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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Van Morrison, Incubus, Kendrick Lamar, Toto

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2015

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Van Morrison

"Duets: Re-Working the Catalog"


Grade: B+

This almost feels like cheating, doesn't it? Here we have Van Morrison, a potent prospect to start with, and 16 songs already established from his catalog. Add to that a cadre of all-star guests, and "Duets" looks like the musical equivalent of sending the mid-70s Pittsburgh Steelers back out on the field. To Morrison's credit, however, this is no rote recital of these tracks; rather, he and his guests re-work, re-invent and re-imagine them, and it's a further credit to both his performing and composing prowess that the new versions are, in most cases, just as good or at least as compelling as the originals. Nothing really falls short, in fact, but the best moments include a smoothly lush and soulful rendition of "Some Peace of Mind" with Bobby Womack, some electrifying vocal exchanges with Mavis Staples on "Lord, If I Ever Needed Someone," a lively cha-cha take on "Get On With the Show" with Georgie Fame, a bluesy call-and-response with Michael Buble on "Real Real Gone" and an aching treatment of "Streets of Arklow" with Mick Hucknall. The contributions aren't only limited to vocals; George Benson adds some tasty and distinctive guitar licks to a loosey goosey "Higher Than the World," while Steve Winwood's organ and Mark Knopfler's guitar are equally identifiable on "Fire in the Belly" and "Irish Heartbeat," respectively. Morrison plays well enough on his own, but it's an equal pleasure to hear him playing nice with others.

New & Noteworthy:

Courtney Barnett, "Sometimes I Sit and Think..." (Mom + Pop): The highly anticipated debut from the Australian rock singer-songwriter whose witty lyrics and deadpan vocals have been a hit with critics during the past year.

Action Bronson, "Mr. Wonderful" (Atlantic): There's usually a good time when this Queens rapper is involved, and on his second studio album from Mark Ronson, Chance the Rapper and others.

Buena Vista Social Club, "Lost & Found" (World Circuit/Nonesuch): Hardly mere leftovers, these vaulted tracks from Ry Cooder's mid-90s musical sojourn to Cuba yield more musical delights and provide a nice adjunct to the acclaimed original album.

Incubus, "Trust Fall (Side A)" (Island): The facile California rockers return from a brief hiatus with a four-song EP and the promise of more new music in the not-too-distant future.

Kendrick Lamar. "To Pimp a Butterfly" (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): The Compton rapper broaden his scope on his third album to include elements of free jazz, funk and spoken word poetry.

Toto, "Toto XIV" (Frontiers): Four key members are part of the group's first new album in nine years, with Michael McDonald guesting on the track "All The Tears That Shame."

Also Out: James Bay, "Chaos and the Calm" (Republic); Big Data, "2.0" (Warner Bros.); Joe Bonamassa, "Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks" (J&R Adventures/Provogue); The Cribs, "For All My Sisters" (Arts & Crafts); The Go! Team, "The Scene Between" (Memphis Industries); Darren Hanlon, "Where Did You Come From?" (Yep Roc); Hidden Hospitals, "Surface Tension" (self-released); Hit The Lights, "Summer Bones" (Pure Noise); JEFF the Brotherhood, "Wasted on the Dream" (Infinity Cat); Mark Kozelek, "Live at Biko" (Caldo Verde); Lightning Bolt, "Fantasy Empire" (Thrill Jockey); Liturgy, "Art Work" (Thrill Jockey); Laura Marling, "Short Movie" (Ribbon); Nellie McKay, "My Weekly Reader" (429); mind in a box, "Memories" (Metropolis); Oceano, "Ascendants" (Earache); Rapper Big Poo, "Words Paint Pictures" (Mello Music); Seasick Steve, "Sonic Soul Surfer" (Bronzerat); Michael Schenker, "Spirit On a Mission" (inakustik); Striking Matches, "Nothing But the Silence" (CMG); Taarka, "Making Tracks Home" (self-released); Steve Wilson & Wilsonian`s Grain, "Live In New York: The Vanguard Sessions" (Random Act); Vetiver, "Complete Strangers" (Easy Sound); Wussy, "Wussy" (Shake It)

From The Vaults: Bee Gees, "1974-1979" (Beegees/Reprise/Rhino); James, "Laid/Wah Wah" (Island); Curtis Knight & the Squires featuring Jimi Hendrix, "You Can't Use My Name" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy) Willie Nile, "The Bottom Line Archive Series" (Bottom Line); Roger Taylor, "Fun in Space" and "Strange Frontier" (Omnivore); Thursday, "Waiting: 15-Year Anniversary Deluxe Edition" (Collect)

New Music DVDs: Miley Cyrus, "Bangerz Tour" (RCA); Kansas, "Miracles Out of Nowhere" (Legacy); Various Artists, "A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney" (Shout! Factory); Kylie Minogue, "Kiss Me Once: Live at the SSE Hydro" (+180)

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