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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Maroon5, Linkin Park and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012

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Being a judge on NBC's "The Voice" has made Adam Levine a bigger star than ever, while his band Maroon5 is in a more precarious state. Following the relative disappointment of 2010's "Hands All Over" -- and as it celebrates the 10th anniversary of its quadruple platinum breakthrough "Songs About Jane" -- the band has done a bit of regrouping for its fourth album. Keyboardist Jesse Carmichael is on hiatus, and Levine and company, once a proudly self-contained unit, have recruited a corps of hitmaking collaborators -- including Ryan Tedder, Shellback, Benny Blanco and executive producer Max Martin -- for it's frothiest set of pop yet. And, tellingly, it's a full seven songs into the album before a band member other than Levine gets a songwriting credit. There's still some of the trademark, lovelorn heart-wringing that's Levine's trademark on songs such as the delicate "Sad" and the easygoing "Beautiful Goodbye," but this time out Maroon5's sights are set on that intersection where club and radio meet. Pop, R&B and EDM -- with the occasional four-on-the-floor beat -- blend together on shimmering, state-of-the-art tracks such as "Lucky Strike," "Love Somebody," "Fortune Tellers" and "Doin' Dirt," while "One More Night" incorporates reggae flavors. Wiz Khalifa, meanwhile, raps on the single "Payphone," on which Levine hits a fast vocal gait as he declares that "All those fairy tales are full of s***/One more f***ing love song, I'll be sick." But given the number of love songs on "Overexposed" (oh...ALL of them), that seems a bit, um, judge-mental.


Linkin Park, "Living Things" (Warner Bros.) **1/2

After the comparatively chill ambience of 2010's "A Thousand Suns," Linkin Park brings back some of its heavy rock mojo for its fifth studio album, although no one will mistake "Living Things" for the metalics of "Hybrid Theory" and "Meteora." Synthesizers and other electronics dominate these 12 tracks, but Brad Delson's guitar used more for texture and to propel some of the more anthemic choruses. "Lies Greed Misery" and the suite-like "Until It Breaks" ride the sextet's hip-hop side, while "Victimized" is less than two minutes of unbridled pun fury and "Roads Untraveled" finds the group at its most melodic and even, surprisingly, folky. More than just "Living...," Linkin Park continues to take chances a dozen years after its multi-platinum start.

New & Noteworthy:

Casey Abrams, "Casy Abrams" (Concord): The hirsute Texan duets with fellow "American Idol" finalist Haley Reinhart on Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack" for his debut album.

Beachwood Sparks, "The Tarnished Gold" (Sub Pop): The Los Angeles alt.country favorites regroup for a third studio album and first new release in 10 years.

Blues Traveler, "Suzie Cracks the Whip" (429): The quartet celebrates its 25th anniversary with its 11th studio album, with guests such as Ron Sexsmith and the Spin Doctors' Chris Barron joining the party.

Chatam County Line, "Sights & Sounds" (Yep Roc): A two-CD/DVD set that offers a full immersion into the North Carolina acoustic ensemble.

Chris Cagle, "Back in the Saddle" (Big Picture): The title of the country singer's latest album is spot-on as he emerges from a four-year recording break.

The Devil Wars Prada, "Dead & Alive" (Ferret): This live CD and DVD from the Dayton, Ohio, metalcore troupe was recorded in Worcester, Mass.

Jerry Douglas, "Traveler" (eOne): A wealth of all-star friends -- Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Dr. John, Bela Fleck, Mumford & Sons and Alison Krauss & Union Station -- turn out to help the dobro master on his latest release.

Everclear, "Invisible Stars" (eOne): Art Alexakis and company return to making new music for the first time in six years, after three albums of covers and re-recordings of their own material.

The Flaming Lips, "The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends" (Warner Bros.): The Oklahoma art rockers' "Fwends" on this set include Bon Iver, Ke$ha, Yoko Ono, Erykah Badu, Coldplay's Chris Martin and others.

Kenny G and Rahul Sharma, "Namaste" (Concord): The multi-platinum saxophonist's West meets the East of Indian santoorist Sharma, with a modern twist for mixer/producer Kid Tricky and others.

Manuel Galban, "Blue Cha Cha" (Concord Picante): The Cuban guitar legend and Buena Vista Social Club member is joined by Omara Portuondo, Eric Bibb, Rosa Passos and more on his latest solo set.

Jon Dee Graham, "Garage Sale" (Freedom): The Texas singer-songwriter finds a home for tunes that have not yet made any of his previous releases.

Jesca [cq] Hoop, "The House That Jack Build" (Bella Union): The fourth full-length album from the California singer-songwriter and Peter Gabriel collaborator.

Joe Jackson, "The Duke" (Razor & Tie): The always ambitious auteur takes on the music of Duke Ellington, with help from Sharon Jones, ?uestlove, Michiganders Iggy Pop and Regina Carter, and others.

R. Kelly, "Write Me Back" (RCA): The Chicago soul man continues in the old school-referencing vein of his last album, 2010's "Love Letter," referencing the classic styles of Philly, Motown and other R&B capitols.

Little Feat, "Rooster Rag" (Rounder): The veteran Americana group's latest features lyrics on four songs by longtime Grateful Dead cohort Robert Hunter.

Memphis May Fire, "Challenger"

The Offspring, "Days Go By" (Columbia): The California punk group's first album in four years is also the first to feature (relatively) new drummer Pete Prada.

Jill Scott, "Crates: Remix Fundamentals Vol. 1" (Hidden Beach): The R&B singer-songwriter goes for a "spring summer feeling" on this collection of remixed tracks.

Mindy Smith, "Mindy Smith" (Giant Leap/TVX): The New York-born singer-songwriter collaborated with Lori McKenna, Kate York, Daniel Tashian and others for the 11 originals on her fifth album.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives, "Throw It to the Universe" (Yep Roc): The sixth album from the bombastic, neo-psychedelic Swedish rock group.

Various Artists, "Rick Ross Presents: Self Made 2" (Maybach/Warner Bros.): Florida rapper Ross collaborates with fellow Maybach Music Group artists such as Wale, Meek Mill and Omarion, as well as guests like Wiz Khalifa, French Montana, T.I. and Bun B.

Cassandra Wilson, "Another Country" (eOne): The jazz vocalist tries a guitar-centered approach on her new album, reuniting with producer Fabrizio Sotti from 2002's "Glamoured."

From The Vaults: John Denver, "Setlist: The Very Best of John Denver Live" (RCA/Legacy); The Electric Prunes, "The Complete Reprise Singles" (Real Gone); Elvis Presley, "Setlist: The Very Best of Elvis Presley Live 1950s" (RCA/Legacy)

Soundtracks: New Broadway Cast, "Evita"; Various Artists (Sony Masterworks); "Magic Mike" (Watertower)

New Music DVDs: "A, B, C, & D of Boogie Woogie: Live in Paris" (Eagle Rock); Bachman & Turner, "Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC" (Eagle Rock); Kasabian, "Live! Live at the O2" (Eagle Rock); Pink Floyd, "The Story of Wish You Were Here" (Eagle Rock); Stone Temple Pilots, "Alive in the Windy City" (Eagle Rock) -- Gary Graff

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