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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Madonna, All-American Rejects and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2012

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Much has happened to Madonna since 2008’s “Hard Candy,” her last set of new material — and it hasn’t all been so sweet. Primarily, the period was marked by the end of the Michigan native’s marriage to — and nasty divorce from — British filmmaker Guy Richie, and the bloody aftermath is all over many of the 12-17 songs (depending which version you get) on what is the most genuine and autobiographical album of her career. Richie, not surprisingly, takes it on the chin in most cases, portrayed as something of a freeloader living off Madonna’s money and fame; “Guess if I was your treasury/You’d have found time to treasure me” she sings in “Love Spent.” But Madonna doesn’t hang it all on Richie; the title of “I F***ed Up” is as direct as it gets (“Maybe I should have turned silver into gold/But in front of you I was cold”), and while she celebrates liberation with tracks such as “Girl Gone Wild,” “Turn Up the Radio” and “B-Day Song,” there’s still regret over losing a “Best Friend.” Of course, some might say Madonna can cry them a river — how does “MDNA” sound? And the answer is it’s actually quite good, a mostly Spartan and urgent electro-pop workout that in many ways recalls the simplicity of her earliest releases. Madonna and her collaborators — primarily William Orbit and Martin Solveig — are all about the dance club on the cheerleading “Give Me All Your Luvin’” (with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.), “I Don’t Give A” (with Minaj), “Turn Up the Radio,” “Girl Gone Wild,” the chill-edged “I’m Addicted,” “I’m a Sinner” and the pulsing “Gang Bang,” which breaks into dubstep mid-song, but “Love Spent” laces a plucky banjo cadence into the mix and “Superstar” and “B-Day Song” offer buoyant pop-rock. “Masterpiece” from her film “W.E.” and “Falling Free,” meanwhile, are “MDNA’s” torch moments, the former musing about the fragility of a love affair, the latter — co-written by Madonna’s brother-in-law and fellow Rochester Adams grad Joe Henry — a lushly orchestrated chamber piece on which she plays acoustic guitar. On top of all that, “MDNA” is free of the gratuitous provocation that Madonna is so good at — and is all the better for it.


The All-American Rejects, “Kids in the Street” (Interscope)


Anyone expecting this Oklahoma-formed quartet to take a lyrical victory lap for its biggest hit yet — “Gives You Hell” from 2008’s “When the World Comes Down” — will be surprised by the Rejects’ fourth album. Frontman Tyson Ritter has clearly been through the ringer during the interim, which he vents throughout these 11 songs, while pining for simpler times in the title track. Producer Greg Wells (Katy Perry, Adele, OneRepublic), meanwhile, leads the group into even more bombastic territory, with more sonic sophistication on “Beekeeper’s Daughter,” “Bleed Into Your Mind” and “Out the Door” and a soaring end to “Affection” that would make Queen proud.

New & Noteworthy

Clay Aiken, “Steadfast” (Decca): The onetime “American Idol” runner-up takes some of his 2010 release “Tried and True” and adds a trio of new recordings, including the single “Bring Back My Love.”

Tommy Bolin, “Great Gypsy Soul” (429): The late guitarist is honored posthumously by players such as Peter Frampton, Warren Haynes, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and more, who add parts to previously recorded Bolin tracks.

Cowboy Junkies, “The Wilderness” (Razor & Tie): The fourth entry in the Canadian group’s 18-month Nomad Series brings an end to the group’s ambitious recording experiment.

E-40, “Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil” (Heavy on the Grind): The California rapper remains prolific, this time putting out three discs of new rhymes available individually and packaged together.

Flying Colors, “Flying Colors” (Mascot): The first outing by the proggy supergroup whose members have credits with Kansas, Dream Theater, the Dixie Dregs, Spock’s Beard, Deep Purple and more.

God Forbid, “Equilibrium” (Victory): The New Jersey headbangers switch labels for their sixth album and first with new guitarist Matt Wicklund on board.

Macy Gray, “Covered” (429): The “I Try” songstress takes her unique voice to favorites by Radiohead, Metallica, Eurythmics, Arcade Fire, Kanye West and more on her latest album.

Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Grifter’s Hymnal” (Bordello): The Texas singer-songwriter has spirituality and religion on his mind throughout these dozen songs.

Incognito, “Surreal” (Shanachie): The British acid jazz collective’s latest showcases vocal newcomers Mo Brandis and Natalie Williams.

Iron Maiden, “En Vivo!” (UMe): A live album and video recorded during the heavy metal stalwart’s 2011 tour stop in Chile.

The Lumineers, “The Lumineers” (Onto Entertainment): The debut album by the buzzed-about roots rock troupe from Denver.

Miike Snow, “Happy To You” (Downtown): The second album by the Swedish modern rock trio which features nobody by that name in the band.

Ministry, “Relapse” (13th Planet): The veteran industrial rock troupe emerges from a three-year hiatus with 11 fresh tracks.

Britt Nicole, “Gold” (Sparrow): The third album from the Christian pop singer from North Carolina.

Joan Osborne, “Bring It On Home” (Saguaro Road): Osborne’s latest features the Holmes Brothers, Allen Toussaint and others helping her on a selection of blues and R&B favorites.

Lionel Richie, “Tuskegee” (Mercury): Richie puts a country twist on some of his biggest hits with duet help from Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain, Willie Nelson and others.

Alfredo Rodriguez, “Sounds of Space” (Mack Avenue): Quincy Jones co-produced the debut album by this Cuban pianist and composer.

Shinedown, “Amaryllis” (Atlantic): The Florida rock quartet expands its sound for its fourth album, with help from producer Rob Cavallo.

tobyMac, “Dubbed & Freq’d: A Remix Project)” (Forefront): The Christian music heavyweight’s first remix album in seven years reworks material from his last two studio albums.

Justin Townes Earle, “Nothing’s Going to Change the Way You Feel About Me Now” (Bloodshot): Steve Earle’s son takes a Memphis soul turn on his fourth solo album.

The Veer Union, “Divide the Blackened Sky” (Rocket Science/Adaptation): The Vancouver group enlisted well-credentialed Brian Howe (Nickelback, Hinder) to produce its sophomore album.

Paul Weller, “Sonik Kicks” (Yep Roc): Former Oasis main man Noel Gallagher and Blur’s Graham Coxon guest on the onetime Jam and Style Council leader’s 11th solo album.

Elliott Yamin, “Let’s Get to What’s Real” (eOne/Purpose Music): The first single “3 Words” was written by David Hodges, who’s also penned material for some of Yamin’s “American Idol” cohorts.

From The Vaults: Anberlin, “Dancing Between the Fibers of Time” (Tooth & Nail); Quiet Riot, “Live at the US Festival 1983” (Shout! Factory)

Soundtracks: David Arnold and Michael Price, “Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music From Series One” (Silva America); James Horner, “Titanic (Collector`s Edition)” (Sony Masterworks); James Newton Howard, “The Hunger Games: Original Motion Picture Score” (Universal Republic)

New Music DVDs: Alter Bridge, “Live at Wembley” (The Dude/EMI); Phil Collins, “Live at Montreux 2004) (Eagle Rock)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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