have to Die” and “One of those Lives.” The guest list is impressive, too — Carrie Underwood, the Eagles’ Don Henley, Blake Shelton, a teaming of Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson on the gospel-flavored “Life’s Railway to Heaven” — and Clint Eastwood, who whistles on the instrumental that bears his surname. At 15 tracks it’s long for a country album, but there’s hardly anything that could be considered filler here.

New & Noteworthy:

Against Me, “Total Clarity” (Fat Wreck Chords): A compilation of demos and unused tracks made during sessions for the Florida punk rockers’ 2005 album, “Searching For a Former Clarity.”

Art Brut, “Brilliant! Tragic!” (Cooking Vinyl/The End): The British indie rock troupe’s fourth album was produced by the Pixies’ Black Francis.

Joseph Arthur, “Graduation Ceremony” (Lonely Astronaut): The New York musical auteur recruited delivers his first solo album in five years, with all-star help from Liz Phair and drummer JIm Keltner.

Kate Bush, “Director’s Cut” (Fish People/EMI): The British looks back, without anger, to rework songs from her earlier releases “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes” for her first album in six years.

Laura Cantrell, “Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music” (Diesel Only): The New York-based Americana artist takes on 10 of Wells’ songs her, dueting with BR-549’s Chuck Mead on “One By One.”

Carter’s Chord, “Wild Together” (Show Dow/Universal): A six-song EP from the sister trio signed to co-producer Toby Keith’s label.

Glee Cast, “Glee: The Music, Volume 6” (Columbia): The TV show’s latest collaboration includes songs by Adele, Fleetwood Mac and more as well as guest appearances by Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristin Chenoweth and Jonathan Groff.

Ashlyne Huff, “Let It Out” (Liquid Digital Media): The singer and daughter of Nashville producer and guitarist Dann [cq] Huff issues her debut album to follow the success of her first single, “White Flag.”

Jadakiss, “I Love You: A Dedication to My Fans” (Ruff Ryders/D-Block/Island Def Jam): The New York rapper is joined by Pharrell, Rick Ross, Trae Tha Truth, Styles P and others on this mixtape release.

Sean Jones, “Brief Encounter” (Mack Avenue): The sixth solo album from the Ohio-born trumpeter and bandleader.

Living With Lions, “Holy S***” (Adeline): The sophomore outing by the Vancouver punk quintet who hopes fans utter its title — in a good way — once they hear these 10 new songs.

Stephen Marley, “Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life” (Ghetto Youths/Universal Republic): Melanie Fiona, Buju Banton and brother Damian Marley guest on this third solo album from the former Melody Makers members.

Jimbo Mathus, “Confederate Buddha” (Memphis International): The Squirrel Nut Zippers member augments his own band with a number of guests for his latest solo album.

Duff McKagan`s Loaded, “Sick (Special Edition)” (Eagle Rock): A re-released version of the Guns ‘N Roses/Velvet Revolver bassist’s new album adds a concert DVD filmed in Scotland and other video bonuses.

MMG, “MMG Presents: Self Made, Vol. 1” (Warner Bros.): A compilation from rapper Rick Ross’s Mayback Music Group that features Ross, Wale, Meek Mill, Pill and others from its roster.

Neal Morse, “Testimony 2” (InsideOut): The Spock’s Beard guitarist continues the Christian concept of 2003’s “Testimony,” with a guest appearance by Deep Purple’s Steve Morse.

New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys, “NKOTBSB” (Columbia/Jive/Legacy): The two boy bands prepare for their upcoming tour together by combining their greatest hits with two new collaborative songs and a mash-up.

She Wants Revenge, “Valleyheart” (Five Seven): The hard rocking Los Angeles due ends a four-year break for its third album with this 10-song set.

Soundtrack, “The Hangover, Part II” (WaterTower): A wide array of artists — Kanye West, Billy Joel, Deadmau5, [cq], Danzig and, yes, Mike Tyson — contribute songs to the season’s top film sequel.

Chip Taylor, “Rock & Roll Joe” (Train Wreck): Americana singer-songwriter Taylor spearheads a salute to unsung music heroes that also includes a companion web site to enhance the concept.

From The Vaults: ABBA, “Super Trouper: Deluxe Edition” (UMe); Aerosmith, “Tough Love: The Best of the Ballads” (Geffen); Louis Armstrong, “Icon” (UMe); Rosanne Cash, “Essential” (Legacy); Willie DeVille, “Come a Little Bit Closer — Best of Live” (Eagle Rock); Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On 40th Anniversary Edition” (Motown/UMe); Gin Blossoms, “Icon” (UMe); New Edition, “Icon” (Motown/UMe); Kelly Price, “Icon” (UMe); The Supremes, “Let Yourself Go: The 70s Albums, Vol. 2...” (Hip-O Select); Conway Twitty, “Icon"; Muddy Waters, “Icon” (UMe)

New Music DVDs: “The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show” (Time-Life)

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