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CD Reviews:
Madonna, Luke Bryan, D'Angelo, Lieutenant and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, March 9, 2015

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"Rebel Heart"

(Boy Toy/Live Nation/Interscope)

Grade: B

At the end of her 13th studio album Madonna laments that "In a world that's changing/I'm a stranger in a strange land." Really? Who, after all, has been stranger and changed as much over the course of a career as the Rochester Adams alumnus, who's staked her reputation on controversy, heresy, provocation, outrageous couture and frequent changes in musical trajectory. Interestingly, "Rebel Heart" is nothing more, or less, than a very good Madonna album, solid if a bit inconsistent and continuing the more personal and vulnerable openness she's explored on her last few releases. "Rebel Heart" has been something of a scramble, too, after a severe leak (which she called "artist rape") late last year forced Madonna to release six tracks during December and do quite a bit of damage control. As it is, "Rebel Heart" is a lot to wrap your arms and ears around; it's coming out in no less than half a dozen versions, with 24 tracks between them -- and, interestingly, the pulsing, synth-pop title track winding up on a Deluxe Edition. Madonna's still feeling like a woman scorned (presumably by ex-husband Guy Ritchie) on much of "Rebel Heart," with plenty of zingers for the man, or men, who done her wrong. But that won't keep anyone from moving their feet to the Diplo-assisted House-style single "Living For Love," the tribal club thump of the Kanye West collaboration "Illuminati," the reggae flavored "Unapologetic Bitch" and the lushly produced "Wash All Over Me." The Nicki Minaj duet "Bitch I'm Madonna" and "Iconic" with Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson feel gimmicky, but "Devil Pray," co-written with Avicii and Blood Diamonds, is one of her more thoughtful musings on the conflict between sin and salvation, and "Joan of Arc" reminds us that Madonna can play well in the pop mainstream, too. At 56, Madonna remains credibly, and creditably, up to date, with the rebel part of her heart beating strong enough to drive her without sounding like she's stretching to be relevant.

New & Noteworthy:

Will Butler, "Policy" (Merge): The first solo album from the Arcade Fire member, who also scored the 2013 film "Her."

Luke Bryan, "Spring Break...Check Out" (Capitol Nashville): A 14-track set compiling material from the country star's four popular spring break-themed EPs.

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, "Black Messiah" (RCA): A physical release for the neo-soul pioneer's latest after its surprise drop in December.

Lieutenant, "If I Kill This Thing We'll Eat For a Week" (Dine Alone): Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel goes solo with help from bandmate Chris Shiflett, Helmet's Page Hamilton and others.

Marina and the Diamonds, "Froot" (Neon Gold/Atlantic): The release of the British indie pop troupe's third album was bumped up a month due to song leaks online.

The Minus 5, "Dungeon Golds" (Yep Roc): The 10th album from the Seattle all-star group sports 12 tracks from a five-LP box set that was released for Record Store Day 2014.

Also Out: Broadcast, "Tender Buttons" (Warp); Casting Crowns, "Glorious Day: Hymns of Faith" (Cracker Barrel); Jack DeJohnette, "Made in Chicago" (ECM); Enslaved, "In Times" (Nuclear Blast); Europe, "War of Kings" (Hell & Back/UDR); Fences, "Lesser Oceans" (Atlantic); Heems, "Eat Pray Thug" (Megaforce); Lilly Hiatt, "Royal Blue" (New West); K.C. & the Sunshine Band, "Feeling You! The 60's" (Sunshine Sound); King Lil G, "90s Kid" (101); Motor Sister, "Ride" (Metal Blade); The Music Ninja, "VVV" (self-released); Danielle Nicole, "Danielle Nicolle" (Conord EP); Tom Paxton, "Redemption Road" (Pax); Joe Pug, "Windfall" (Lightning Rod); The Residents, "Shadowland" (Cryptic Corp.); Uli Jon Roth, "Scorpions Revisited" (UDR); Sheppard, "Bombs Away" (School Boy/Republic); Jimmy Somerville, "Homage" (Membran); The Weeklings, "The Weeklings" (Jem)

From The Vaults: The Band, "Palladium Circles" (Iconography); Celtic Thunder, "The Very Best of..." (Legacy); Bob Crewe, "The Complete Elektra Recordings" (Real Gone); Emmylou Harris, "Live in 1978" (All Access); HIM, "Lashes To Ashes, Lust to Dust: A Vinyl Retrospective '93-'03" (The End); Steve Howe, "Anthology"; Judas Priest, "Defenders of the Faith: 30th Anniversary Edition" (Columbia/Legacy); Peggy Lee, "At Last: The Lost Radio Recordings" (Real Gone); Johnny Mathis, "Life Is a Song Worth Singing -- The Complete Thom Bell Sessions" (Real Gone); Bonnie Raitt and Lowell George, "Ultrasonic Studios 1972" (Iconography)

Soundtracks: "Cinderella: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Disney); "Empire: Original Soundtrack, Season 1" (Columbia); "The Sound of Music (50th Anniversary Edition)" (Legacy)

New Music DVDs: Foo Fighters, "Highways & Holidays: 20 Years of the Foos" (Pride)

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