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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Common, Kevin Hearn and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2011

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“The Dreamer, The Believer”

Think Common Music/Warner Bros.


Chicago rapper Common (ne Lonnie Lynn Jr.) has accomplished quite a bit during the three years since his last new studio album. He’s made a batch of films (“Terminator Salvation,” “Date Night,” “Happy Feet Two” and an ongoing role in the TV series “Hell on Wheels”), published a memoir, launched a clothing line and kicked up a stir when he appeared at a White House poetry reading. But he was clearly itching to get back in the music game, which he makes clear at the outset of “The Dreamer” as he announces that “It’s Common, I’m high above standard.” The album is, in fact, built on chest-thumping blasts of braggadocio, as three years off the mic — but hardly out of sight — has instilled within Common a drive to re-establish his status and, working with childhood friend and original producer No ID, to put a little street muscle behind his reputation for a more gentile, conscious brand of rap music. “The game needs direction and I’m hear to map it. ... When it comes to hip-hop it begins and ends with me,” he declares in “Sweet,” perhaps the angriest song he’s ever recorded, while “Gold” positions him as a deliverer with a Messianic mission. But if his chin is thrust out, Common also wears his heart on his sleeve in these 12 tracks, lamenting failed romance over an Impressions sample on “Lovin’ I Lost,” fusing polyrhythms with the old school cream of Graham Central Station and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes on the aforementioned “Gold” and deftly incorporating the unlikely pop flavors of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” into “Blue Sky” and the buoyant “Celebrate,” respectively. John Legend’s hook vocals on “The Believer” and the poems by Maya Angelou and Lonnie “Pops” Lynn that bookend the set assure us that Common hasn’t lost his conscience, but “The Dreamer” puts plenty of brass in his pocket to go with it.


Kevin Hearn, “Cloud Maintenance” (Celery Music) ***

Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn has long been Barenaked Ladies’ secret weapon, and if he doesn’t have the commanding voice of bandmate Ed Robertson or former BNL cohort Steven Page he compensates with clever songcraft, creative arrangements and a corps of cohorts that on his second solo album includes members of his band Thinbuckle as well as The Band’s Garth Hudson on the track “The House of Invention.” Left to his own devices, Hearn is more apt to write about aboriginal Canadian painter Norval Morriseau and sling witicisms such as “At the Dollarama with the Dalai Lama/You can buy cards but you can’t buy good karma,” while a healthy mix of minimalist ambience (“Northland Train,” “She Waved,” “The City of Love”), buoyant pop (“Don’t Shuffle Me Back”) and folksy melancholy (“See You Again,” “Grey Garden”) make for some easy listening indeed.

New & Noteworthy

Anderson/Wakeman, “The Living Tree in Concert Part One” (Gonzo Multimedia): Former Yes men Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman reprise some of their band’s favorites in an intimate fashion on this live set.

Atkins/May Project, “Serpent’s Kiss” (Gonzo Multimedia): A loud ’n’ proud collision between original Judas Priest frontman Al Atkins and Christian rock guitar hero Paul May.

Roscoe Dash, “J.u.i.c.e.” (Music Line/Geffen): The up-and-coming Atlanta rapper’s debut EP features collaborations with Wale and, on the track “Sidity,” with Detroit’s Big Sean.

The Liptones, “Meaning of Life” (101): The Swedish ska band warms up the early winter with a dozen high-octane tracks.

Kim McClean, “Sweet Tea: A Southern Soundtrack” (Hippie Chick Twang): Greasy blues and Louisiana soul populate this companion to Devon O’Day’s “My Southern Food” cookbook.

Lightning Love, “Girls Who Look Like Me” (Quite Scientific): The Ypsilanti indie pop trio delivers an EP to stoke expectations for its sophomore album, due in 2012.

Conan O’Brien and the Legally Prohibited Band,” Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Lakeshore): The covers-laden companion to the acclaimed music from O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funn on Television Tour comes out digitally this week and in hard copy during January.

Vonda Shepherd, “Solo” (Pan Shot): It’s just the onetime “Ally McBeal” songstress and her piano on these 10 tracks, including originals and covers of “Walk Away Renee” and “You Belong to Me.”

Souldrainer, “Heaven’s Gate” (101): Swedish death metal — big, loud, hard and fast. If that doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, what will?

Andrew Tosh, “Legacy: An Acoustic Tribute to Peter Tosh” (Box 10): The reggae progeny pays tribute to his late father on this unplugged set, with guest appearances by Bunny Wailer and Kymani Marley.

Young Jeezy, “TM 103 Hustlerz Ambition” (Corporate Thugz/Def Jam): The Atlanta MC’s fourth full album surfaces after a couple years of delays, with a guest list that includes Jay-Z, Ne-You, Jill Scott, T.I., OutKast’s Andre 3000, Snoop Dogg and many others.

From The Vaults: Devo, “DNA” (Rhino Handmade); Prince Buster, “Sister Big Stuff” (101); Percy Sledge, “Atlantic Recordings” (Rhino Handmade); The Stooges, “Complete Funhouse Sessions” (Rhino Handmade); Richard and Linda Thompson, “Shoot Out the Lights: Deluxe Edition” (Rhino Handmade)

Soundtracks: Various Artists, “Answers to Nothing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Lakeshore); Christopher Young, “The Rum Diary” (Lakehouse)

New Holiday Albums: Alexander O’Neal, “My Gift to You (Remastered)” (Tabu); Sha Na Na, “Rockin’ Christmas: The Classic Christmas Collection” (Gold)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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