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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Leonard Cohen, Lana Del Ray and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2012

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Leonard Cohen

“Old Ideas”


**1/2 stars

“Old Ideas” is a provocative title for Leonard Cohen’s first album of all-new material in eight years. After all, he is ... well, old, at 77, a laureate who’s been putting his poetry to song since 1967, singing “Hallelujah” and so much more that has been embraced by songwriters who came in his wake. “Old Ideas,” meanwhile, is full of just that — continuing ruminations on the intertwining nature of God, love, sex and politics, both personal and external, a dialogue that has occupied Cohen throughout his life. These 10 songs are designed to sound profound; they’re hushed and almost hymnal, built on stark instrumentation from which swelling organ and female backing vocal chorales emerge like a bonfire midnight Mass conducted in an area with a strict noise ordinance. Cohen pokes fun at himself in the opening “Going Home,” having God take him to task as “a lazy bastard living in a suit” who “knows he’s really nothing,” and, indeed, “Old Ideas” doesn’t come to any revelatory conclusions about the human condition. But Cohen, in his world-weary bass grumble, does meander through both the joys and ardors of his human and spiritual relationships and strikes the occasional optimistic tone, notably on “Come Healing,” while “Different Sides” encapsulates the current U.S. political divide (“Both of us say there are laws to obey/But frankly I don’t like your tone”) and a verse like “Well the mouse at the crumb, then the cat at the crust/Now they’ve fallen in love, they’re talking in tongues” in “Lullaby” shows the bard still has a taste for the trippy. Things pick up a bit, musically, in the bluesy “Darkness,” the Country & Western lope of “Lullaby” and jazzy cadence of “Anyway,” but “Old Ideas” is primarily an exercise in poetic melancholy, which few do better than Cohen.


Lana Del Rey, “Born To Die” (Stranger/Interscope) ***

On her sophomore album, Lana Del Ray lets us know that “nothing scares me anymore” — but, of course, that was recorded before her polarizing “Saturday Night Live” appearance earlier this month. That shouldn’t steer folks away from “Born To Die,” a blend of lush pop melodicism, Euro-electronica and American sentimentality (and angst) that may not make Del Ray (real name Elizabeth Grant) the next Adele, but certainly holds up alongside other albums of its ilk. Del Ray does torchy well on “Million Dollar Man” and “Radio,” while the hip-hop energy of “Off to the Races,” “Diet Mountain Dew” and “National Anthem” are arm-waving calling cards, “Blue Jeans” captures a bluesy noir flavor and “Video Games” and “This is What Makes Us Girls” find heart within their chill sonic environs. All that gives “Born To Die” the tools for a good, long life.

New & Noteworthy

Vanessa Bell Armstrong, “Timeless” (Music World Gospel): The spiritual veteran weighs in with a six-song EP that includes a seven-minute workout on “Walk With Me.”

Bleeding Through, “The Great Fire” (Rise): The California metalcore group self-produced its seventh studio effort.

bt, “Laptop Symphony” (Black Hole): The electronic composer-producer from Maryland weighs in with another dance floor-targeted sound collage.

Buxton, “Nothing Here Seems Strange” (New West): The debut outing from the folk-rock quintet from Houston.

Jeff Campbell, “Stop and Go” (Sonic Zen): A solo acoustic album from the frontman for the band Pine and Battery.

Candy Dulfer, “Crazy” (Listen 2/Razor & Tie): The Dutch-born saxophonist collaborated with Black Eyed Peas bandleader Printz Board on her latest release.

Fred Eaglesmith, “6 Volts” (self-released): The iconoclastic Americana troubadour recorded his latest album alone in the studio with a single microphone.

Ruthie Foster, “Let It Burn” (Blue Corn Music): The versatile singer teams with the Blind Boys of Alabama and William Bell as she covers songs by Adele, the Black Keys, The Band and more.

Future, “Pluto” (Epic): The rapper from Atlanta’s Dungeon Family teamed with Drake for “Tony Montana,” the “Scarface”-celebrating single from his debut album.

Gotye, “Making Mirrors” (Samples N Seconds/Fairfax/Universal Republic): The Belgian-born indie rocker brings out his third album on these shores after an international release in 2011.

Fred Hammond, “God, Love & Romance” (Verity): An epic two-CD set from the Detroit-born gospel star and former Commissioned member that splits its time between love songs and soul-thumping spirituals.

The Jeff Lorber Fusion, “Galaxy” (Heads Up): A wealth of guests — including Vinnie Colaiuta, Randy Brecker and Dave Weckl — helps keyboard whiz Lorber on this set of original instrumentals.

Eric Marienthal, “It’s Love” (eOne): The modern jazz guitarist from Chick Corea’s Elektric Band goes solo with seven originals and versions of songs by Duke Ellington, Brenda Russell and the Beatles.

Del McCoury, “Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe” (McCoury Music): As a member of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys during the early ’60s, McCoury has more credibility than most to pay tribute to the bluegrass legend.

Metallica, “Beyond Magnetic” (Warner Bros.): A four-song EP of leftovers from the “Death Magnetic” sessions just about makes up for the headbangers’ misbegotten “Lulu” collaboration with Lou Reed.

Najee, “The Smooth Side of Soul” (Shanachie): Jeff Lorber, Phil Perry and James Lloyd drop in to help the saxophonist on his first new album in three years.

Gretchen Peters, “Hello Cruel World” (Scarlet Letter): The Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, who wrote Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” duets with Rodney Crowell on her ninth album.

The Pines, “Dark So Gold” (Red House): A new set of evocative and sweeping Americana tunes by the acclaimed Midwestern septet.

Tony Rice, “The Bill Monroe Collection” (Rounder): The well-credentialed folk/roots musician pays tribute to bluegrass pioneer Monroe on this collection of favorites.

Soja, “Strength to Survive” (ATO): The Washington, D.C., jam septet tapped John Alagia, who’s worked with kindred spirits such as the Dave Matthews Band and OAR to produce its new release.

Ringo Starr, “Ringo 2012” (Hip-O/UMe): The former Beatle remains prolific with another set of amiable new tunes, including new renditions of two of his older songs (“Wings” and “Step Lightly”) and covers of Buddy Holly’s “Think It Over” and the skiffle staple “Rock Island Line.”

Joe Louis Walker, “Hellfire” (Alligator): The veteran and venerable bluesman switches labels and hooks up with producer Tom Hambridge, who’s guided Buddy Guy to recent Grammy gold.

From The Vaults: Blue Cheer, “Vincebus Eruptum” (Sundazed); Glen Campbell, “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (Rockbeat); Aretha Franklin, “Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1988” (Arista/Legacy); Arthur Rubinstein, “The Complete Album Collection” (Sony Masterworks); Underworld, “Anthology 1992-2012” and “Collection” (COOFC)

Soundtracks: Paul Haslinger, “Underworld Awakening” (Lakeshore); New Broadway Cast, “Godspell” (Ghostlight); Various Artists, “Underworld Awakening” (Lakeshore)

New Music DVDs: Queen, “Days of Our Lives” (Eagle Rock); Styx, “The Grand Illusion + Pieces of Eight Live” (Eagle Rock); The Richard Thompson Band, “Live at Celtic Connection” (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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