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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Rush, Blake Shelton and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007

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Rush, “Snakes and Arrows” (Anthem/Atlantic) *** 1/2

It’s been five years since Rush’s last studio album (“Vapor Trails”), but the long-lived Canadian trio has hardly been on hiatus. It’s produced two tours, a live album, a pair of concert DVDs — one celebrating the group’s 30th anniversary in 2004 — and a covers EP in the interim, and, judging from “Snakes and Arrows,” all that work has fanned the band’s enthusiasm rather than fatigue it. Though it wears a bit toward the latter part of its 63 minutes, “Snakes and Arrows” is the kind of album Rush fans crave, a 13-song sojourn of intricate arrangements, virtuostic playing and plenty of hooks and killer riffs to keep things from rolling to the wrong side of eggheaded. The trio still covers more musical ground in one song than some bands do on an entire album; the best case in point here may be “The Way the Wind Blows,” which starts with Alex Lifeson’s bluesy guitar riffs and traipses through a grooving verse and a quieter bridge and chorus section before building back into a bluesy rock fury. Other tracks such as “Armor & Sword,” “Spindrift,” “Bravest Face” and “Good News First” follow similarly cascading dynamic paths, while “The Main Monkey Business” and “The Larger Bowl” are surprisingly spare and not dissimilar to a contemporary group like Incubus — one of the many that, in turn, draws on Rush as an influence. Drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics run topical on “Faithless” and “The Way the Wind Blows,” but his more intimate ruminations on “Workin’ Them Angels” and “We Hold On” are just as effective. And the instrumentals — including Lifeson’s acoustic showpiece “Hope” and the frenetic “Malignant Narcissism” — remind us how much fun it is just to hear Rush let loose and play.


Blake Shelton, “Pure BS” (Warner Bros.) ***

The three years since Blake Shelton’s last album has been time well spent, as the Oklahoma singer used it to cook up the best of his four albums. After suffering a divorce of his own, Shelton imbues “She Don’t Love Me,” “Back There Again,” “What I Wouldn’t Give” and “She Can’t Get That” with deeper emotional resonance, the latter incorporating a seductive acoustic guitar and fiddle groove. But this isn’t only a sober affair; on “This Can’t Be Good” he’s got the sheriff ’s daughter dancing on the hood of his car, while “The Last Country Song” finds Shelton whooping it up with George Jones and John Anderson. It’s good stuff, and that’s no “BS” — pure or otherwise.


ALO, “Roses & Clover” (Brushfire) — The inaugural studio outing from the funky California jam band championed by college pal Jack Johnson.

Tori Amos, “American Doll Posse” (Epic) — The idiosyncratic singer-songwriter gives us the state of women, courtesy of three characters she created for her lengthy ninth album.

Joan Armatrading, “Into the Blues” (Savoy Jazz) — Armatrading’s brand of blues should be a happy affair for those who have loved the singer-songwriter over the past 35 years.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Baby 81” (RCA) — The trio’s third album offers a harder-rocking follow-up to 2005’s rootsy “Howl.”

Corbin Bleu, “Another Side” (Hollywood) — The debut solo set from the star of Disney’s “High School Musical” and “Jump In.”

Michael Bublé, “Call Me Irresponsible” (Reprise) — The Canadian crooner dips back to the ’80s for hook-ups with Boyz II Men and Siedah Garrett on his latest release.

Dinosaur Jr., “Beyond”

(Fat Possum) — The first album in 16 years by the original lineup of this modern rock underground powerhouse.

Feist, “Reminder” (Cherry Tree/Interscope) — The Canadian singer-songwriter (and member of Broken Social Scene) takes a typically laid back course on her third solo album.

John5, “Devil Knows My Name” (Mascot) — A six-string heavy solo set by the Detroitborn guitarist who’s logged time with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie.

Angelique Kidjo, “Djin Djin” (Razor & Tie) — The African singer tapped Josh Groban, Carlos Santana, Peter Gabriel, Joss Stone, Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis to help out on her latest venture.

Chantal Kreviazuk, “Ghost Stories” (Nettwerk America) — The Canadian piano woman made her fourth album in the home she shares with husband, collaborator and Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida.

Miranda Lambert, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (Columbia Nashville) — Country’s “Kerosene” singer hopes to light things up again with her second album for which she wrote eight of the 11 songs.

Kimberley Locke, “Based on a True Story” (Curb) — She may be an “American Idol” runner-up, but Locke is a self-proclaimed “Supawoman” on her long-delayed sophomore set.

Ne-Yo, “Because of You”

(Def Jam) — The second outing from the R&B star who also penned Beyoncé’s chart-topping “Irreplaceable.”

Soundtrack, “Spider-Man 3” (Warner Bros.) — The comic serial’s latest installment is embellished by tracks from Snow Patrol, the Killers, Jet, the Flaming Lips, the Walkmen, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and others.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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