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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Hellyeah, Bright Eyes, Bob James and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, April 9, 2007

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Hellyeah, “Hellyeah” (Epic) ***

Rock ”n’ roll supergroups are tricky little beasts, and you can count on one hand the number that are genuinely greater than the sum of their parts. But Hellyeah bucks that trend with a set of potent, heady heavy metal from a formidable lineup that includes Pantera’s Vinnie Paul, Mudvayne’s Chad Gray and Gregg Tribbett, and Nothingface’s Tom Maxwell and Jerry Montano, who’s also part of Danzig. The 12-track album is, as one would expect, abundantly fierce, but there’s more going on here than just five guys banging their heads with amps turned to 11. Tight, sinewy grooves and gearshifting dynamics are Hellyeah’s stock in trade, particularly on the fuzzed-out opening anthem “Hellyeah,” the chug ’n’ rolling “You Wouldn’t Know” and full-cylinder tracks such as “Star” and “Waging War.” “Alcohaulin’ Ass,” meanwhile, offers some rootsy, country flavored tongue-in-cheek, while “Thank You” is a ringing power ballad about absent friends. “One Thing” and “GodDamn” fit the classic metal mold, and the industrial-tinged “Matter of Time” and “Rotten to the Core” are more contemporary mosh pit fare. Tribbett and Maxwell prove to be an effective guitar tandem, while singer Gray delivers one of the most elastic performances he’s ever committed to disc. And Paul’s drumming is the secret weapon, as authoritative as it was in Pantera or Damageplan and clearly giving the project the kind of swift kick it needs to be more than just a bunch of pals making some noise. It’s a collaboration that works, and all we can say to that is ... hell yeah!


Bright Eyes, "Cassadaga" (Saddle Creek) ***1/2

Releasing two very different albums simultaneously -- as Nebraska auteur Conor Oberst and his creative collective did in 2005 -- would be a pinnacle achievement for some groups. But Oberst and company manage to hit another peak this time out with a sonic adventure that, not unlike kindred spirit Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, constructs a lush soundscape from a twangy roots base, incorporating orchestrations, psychedelic flavors and no small amount of exceptional melodies and politcally pointed lyrics. A guest list that includes Ben Kweller, Gillian Welch, M.Ward, Rachel Yamagata and members of Tortoise and Sleater-Kinney certainly help, and when Oberst sings that "everything belongs somewhere...That's why I'm staying here," we take that as good news..


Bob James, “Angels of Shanghai” (Koch) **1/2

On his latest outing, pianist James — a University of Michigan grad and part-time Traverse City resident — shows that smooth jazz is a universal language. He fuses his own all-star troupe, featuring Fourplay mates Nathan East and Harvey Mason, with a group of musicians he met during trips to Shanghai, forging a synthesis that adds new flavors to his music without radically altering his familiar format. Though as a whole the project feels a bit too careful, James and company do get things percolating on the lively “Dialogues: The Universal Language,” while the delicate rhythm of “Dream With Me” and the swelling, Celticstyle dynamics of “Theme ‘Omara’ from ‘Daejangkeum’ ” also are fully realized. And casual James fans will appreciate the reappearance of his famed theme from TV’s “Taxi,” this time cast with Oriental pipes and strings as “Angela with Purple Bamboo.”

New and noteworthy

The Bastard Fairies, “Memento Mori” (Adrenaline) — This comes out the same week as a new album by Lesbians on Ecstasy. There’s a mud-wrestling joke in there somewhere, but we’ll leave well enough alone ...

Bleed the Dream, “Killer Inside”

(Warcon) — The hard rockers’ second fulllength comes three years after its appropriately titled debut, “Built By Blood.”

Blonde Redhead, “23” (4AD) — The Japanese-American quartet curbs the dissonance for a more accessible approach on its seventh album.

Bright Eyes, “Cassadaga” (Saddle Creek) — Conor Oberst and company deliver their most sophisticated work yet, a set of lushly arranged songs with guest list that includes Ben Kweller, Gillian Welch, M. Ward and Rachel Yamagata, among others.

Clark Sisters, “Live One Last Time” (EMI Gospel) — A document of the Detroit gospel greats’ final concert performance. Until, of course, the inevitable future reunion.

Cliff Eberhardt, “High Above and the Down Below” (Red House) — The singer-guitarist’s first album in five years features a dozen jazz-pop originals.

Bob French, “Marsalis Music Honors Bob French” (Marsalis Music) — Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. are among those playing with and paying tribute to the legendary New Orleans drummer and bandleader.

From Autumn to Ashes, “Holding a Wolf by the Ears” (Vagrant) — Drummer Francis Mark does a Phil Collins turn to take over frontman duties on the fourth album by this Long Island rock outfit.

Grinderman, “Grinderman”

(Anti-) — Nick Cave unveils his new collective of blues-rock bad seeds.

Guster, “Satellite” (Reprise) — A hodgepodge eight-track CD featuring two versions of the title track (from 2006’s “Ganging Up on the Sun”) and a pair of live cuts.

Limbeck, “Limbeck” (Doghouse) — The California quartet delivers its fourth album of Wilco-meets-Beach-Boys Americana.

Nektromantix, “Life is a Grave & I Dig It” (Hellcast) — The “Curse of the Coffin” is still strong on this Danish troupe’s latest set of ghoulish grit.

Christopher O’Riley, “Second Grace: Music of Nick Drake” (World Village) — The piano virtuoso and PBS host turns his interpretive attention from Radiohead to a new subject.

Lou Rhodes, “Beloved One”

(Cooking Vinyl) — The Lamb singer brings her solo debut to these shores after earning a Mercury Prize nomination in the U.K. last year.

Sly & the Family Stone, “The Collection” (Epic/Legacy)— Dance to the music, and to the groundbreaking group’s seven albums, boxed together and expanded with 33 mostly unreleased bonus tracks.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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