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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, the Virginmarys and more...

For Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013

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Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison

"Cheater's Game"

Premium Records


This is a marriage made in country music/Americana heaven -- literally. A twosome at home and in music, this couple's first joint project brings the unbeatable combination of sublime singing (from both), ace songwriting (by Robison) and joint good taste in picking the six covers on this 13-song set. Willis and Robison's first duo project is indeed a "couple's" album, dominated by songs about dark country staples such as heartbreak, leavin', cheatin' and a keen awareness of mortality. When they wrap them in their comfortable, down-home harmonies, though, these troubled times sound like the most glorious place anyone's lives can end up. Road-tested for the better part of a year, these songs cook when they have to ("Born to Roll," "Lifeline," the Blasters' "Border Radio," Dickie Lee's "9,999,999 Tears"), and the duo even tosses in a bit of yodeling into the gritty but melodic sweep of "But I Do." The hankies, meanwhile, will come out on Willis-dominated tracks such as "Ordinary Fool," "Waterfall" and Hayes Carll's "Long Way Home." "We're All the Way" incorporates a bit of Tex-Mex flavor, while the album-closing "Dreamin'," a Robison co-write with Fastball's Miles Zuniga, references the Everly Brothers in both title and harmonic execution. Married more than 16 years, Willis and Robison were clearly cautious about doing something together, but "Cheater's Game" makes it well worth the wait.


The Virginmarys, "Kings of Conflict" (Wind-Up) HH1/2

This British trio has been making quite a bit of noise, musically and otherwise, for the past six-plus years -- even without an actual album. This 13-song debut makes good on the buzz generated by four EPs and plenty of road work as the Virginmarys rip through garagey, blues-steeped retro ravers such as "Lost Weekend," "Bang Bang Bang," "Dead Man's Shoes" and "My Little Girl," as well as heavier fare like "Running For My Life" and "Out of Mind." "Ends Don't Mend" closes the "proper" album with seven minutes of guitar-drenched sonic spectacle, while the hidden "Stripped" shows there's a gentle side, albeit well below the group's hard-charging surface.

New & Noteworthy:

Devon Allman, "Turquoise" (Ruf): The son of Gregg Allman and a music veteran in his own right issues his first proper solo album after fronting a variety of bands over the years.

Bullet For My Valentine, "Temper Temper" (RCA): The Welsh hard rockers' fourth album is enjoying a head of steam thanks to the advance singles "Riot" and the title track.

Jeremy Camp, "Reckless" (BEC): The Christian rock singer-songwriter follows last year's Christmas set with his eighth studio album.

Matt Costa, "Matt Costa" (Brushfire): The California singer-songwriter went ot Scotland to record his fourth album, which follows the November EP "Sacred Hills."

Will Downing, "Silver" (WDP): The veteran R&B singer celebrates 25 years of recording with a hodgepodge of new songs, rare tracks and live recordings.

Veronica Falls, "Waiting For Something to Happen"

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, "The Jazz Age" (BMG): The Roxy Music frontman leads a big band through new arrangements of the band's hits as well as some of his solo favorites.

Foals, "Holy Fire" (Transgressive): The all-star production duo of Flood and Alan Moulder helped this British buzz band record its third album.

Focus, "X" (Four Worlds): The Dutch progressive rockers of "Hocus Pocus" and "Sylvia" fame deliver their 10th album, which came out overseas last year.

Lisa Germano, "No Elephants" (Badman): A new studio outing by the idiosyncratic singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and veteran of John Mellencamp's bands.

LL Cool J, "Authentic Hip Hop" (S-BRO): The veteran rapper follows his Grammy Awards-hosting gig with his first new album in four years, which features guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Jennifer Lopez, Joe, Monica and more.

Pat Metheny, "The Orchestrion Project" (Nonesuch): The companion two-CD set to the video Metheny released in 2012 about his ambitious, mechanized one-man musical experiment.

Mother Mother, "The Sticks" (Last Gang): The arty rock troupe from British Columbia releases its fourth album below the border five months after it's release in the Great White North.

Pinnick Gales Pridgen, "Pinnick Gales Pridgen" (Magna Carta): The first release by the all-star trio featuring members of King's X and Mars Volta as well as super-guitartist Eric Gales.

Proxy, "Music From the Eastblock Jingles -- Part II" (Dim Mak): The highly anticipated sequel to the Russian electronic producer/artist's first "Eastblock Jungles" collection from last year.

Psychic Friend, "My Rocks are Dreams" (Dangerbird): The debut outing from the new group led by New Jersey singer, songwriter and pianist Will Schwartz.

Spoken, "Illusion"

The Stone Foxes, "Small Fires" (Ingrooves Fontana): The third album from the burgeoning rootsy, sibling-led rock group from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Otis Taylor, "My World is Gone" (Telarc): The rootsy social commentator focuses on Native American issues on his 13th album with help from Indigenous guitarist Mato Naji.

Thenewno2, "Beautiful Creatures: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Watertower): Dhani Harrison (George's son) and company create a set of songs and soundscapes on its first film outing, with guest appearances by Ben Harper, Liela Moss of the Duke Spirit and the Hollies' Tony Hicks.

Reed Turner, "Ghosts in the Attic" (self-released): The Americana rocker settles in Austin, Texas for his third release, a set of 10 originals that he he co-produced.

Kenny Vance, "Acapella" (Pianotones): The veteran performer and producer revisits the Brooklyn street corners of his youth on this harmony-filled 13-song set.

Various Artists, "Bombshell: The New Marilyn Musical from Smash" (Columbia): Katharine McPhee, Bernadette Peters, Megan Hilty and others sing the original song from the popular NBC drama/musical series.

Various Artists, "Reason to Believe: Songs of Tim Hardin" (Full Time Hobby): Mark Lanegan, Okkervil River, Gavin Clark and Hannah Peel are among the artists paying tribute to the late singer-songwriter here, due out Feb. 12 digitally and Feb. 26 on CD.

From The Vaults: Allman Brothers Band, "Macon City Auditorium 2/11/72," "Nassau Coliseum, NY 5/1/73" (ABB); The Pineapple Thief, "What We Have Sown (Remastered)" (Snapper); Placebo, "Once More With Feeling: Singles 1995-2004" (UMe); The Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks, Volume 5: Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, November 17, 1973" (Dead.net/Rhino)

Soundtracks: Various Artists, "Magic City (Origial TV Soundtrack)" (Silva America)

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