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The Listening Room: Blake Shelton, Incubus and more...
"Red River Blue"
Up till now, Blake Shelton has been a successful country artist — a star without the "super" imposed in front of it. His albums have gone gold, though not platinum. He has a passel of country chart hits but has only hit the Top 20 of the pop charts twice. Nothing to sneeze at, but nobody's mistaking him for Taylor Swift or Tim McGraw. Until now. Being one of the four judges for NBC's "The Voice" — and having the first season's runner-up in Dia Frampton — has vaulted Shelton into a new strata that he and his label are, of course, hoping to capitalize on with "Red River Blue." To his credit, Shelton has not made any wholesale concessions for his potential new audience; he's still working with Scott Hendricks, who co-produced 2008's "Startin' Fires" and helmed Shelton's pair of best-selling 2010 EPs, "Hillbilly Bone" and "All About Tonight." And Shelton still keeps it clearly country on the album's 11 tracks, with a taste for the silly on the cornpone first single "Honey Bee," the pickin' 'n' grinnin' "Hey," the cold coot lament "Good Ole Boys" and the TGIF odes "Ready to Roll" and "Get Some." Shelton's earnest side, meanwhile, gets an airing on the heartstring-tugging title track (a duet with his wife, Miranda Lambert), "Over, "I'm Sorry" with Martina McBride and "Drink On It," a soul-tinged come on that features Jessi [cq] Alexander. It's polished and assured and well-crafted — not necessarily the best thing Shelton has put out, but worth turning your chair around for.
Incubus, "If Not Now, When?"
(Epic) ★★ 1/2
The Incubus we hear on the group's first new studio album in five years is not the group we left on 2006's "Light Grenades." Save for the hard-edged, staccato "Switchblade," these 11 songs hew towards the ethereal and ambient, a sonic terrain closer to the quieter side of U2 than the heaviness of groups Incubus once played alongside on the OZZFest and Lollapalooza tours. It's not an unsuccessful reinvention, mind you ; the title track, "Promises, Promises," the epic "In the Company of Wolves" and the first single, "Adolescents," benefit from the compositional sweep, which accents frontman Brandon Boyd's poetic and philosophical musings about love and possibilities — and their attendant consequences. "If Not Now..." takes a few listens to wrap your head around, but it ultimately works even if you never really lose the craving for a little bit more noise.
New & Noteworthy
Alkaline Trio, "Damnesia" (Heart & Skull/Epitaph): The Illinois trio takes an acoustic route on its latest album, which includes a cover of the Violent Femmes' "I Held Her in My Arms."
David Bromberg, "Use Me" (Appleseed): The folks veteran teams with Dr. John, Linda Ronstadt, Levon Helm, Los Lobos, Widespread Panic, Keb ' Mo', Vince Gill and more on his second release in the last 21 years.
Colbie Caillat, "All of You" (Universal Republic): Much of the chart-topping singer-songwriter's third album was inspired by her relationship with boyfriend and guitarist Justin Young.
Capitol Steps, "Desperate Housemembers" (Capitol Steps): The political satirists return with 21 new observations about Obama, Arizona, Mubarak and the Tea Party.
Kasey Chambers, "Little Bird" (Sugar Hill): The Australian singer-songwriter's first solo set in four years includes guest appearances by Patty Griffin, Missy Higgins and former Midnight Oil guitarist Jim Mogine.
Fair To Midland, "Arrows & Anchors" (eOne): The hard rock quintet from Sulphur Springs, Texas, teamed with producer Joe Barressi (Kyuss, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age) for its 15-track sophomore set.
Nikki Jean, "Pennies in a Jar" (S-Curve): The pop-soul singer not only has big guests on her debut album (Lupe Fiasco, Black Thought of the Roots) but also co-wrote songs with Bob Dylan, Lamont Dozier, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Jimmy Web and Carly Simon.
Brian McKnight, "Just Me" (eOne): The R&B/pop star pairs a disc of new recordings with a second disc of live, unplugged renditions of some of his past hits.
Sepultura, "Kairos" (Nuclear Blast): The long-lived Brazilian heavy metal group includes a cover of Ministry's "Just One Fix" on its 12th studio album.
Ashton Shepherd, "Where Country Grows" (MCA Nashville): Besides her second album, the country singer is also due to "release" her second child later this year.
Sublime With Rome, "Yours Truly" (Fueled By Ramen): A new area begins with this first set of songs from the new incarnation of Sublime, with Rome Ramirez in the late Bradley Nowell's frontman spot.
Tesla, "Twisted Wires" (Tesla Electric Co.): The California rockers dust off the final recordings of its original lineup, from 2005, and add two new songs to the mix.
Theory of a Deadman, "The Truth Is..." (Roadrunner): The Vancouver hard rock group's fourth album faces high expectations after the platinum showing of 2008's "Scars & Souvenirs."
George Thorogood & the Destroyers, "2120 South Michigan Ave." (Capitol/EMI): Roots rocker Thorogood pays tribute to the great Chess Records label with help from Buddy Guy and Charlie Musselwhite.
We The Kings, "Sunshine State of Mind" (S-Curve): The Florida pop-punk quartet's third album pays homage to its home town of Bardenton.
John Wetton, "Raised in Captivity" (Frontiers): The singer-bassist welcomes a wealth of past associates on his sixth solo album, including members of King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, U.K., Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Asia.
William Elliott Whitmore, "Field Songs" (Anti-): The Iowa troubadour takes his rootsy, pastoral sound for a spin around the current state of America on his latest set of observational songs.
Robin and Linda Williams, "Stonewall Country" (Red House): Garrison Keillor guests on the "A Prairie Home Companion" duo's collection of songs from their musical about Confederate army general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
Yes, "Fly From Here" (Frontiers): The progressive rock icons' first new album in a decade returns keyboardist Geoff Downs to the fold and marks current frontman David Benoit's first recordings with the group.
Chris Young, "Neon" (RCA Nashville): The country singer's third album follows a pair of Top 10 sets and is led by a Top 5 single, "Tomorrow."
From The Vaults: Tony Bennett, "Best of the Improv Recordings" (Concord); Dr. John, "New Orleans Man" (Atom); Levon Helm, "Take Me to the River 1978-1982" (Raven); Megadeth, "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying (25th Anniversary Edition) (Capitol/EMI); Van Morrison, "Here Comes" (Pazzazz); R.E.M., "Lifes Rich Pageant (25th Anniversary Edition)" (Capitol/I.R.S.); Townes Van Zandt, "Live in Texas" (Atom); The Yardbirds, "Stroll On With..." (Atom)
New Music DVDs: Robin Gibb, "In Concert with the Danish National Concert" (Eagle Rock)
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