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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Imagine Dragons, Estelle, the Mavericks, Kate Pierson and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2015

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Imagine Dragons

"Smoke + Mirrors"


Grade: B

Dan Reynolds opens Imagine Dragons' sophomore album by apologizing "for everything I've done" -- which, presumably, includes having a double-platinum debut album (2012's "Night Visions"), winning a Grammy Award and being Billboard's top rock act of 2013. Dude's probably even sorry for all nine-million-plus copies sold of "Radioactive." So, yeah, "Smoke + Mirrors" is one of THOSE albums, full of musings about the unexpected and often unpleasant impact of sudden fame, especially on one's character and romantic life. Fortunately that hasn't altered Reynolds and his bandmates' vision of epic popcraft of, which mitigates the angst and recriminations of these 13 tracks. This time out the quartet gets to guide its own fate, with mentor/producer Alex Da Kid stamping just one track (the single "Gold") and letting Imagine Dragons take care of the rest. The result is an album that hews much closer to the group's powerful in-concert attack, with plenty of percussion and ebb-and-flow dynamics but with a more organic sensibility and significantly fewer studio effects. There are times ("Shots," "I Bet My Life") where it feels like Imagine Dragons is trying a little hard for maximum impact, but the bulk of "Smoke + Mirrors" outfits Reynolds' emotional hand-wringing with smart and sometimes complex arrangements that soar, including the trippy African flavors of "It Comes Back to You," the galloping anthemics of "Trouble," the understated flow of "Summer" and the long, trance-like exit from the closing track, "The Fall." Reynolds does lament at one point that "everything's a mess" in his life, but on "Smoke + Mirrors" his band turns it into a close to beautiful mess....

New & Noteworthy:

Steve Earle & the Dukes, "Terraplane" (New West): The Americana stalwart takes a bluesy path on his latest release, taking the title from the car made during the 1930s by Detroit`s Hudson Motor Car Company.

Estelle, "True Romance" (1980 Inc./BMG): The British soul singer`s first new album in three years is a PledgeMusic project that explores themes of passion, courage, true romance and bulls***.

Juliana Hatfield Three, "Whatever My Love" (American Laundromat): The alt.rock trio reunites for the first time in more than two decades, sounding remarkably just like it did in the early 90s.

The Mavericks, "Mono" (Valory Music Group): The second album from the genre-blending group's welcome 2013 reunion finds it as charged as before -- if not moreso from plenty of touring to support its return.

Kate Pierson, "Guitars & Microphones" (Kobalt): The B-52 singer's first-ever solo album includes collaborations with Sia and Strokes guitarist NIck Valensi.

Pop Staples, "Don't Lose This" (dBpm/Anti-): Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer curate and add new instrumentation to this album of unreleased soulful and uplifting material the late Staples recorded during 1999 but hadn't finished before he died the following year.

Also Out:The Amazing, "Picture You" (Partisan); A Place To Bury Strangers, "Transfixation" (Dead Oceans); Raheem DeVaughn, "Love Sex Passion" (eOne); BP Fallon, "Live in Texas" (Saustex Media); Jose Gonzalez, "Vestiges & Claws" (mute); Colin Hay, "Next Year People" (Compass); Jorma Kaukonen, "Ain't No Hurry" (Red House); Elle King, "Love Stuff" (RCA); Russell Malone, "Love Looks Good on You" (Highnote); Phosphorescent, "Live at the Music Hall" (Dead Oceans); Lawson Rollins, "Travelers" (Baja/TSR); Scanner, "The Judgment" (Massacre); Brian Simpson, "Out of a Dream" (Shanachie); Sumac, "The Deal" (Profound Love); The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, "So Delicious" (Yazoo); 36 Crazyfists, "Time and Trauma" (Spinefarm); Tim Warfield Quintet, "Spherical -- Dedicated to Thelonious Sphere Monk" (Criss Cross); Aaron Watson, "The Underdog" (BIG Label, Thirty Tigers); Whitehorse, "Leave No Bridge Unburned" (Six Shooter); Wrinkle Neck Mules, "I Never Thought It Would Go This Far" (Lower 40);

From The Vaults: Dave Alvin, "Live in Long Beach 1997" (Rockbeat); Grateful Dead, "Dave`s Picks: Volume 13 -- Winterland, San Francisco 1974" (Deadnet/Rhino); Bob Marley & the Wailers, "Easy Skanking in Boston `78" (UMe); Texas, "Texas 25" (Pias America)

Soundtracks: Glen Campbell, "I'll Be Me" (Big Machine); Danny Elfman, "Fifty Shades of Grey: Original Motion Picture Score" (Republic); "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (La--La-Land)

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