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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Beck, The Fray and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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"Morning Phase"



Circumstances couldn't be more different for Beck Hansen now than when he released "Sea Change" in 2002. That austere and melancholy set, the acknowledged forebear to the new "Morning Phase," was prompted by Beck's breakup with his longtime girlfriend. Now, however, he's married with two young children -- but still able to tap into a bleak kind of beauty on these 13 tracks, which feature the core band from "Sea Change" as well as guests such as jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, banjoist Fats Kaplan, R&B drumming legend James Gadson and pedal steel master Greg Leisz, with Beck's father David Campbell providing string arrangements. There's more comfort than despair in this down-tempo immersion, and songs such as "Morning," the richly nuanced "Heart is a Drum" and the album-closing "Waking Light," are bolstered by a fuller, lush kind of ambience. "Blackbird Chain" and "Say Goodbye" boast retro noir pop feels, while Beck sings like a young Brian Wilson on "Unforgiven" and strikes Simon & Garfunel-style harmonies on "Turn Away." The easygoing "Country Down" has a hint of twang, and the "I won't go under" resolve of the string-laden "Wave" is at least a gentle nod in a positive direction. There are certainly those who crave Beck's return to the party-down exuberance of "Odelay," but on "Morning Phase" he shows that sad can be a happy place to be, too.


The Fray, "Helios" (Epic) ***

The keening, earnest Fray of the Denver group's first three albums is still evident here, especially on tracks such as "Hold My Hand," "Keep on Wanting" and "Break Your Plans." But teaming with British techno producer Stuart Price has helped bring a new and more aggressive spark to the quartet's sound, evidenced by the charged "Closer to Me," the downright funky "Give It Away" and "Wherever This Goes," a showcase for the group's vocal harmonies. And although frontman Isaac Slade is still prone to ask Big Questions, there's a newfound lightheartedness here, too, which should make the Greek god of the sun, the album's namesake, happy.

New & Noteworthy:

Dierks Bentley, "Riser" (Capitol Nashville): The country star's collaborators on his seventh solo album include new Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, Charlie Worsham and Jaren Johnston of the Cadillac Three.

Celtic Woman, "Emerald: Musical Gems" (Manhattan): The Irish troupe revamped some of its favorite songs from previous shows for this two-disc set.

Neneh Cherry, "Blank Project" (Smalltown Supersound): The "Buffalo Stance" singer's first new album in 18 years includes a duet with Robyn on "Out of the Black."

Brian Culbertson, "Another Long Night Out" (BCM): The multi-instrumentalist returns to contemporary jazz on this outing, with help from members of Fourplay, the Rippingtons, the Yellowjackets and Toto as well as saxophonist Candy Dulfer and more.

Neil Davidge, "Slo LIght" (The End): The first-ever solo outing from the former Massive Attack producer and Halo 4 score composer.

James Fortune, "Live Through It" (Fiya/eOne): A two-disc concert set by the Grammy Award-winning gospel artist from Houston.

The Gloaming, "The Gloaming" (Brassland/Real World): The debut outing by the all-star Irish group.

Holland Greco, "Volume 1" (Zappa): The singer and multi-instrumentalist is Zappa Records' first new signing of the 21st century.

Heart, "Fanatic Live From Caesar's Colosseum" (Frontiers): The veteran group's latest concert souvenir was recorded and filmed a Caesar's Colosseum in Windsor.

House of Lords, "Precious Metal" (Frontiers): The Los Angeles rockers' ninth studio album was produced by frontman James Christian.

The Internet, "Feel Good" (Odd Future/Columbia): The first full studio effort by Odd Future's neo-soul spinoff includes collaborations with Mac Miller, N.E.R.D.'s Chad Hugo, Incubus' Mike Einziger and others.

Levi Lowery, "Levi Lowery" (Southern Ground): The solo debut by the co-writer of the Zac Brown Band`s hit "The Wind."

Brad Mehldau and Mark Fuiliana, "Mehliana: Taming the Dragon" (Nonesuch): The electric keyboard/drum duo offers up its first recording, sporting a dozen original songs.

St. Vincent, "St. Vincent" (Loma Vista/Republic): Annie Clark's fourth album under the St. Vincent moniker includes team-ups with members of the Dap-Kings and Midlake.

Schoolboy Q, "Oxymoron" (Top Dawg/Interscope): The Los Angeles rapper's third album features guest appearances by Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Kurupt, Jay Rock, Raekwon and more.

Temples, "Sun Structures" (Fat Possum): The full-length debut from the British psychedelic pop group.

Joe Louis Walker, "Hornet's Nest" (Alligator): The veteran San Francisco guitarist's latest release is blues at its core but explores more diverse rock and funk terrain as well.

Bernie Worrell, "Elevation: The Upper Air" (M.O.D. Technologies): The first-ever solo piano outing by the famed keyboardist of Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads (to name just a few) fame.

Vanden Plas, "Chronicles of the Immortals -- Netherworld" (Inside/Out): The ninth album, and first in four years, from the German progressive metal quintet.

John Zipperer, "Full Circle" (Ziptunes): The TV actor and stuntman embraces music on a 13-song set that includes a cover of Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl."

From The Vaults: Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks Vol. 9: Harry Adams Field house -- Missoula, MT -- May 14, 1974" (DeadNet); Morrissey, "Your Arsenal" (Parlophone); Bob Mould, "Workbook 25" (Omnivore); Silversun Pickups, "The Singles Collection" (Dangerbird); Johnny Winter, "True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story" (Columbia/Legacy)

Soundtracks: Alexander Desplat, "Philomena" (Decca); "Fun Home: Original Cast Recording" (P.S. Classics); "Yank!: Original Cast Recording" (P.S. Classics)

New Music DVDs: Celtic Woman, "Emerald: Musical Gems -- Live in Concert" (Manhattan); "Muscle Shoals" (Magnolia); Various Artists, "The Secret Policeman's Ball -- USA" (Eagle Rock)

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