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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Zac Brown Band, Serj Tankian and more...

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012

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Zac Brown Band


Southern Ground/Bigger Picture/Atlanic


Zac Brown opens his group's fifth studio album by letting us known that "you can find me where the music meets the ocean." We're SO surprised... The Zac Brown Band has, after all, become one of a couple of country incarnations of Jimmy Buffett, extolling the virtues of lolling by the sea or the swimming pool, cold beverage in hand, reggae on the sound system. And that's certainly part of "Uncaged" in songs like "Jump Right In," "Island Song" and the jam band-flavored title track. But the truth is that Brown and company shine even brighter this time on more serious and sober fare, tapping some intriguing writing partners (Jason Mraz, Mac MacAnally, Sonia Leigh) and achieving a rich emotional depth that's even more involving than the waterside odes. "Goodbye In Her Eyes" is as sad a break-up song as you'll ever hear, accented by Jimmy De Martini's melancholy fiddle. "Lance's Song" and "Day That I Die," the latter with Amos Lee, reflect on mortality from a musician's perspective, while "Last But Not Least" is a convincing apology to those who get short shrift amidst Brown's hustle and bustle. The group also kicks up its heels, roadhouse style, on "The Wind" and "Natural Disaster," while the set's only flop is "Overnight," an ill-conceived soul knock-off whose weak lyrics and rote melody waste a Trombone Shorty guest solo. But that really is a lone exception, as the bulk of "Uncaged" finds the ZBB's brand of Southern music still solid, from the beach on in to dry land.


Serj Tankian, "Harakiri" (Serjical Strike/Warner Bros.) ***

Serj Tankian certainly knows how to keep things moving. An avant rocker at heart, the System Of A Down frontman has hopped from the kitchen-sink approach of his solo debut "Elect the Dead" to symphonic rock for 2010's "Imperfect Harmonies." "Harakiri," however, is as straightforward a rock album as he's made, on his own or with the band; punky aggression is at his core and anger runs through the 11 tracks as Tankian rails against corporate greed, environmental callousness, animal euthanasia and cultural malaise such as "Reality TV." But there's thought and heart beyond the sonic blitzkreig, especially on the sophisticated ebb-and-flow arrangements of "Ching Chime," "Forget Me Knot," "Reality TV" and "Uneducated Demoracy," and on the gentle atmospherics of "Deafening Silence." Even on the same album, Tankian doesn't stay in one place for too long -- much to his listeners' benefit.

New & Noteworthy:

Aesop Rock, "Skelethon" (Rhymesayers Entertainment): The sixth full-length album by the MC from Long Island.

The Dirty Projectors, "Swing Lo Magellan" (Domino): Frontman Dave Longstreth produced this sixth album from the experimental Brooklyn rock troupe.

Duran Duran, "A Diamond in the Mind: Live 2001" (Eagle Rock): A CD/DVD combo capturing the British 80s faves playing the hits near home at Manchester, England's MEN Arena.

The Early November, "In Currents" (Rise): The New Jersey modern rockers deliver their first new album in six years -- then again, the last one was a three-disc set, so don't call them slouches.

Jeffrey Gaines, "Live in Europe" (Redeye): The Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter's latest live album hails from a 2010 tour of Europe with Joe Jackson.

House of Heroes, "Cold Hard Want" (Gotee): The Columbus, Ohio, alt.rock crew switched producers (to Paul Moak) and recorded its fifth studio album in Nashville.

Brendan James, "Hope In Transition" (Rock Ridge): The title of the New Hampshire troubadour's latest is appropros as he's been with three different labels for each of his albums.

Karney, "Love & Respect" (PSM): The San Francisco singer-songwriter stays true to her topical ways on her first full album in eight years.

Eleni Mandell, "I Can See the Future" (Yep Roc): The Los Angeles singer-songwriter is supported by a stellar cast on her last album, including members of Los Lobos, Bright Eyes and her vocal trio the Living Sisters.

Marina and the Diamonds, "Electra Heart" (679/Atlantic): Blending pop and electronica, the Welsh singer and her group work with proven hitmakers such as Dr. Luke, Diplo, Rick Nowels and Greg Kurstin on their sophomore outing.

Mission of Burma, "Unsound" (Fire): The Boston alt.rockers, deliver their sixth overall album to celebrate a decade since reuniting.

Mike Patton and Luciano Berio, "Laborintus II" (Ipecac): Former Faith No More singer Patton narrated this version of the late Berio's "Laborintus II" at the 2010 Holland Festival in Amsterdam.

Elizabeth Mitchell, "Little Seed: Songs For Children by Woody Guthrie" (Smithsonian Folkways): Children's singer Mitchell is the latest to take on the iconic Guthrie's catalog of music he created mostly for his daughter, Nora.

Louis Prima Jr., "Return of the Wildest!" (Warrior): The late New Orleans King of Swing's son continues in his father's footsteps, recording some of dad's best-known tunes with his own eight-piece band.

P.O.D., "Murdered Love" (Razor & Tie): The faith-based California headbangers reunite with early career producer Howard Benson on its first new album in four years.

Staind, "Live From Mohegan Sun" (Eagle Rock): The first live album in the Massachusetts hard rockers' history, recorded during the tour to promote 2011's "Stand" album.

Twin Shadow, "Twin Shadow" (Terrible/4AD): The sophomore offering from New York-based singer-songwriter George Lewis, Jr., features 11 songs, some of which will be familiar to fans who have seen him live.

Howard Shore, "Soul of the Ultimate Nation (SUN)" (HOWE): The film composer and onetime "Saturday Night Live" band leader unveils the ocean-straddling score he wrote for the popular video game SUN.

Rhonda Vincent, "Sunday Mornin` Singin' " (Upper Management): The mandolin-playing bluegrass star takes on old tyme [cq] gospel standards such as "His Promised Land" and "God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds."

Hank Williams Jr., "Old School New Rules" (Bocephus/Blaster/Warner Bros.): Bocephus hooks up with pals Brad Paisley and Merle Haggard on the first album for his own label.

From The Vaults: English Beat, "The Complete Beat" and "Keep the Beat: The Very Best of the English Beat" (Shout! Factory);

Soundtracks: 2012 Encores! Cast, "Merrily We Roll Along" (P.S. Classics)

New Music DVDs: Peter Gabriel, "Secret World" (Eagle Rock); Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Live at Berkeley" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)

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