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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: AC/DC, Mary J. Blige, Willie Nelson, Wu-Tang Clan and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2014

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"Rock or Bust"


Grade: B+

Few bands' mere names indicate exactly what you're getting than AC/DC. The Australian group has stretched the formula over the years but never abandoned it, and like its 14 predecessors, "Rock or Bust -- AC/DC's first set of new material in six years -- is populated by a stadium-0shaking onslaught of lethal guitar riffs, sinewy grooves and heavy bottom; it's lean and mean, tight and taut -- like driving on the highway to hell in a hot rod that's more vintage than old and is obviously well maintained. "Rock or Bust" arrives with no small drama, of course, in that it's AC/DC's first without co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who's sidelined by dementia (nephew Stevie Young is in his place here), and, following the sessions, drummer Phil Rudd's stunning legal problems in New Zealand. You'd never know anything was wrong from the buoyant tone of the title track, "Play Ball," "Got Some Rock 'n' Roll Thunder," "Rock the House" and "Baptism By Fire," while "Rock the Blues Away" and "Hard Times" delve into the under-appreciated blues roots in AC/DC's sound and give lead guitarist Angus Young, he of the trademark schoolboy's outfit, a touch more room to stretch out. Frontman Brian Johnson is all banshee wails and sexual double entendres, which is exactly what we want, and though it weighs in at a slender 35 minutes "Rock or Bust" feels like anything but a bust. "In rock we trust?" Sure enough -- but in AC/DC, too.

New & Noteworthy:

Leonard Cohen, "Live in Dublin" (Columbia/Legacy): The Canadian poet/songwriter has been on an incredible performance roll during the past few years, and this 2013 set will leave your jaw on the floor with its rich beauty.

Mary J. Blige, "The London Sessions" (Capitol): For her 13th studio album, the Queen of Hip Hop Soul heads across the pond to the legendary RAK studios, where she worked with young British acts such as Disclosure, Sam Smith, Emeli Sande and Naughty Boy.

Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie, "December Day: Willie's Stash Vol. 1" (Legacy): Nelson and his piano-playing sister team up for duo renditions of a dozen of Willie's originals plus favorites by Irving Berlin, Django Reinhardt, Al Jolson and others.

She & Him, "Classics" (Columbia): The duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward shift gears for their fifth album, recording covers of, as the title says, classics by Dusty Springfield, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Charles Aznavour and others with the help of a 20-piece orchestra.

Walk the Moon, "Talking is Hard" (RCA): The Cincinnati indie rock quartet's third album has generated plenty of buzz thanks to its chat-topping Spotify hit "Shut UP and Dance."

Wu-Tang Clan, "A Better Tomorrow" (Soul Temple/Asylum/Warner Bros.): A rather public dispute between RZA and Raekown was apparently settled as the rap collective returns with its first new album in seven years, with help from Rick Rubin and Adrian Younge.

Mb>Also Out: Nicholas David, "Make Hope" (Wake The World); Dana Fuchs, "Songs From the Road" (Ruf); The Jack Kerowax, "Kerowax" (St. Cait); Barry Ollman, "What'll It Be?" (Blue Colorado); Spiders & Snakes, "Year of the Snake" (Sansei); Strawbs, "Prognostic" (Witchwood Media); BD Wong, "Herringbone (A Concert Recording)" (Yellow Sound); Yo La Tengo, "Extra Painful" (Matador); Mike Zito & the Wheel, "Songs From the Road" (Ruf)

From The Vaults: Jack Bruce, "Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts" (Made in Germany); Pixies, "Doolittle 25: B-Sides, Peel Sessions and Demos" (4ad); Todd Rundgren, "At the BBC 1972-1982" (Esoteric Antenna)

Mb>Soundtracks: Original Cast, "Venice" (Ghostlight)

Mb>New Music DVDs:Jack Bruce, "Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts" (Made in Germany); "Filmage: The Story of Decedents/All" (Epitaph); 5 Seconds of Summer, "Up Close & Personal" (Melrose Media); Florida Georgia Line, "Life On Stage" (Woodridge Films); One Direction, "Where We Are: Live From San Siro Stadium" (Columbia); Various Artists, "Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years" (PBS)

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