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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Young The Giant, Hard Working Americans and more...

21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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Young The Giant

"Mind Over Matter"

(Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic)


Sameer Gadhia and Young The Giant certainly have license to feel like they're on the "tightrope" he sings about in "It's About Time," the first single from the Southern California quintet's sophomore album. YTG's assured 2010 debut was a fresh blast of nuanced pop that could only heighten expectations for what the group would do next, and if "Mind Over Matter" doesn't quite hit the same peak it's only because of the many other bands that copped the YTG's approach during the interim. That said, YTG hardly shirks from the task at hand, and the 13 tracks on "Mind Over Matter" are as earnest and fused with texture and ambient energy as the debut. Produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the set has plenty of dynamic ebb and flow on songs such as the kinetic opener "Anagram" to "Firelight," "Waves" and the dramatically arranged "Camera," while the closing "Paralysis" strikes a soulful tone. "It's About Time," "Daydreamer," In My Home" and "Teachers," meanwhile, take YTG into heavier, anthemic territory than it handled on its first album, and "Eros" rides a funkier rhythmic bed into a closing guitar vamp that lets Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata stretch out. "Mind Over Matter" finds YTG still confident and comfortable -- and formidable -- pushing itself but without sacrificing the buoyant charm that made us pay attention in the first place.

Hard Working Americans, "Hard Working Americans" (Melvin/Thirty Tigers) ***

Todd Snider albums are usually worth the price admission on their own merits; put him in a band with Widespread Panic's Dave Schools and some other hotshot players and give 'em a batch of excellent songs (though Snider is certainly no slouch as a writer) and it's a can't-miss proposition. "Hard Working Americans" lives up to its promise on paper with solid interpretations of songs by the Bottle Rockets, Frankie Miller, Randy Newman, Will Kimbrough and others, plus a jammed-out take on Hayes Carll's "Stomp and Holler." The thematic thread -- see the band name and album title -- holds throughout, and by the time Gillian Welch's "Wrecking Ball" wraps it up you'll be applying for a union card, no matter where you work.

New & Noteworthy:

Against Me!, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" (Total Treble): Like the good punk rocker she is, Laura Jane Grace doesn't avoid the transgender change she made from being Tom Gabel prior to this album -- and rocks hard while doing it.

The Appleseed Collective, "Young Love" (Earthwork Music): The eclectic Ann Arbor roots music quintet blends gypsy jazz, Dixieland, bluegrass and more on its follow-up to 2012's "Baby to the Beast."

Ray Benson, "A Little Piece" (Bismeaux): The Asleep at the Wheel singer duets with Willie Nelson from one of the tracks on his first solo effort since 2003.

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, "The Devil You Know" (Alligator): The award-winning California guitarist gets back to basics on his 14th album.

John Hammond Jr., "Timeless" (Palmetto): A new live set from the roots music master, recorded solo in Rhode Island and featuring a song, "No One Can Forgive Me But My Baby," written especially for him by Tom Waits.

Craig Handy, "Craig Handy & 2nd Line Smith" (Okeh): The saxophonist integrates organ into his musical mix on his new album, which also features guest appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Jennifer Holliday, "The Song is You" (Shanachie): The "Dreamgirls" stage star returns to secular music with this mix of pop, jazz and R&B standards.

Iced Earth, "Plague of Babylon" (Century Media): The Florida heavy metal band's partial concept album marks the debut of bassist Luke Appleton.

Damien Jurado, "Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son" (Secretly Canadian): The 11th solo effort by the Seattle-born singer-songwriter.

Kye Kye, "Fantasize" (self-released): The sophomore album from the troupe of Estonian-born, Pacific Northwest-based siblings.

Los Lonely Boys, "Revelation" (LonelyTone/Playing in Traffic): The trio of Texas brothers wrote songs with members of Ozomotli, Quinones and the Black Eyed Peas crew, as well as Radney Foster, for its latest release.

Mogwai, "Rave Tapes" (Rock Action): Scotland's experimental rock outfit has at least one eye on the dance floor for its eighth studio album.

Nine Lashes, "From Water to War" (Tooth & Nail): The third release from the Christian rock quintet from Alabama.

Linnea Olsson, "Ah!" (Gotterfunk): The debut outing by the Cello-playing Swedish singer-songwriter who recently toured with Peter Gabriel.

Doug Paisley, "Strong Feelings" (No Quarter): The Toronto singer-songwriter recorded his third album with help from The Band`s Garth Hudson and fellow Canadian troubadour Mary Margaret O'Hara.

Pro Pain, "The Final Revolution" (Steamhammer): The hardcore group from New York hasn't softened 22 years after its debut.

Reverend Horton Heat, "Rev" (Victory): The Texas psychobilly veteran revs it up yet again, this time producing the album himself for a new label.

Scorpions, "MTV Unplugged" (Sony International): "Rock You Like a Hurricane" with acoustic guitars? Hey, don't know it 'til you've tried it...

Various Artists, "2014 Grammy Nominees" (Grammy Recordings/Atlantic): An 18-song overview of nominees -- including Daft Punk, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and more -- for this year's 56th Annual Grammy Awards.

Von Gray, "Awakening" (Music VG): The second EP by the stringed instrument-playing sister quartet from Georgia.

Warpaint, "Warpaint" (Rough Trade): The second full-length release from the all-female Los Angles indie rock quartet was co-produced by well-credentialed British auteur Flood.

Dhafer Youssef, "Birds Requiem" (Okeh/Sony Masterworks): The North African oud master blends indigenous sounds with electric guitar, electronics, trumpet, clarinet and other flavors on his latest release.

From The Vaults: The Beatles, "The U.S. Albums" (Capitol/EMI); It's A Beautiful Day, "Live at the Fillmore West 1 July 1971" (Keyhole); Journey, "Playlist: The Very Best of Journey" (Columbia/Legacy); Ray Price, "Playlist: The Best of Ray Price" (Columbia/Legacy); The Rolling Stones," "Live 1965: Music from Charlie is My Darling" (ABKCO digital); Boz Scaggs, "Live at the Fillmore West 30th June 1971" (Keyhole); Simon & Garfunkel, "Playlist: The Very Best of Simon & Garfunkel" (Columbia/Legacy)

New Music Videos: The Doors, "R-Evolution" (Eagle Rock)

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