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The Listening Room: Alanis Morissette, Divine Fits and more...
"Havoc and Bright Lights"
For Alanis Morissette fans, a line like "In those bleak times I was better" cuts a couple of different ways. Back in the mid-90s Morissette claimed her fame as the multi-platinum queen of pain and got millions to willingly swallow a "Jagged Little Pill" of angst and vitriol. She hasn't been quite that brutal since and her sales have reflected that, even though her music has become richer as it's matured and her journey from raging rock diva to insightful adult commentator has been rewarding to those who have stayed on board. "Havoc and Bright Lights" stays the course with a diverse dozen songs that find the Canadian songstress still grappling with past wounds while also welcoming and wrestling with the new challenges of motherhood. So the anthemic opening track "Guardian" is her declaration of maternal intent, and by the time we get to "Receive" she's yearning for time that's "all about me." The techno-charged "Woman Down" takes on "woman haters" at a particularly poignant time, while "Celebrity" is a jagged if someone obvious musing about manufactured fame. And there's Morissette's stock-in-trade -- songs such as the gently cushy " 'til You," the smooth pop tunes "Empathy" and "Spiral," and the particularly wise "Lens," in which she plays the analytical self-critic, often appreciative of those who have been willing to navigate the drama, and trauma, with her. She has her messy moments here -- although Lili Haydn's violin makes up for the general messiness of the gothy "Numb" -- but Morissette eventually leads us to the "Edge of Evolution" and plenty of reasons to stay tuned to the next step in her ever-evolving emotional tableau.
Divine Fits, "A Thing Called Divine Fits" (Merge): ***
So-called supergroups are always dubious propositions, and the three members of Divine Fits don't exactly hail from bands -- Spoon, New Bomb Turks, Wolf Parade and Handsome Fur -- that could exactly be classified as super in the sales department. Maybe that works to the group's advantage, as Divine Fits' debut sounds more like the natural collaboration of a true band than some all-star summit meeting. The 11-songs set is filled with instantly memorable songs that straddle a line between edgy and hooking, nodding to a variety of New Wave and indie pop forebears -- no wonder Spoon's Britt Daniel sings that "I'm living nostalgia" -- on synthesizer-dominated tracks such as "My Love is Real," "The Salton Sea," the dreamy "Neopolitans" and the kinetic, Kraut rock-styled "Flaggin a Ride." Other highlights include the propuslive "Like Ice Cream" and a meaty cover of the late Roland S. Howard's "Shivers." This is how every "supergroup" should sound.
New & Noteworthy:
Amy Cook, "Summer Skin" (Roothouse/Thirty Tigers): Robert Plant, Patty Griffin, Ben Keweller and Me'Shell N'Degeocello are among the guests on the Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter's latest release.
Robert Cray Band, "Nothin' But Love" (Provogue): The guitarist brings back original band members Richard Cousins and Jim Pugh on his first collaboration with producer Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Journey, the Black Crowes).
The Dunwells, "Blind Sighted Faith" (Playing in Traffic/Concord): The British rock quartet's debut gets a label release after being self-issued earlier this year.
Dwele, "Greater Than One" (RTMG/eOne): The Detroit R&B singer, writer and producer's fifth studio album includes collaborations with Raheem DaVaughn and hometowners Black Milk and Monica Blaire.
Flobots, "Circle the Square" (Shanachie): The third album from the rule-breaking Colorado hip-hop/rock quintet.
Gillan & Iommi, "Who Cares" (Eagle Rock): A two-CD set that mixes tracks from the Deep Purple and Black Sabbath rock vets' various bands as well as the songs they recorded to fund a music school in Armenia.
Katatonia, "Deep End Kings" (Peaceville): The ninth outing by the dark metal rockers from Sweden.
The Last Vegas, "Bad Decisions" (Forstbyte Media): The Chicago rockers championed by Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx stayed home to record their fourth album with producer Johnny K.
Alvin Lee, "Still On the Road to Freedom" (Rainman): The Ten Years After co-founder includes a new version of the group's "Love Like a Man" on his latest set, which he recorded in Spain.
Minus the Bear, "Infinity Overhead" (Dangerbird): The Seattle quintet returns to a more direct sound on its fifth album after its experimental 2010 release "Omni."
The Rippingtons, "Built To Last" (Peak/eOne): The veteran jazz fusion group celebrates its 25th anniversary by bringing orchestrations into the mix for the first time.
Sean Rowe, "The Salesman and the Shark" (Anti-): The songwriter and baritone singer recorded his sophomore album in Los Angels with a mixing board previously used for legendary albums by the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, T. Rex and more.
Maia Sharp, "Change the Ending" (Blix Street/Crooked Crown): Bonnie Raitt, Garrison Starr, Dawn Thomas and others guest on the first-call songwriter's latest solo album.
Harry Shearer, "Can't Take a Hint" (Courgette/The Orchard): The multi-faceted entertainer takes to tune again on a topical collection, with help from Dr. John, Fountains of Wayne, "Glee's" Jane Lynch and others.
Saga, "20/20" (Eagle Rock): The Canadian rock troupe reunites with original singer Michael Sadler" for its 20th studio album and 35th anniversary.
Slaughterhouse, "Welcome to Our House" (Shady/Interscope):The all-star rap quartet, which includes Detroit's Royce da 5'9", collaborates with Eminem, Busta Rhymes, Cee-Lo Green, Swizz Beatz, D-12's Denaun Porter and more on its sophomore set.
Jeremy Spencer, "Bend in the Road" (IDC): Detroit guitarist Brett Lucas co-produced this latest effort by the original Fleetwood Mac guitarist.
Stratovarius, "Under Flaming Winter Skies: Live at Tampere" (Eagle Rock): The Finnish metal band lays some sonic waste in its homeland on this CD and DVD concert souvenir.
Tamia, "Beautiful Surprise" (Plus 1/Image): The R&B singer from Windsor, wife of former Pistons star Grant Hill, returns to active duty six years after her last studio album.
TobyMac, "Eye On It" (Forefront): The fifth album from the Virginia Christian hip-hop star was preceded by the single "Me Without You."
The Wood Brothers, "Live 2: Nail & Tooth" (Southern Ground): The second of two live albums planned for this year by the rootsy Colorado duo.
From The Vaults: David Cassidy, "Cassidy Live!" (Real Gone); The Flatlanders, "The Odessa Tapes" (New West); Art Garfunkel, "The Singer" (Columbia/Legacy); The Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks: Volume 3, Chicago 1971" (Dead.net/Rhino); Roxy Music, "The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982" (Virgin/EMI); Stratovarius, "Intermission, Infinite+Intermission" (Eagle Rock); Triumph, "Live at Sweden Rock Festival" (TML): Townes Van Zandt, "No Deeper Blue" (Fat Possum); Various Artists, "A&M 50: The Anniversary Collection" (A&M)
Soundtracks: Betty Buckley, "Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway" (Palmetto); Nick Cave, "Lawless (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)" (Sony Masterworks); Bruce Hornsby, "Red Hook Summer" (429)
New Music DVDs: The Beach Boys, "Doin' It Again" (Xenon); Etta James, "Live at Montreux" (Eagle Rock); "Quadrophenia (Criterion Collection)"; Queen, "Greatest Video Hits" (Eagle Rock)
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