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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, A$AP Rocky, Barenaked Ladies, Jason Derulo and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, June 1, 2015

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Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

"Django and Jimmie"


Grade: A

They may be grizzled veterans, but together making music Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard fit together as smoothly as single-malt scotch and soda. Their partnership as preeminent Americana statesman was forged on 1983's "Pancho & Left" and little has changed during the interim, and "Django and Jimmie" -- whose title track pays tribute to forebears Reinhardt and Rodgers, respectively -- is yet another testament to two guys who bring out the best in each other. They joke at one point that "we'd have taken much better care of ourselves if we'd've known we was gonna live this long, but the truth is they actually have; both men are singing as well as they ever have as they trade verses, and there's enough original material on "Django and Jimmie" to show that their writing chops and taste in picking others' songs remains plenty healthy. There's plenty of good-natured self-reference and wry humor on these 14 tracks -- particularly "It's All Going To Pot," co-written by and featuring Jamey Johnson -- and the spirited "It's Only Money." But Nelson and Haggard also allow themselves moments of reflection and sentiment on song such as "Unfair Weather Friend," "Live This Long," "Where Dreams Go to Die" and "Somewhere Between," while the chatty "Missing Ol' Johnny Cash" is a warm tribute to a fallen comrade and an easy, rolling gait is well suited to their version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright." "We just keep on moving and rollin'/Can't look back, might turn to stone," Haggard sings, but the good news is that you really don't have to look backwards to hear he and Nelson in their prime. It's still right here in the present.

New & Noteworthy:

Art of Anarchy, "Art of Anarchy" (Another Century): The first album by the hard rock all-star group featuring Scott Weiland (who's since departed), Guns N' Roses' guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Disturbed bassist John Moyer.

A$AP Rocky, "At Long Last A$AP" (RCA): The New York rapper's second studio album, surprise-released last week, features guest appearances by Kanye West, Future, Juicy J, Miguel, Mark Ronson -- and Rod Stewart.

Barenaked Ladies, "Silverball" (Vanguard): The Canadian quartet sounds as confident and inspired as ever on its third studio album since Steven Page's departure, and Ed Robertson's Muhammed Ali namecheck in "Get Back Up" is a knockout punch.

Jason Derulo, "Everything is 4" (Beluga Heights/Atlantic): Rest assured the smooth-voiced R&B singer's breakup with Jordin Sparks makes its way into songs on his fourth studio album, with Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Meghan Trainor and more along for the ride.

Florence + the Machine, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" (Island): The arty British rock troupe returns with its third album, following what Welch has described as "a bit of a nervous breakdown" and, clearly, an inspired creative period.

The Hillbenders, "Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry" (Compass): The Who's classic done bluegrass style -- with no drums? Trippy, but a worthwile trip, even if there's no actual fiddle on "Fiddle About."

Also Out: Mick Abrahams, "Revived" (Gonzo Multimedia); Antique Persuasion, "Don`t Forget Me Little Darling -- Remembering the Carter Family" (Voxhall); Armored Saint, "Win Hands Down" (Metal Blade); Kail Baxley, "A Light That Never Dies" (Forty Below); David Benoit, "In Love" (Concord); Born Cages, "I'm Glad I'm Not Me" (Washington Square); Billy Currington, "Summer Forever" (Mercury Nashville); Chris Robinson Brotherhood, "Betty's Blends Volume Two" (Silver Arrow); Civil Twilight, "Story of an Immigrant" (Wind-Up); The Darkness, "Last of Our Kind" (Kobalt); Dawes, "All Your Favorite Bands" (Hub):

Four Year Strong, "Four Year Strong" (Pure Noise); Friend Roulette, "I See You. Your Eyes Are Red." (Goodnight); Melody Gardot, "Currency of Man" (Verve/Decca); Gloriana, "Three" (Warner Music); Goatsnake, "Black Age Blues" (Southern Lord); Helloween, "My God-Given Right" (Nuclear Blast America); Indigo Girls, "One Lost Day" (IG/Vanguard); Jedi Mind Tricks, "The Thief and the Fallen" (Enemy Soil/The Orchard); The Kentucky Headhunters with Johnnie Johnson, "Meet Me in Bluesland" (Alligator); John Kruth, "The Drunken Wind of Life -- The Poems/Songs of Tin Ujevic" (Smiling Fez); Judy Kuhn, "Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel" (P.S. Classics); Mbongwana Star, "Kinshasa" (World Circuit); Melvins, "The Bulls & the Bees" (Ipecac); Mike + Ruthy Band, "Bright As You Can (Rumble Abode/Thirty Tigers); Marvin Sapp, "You Shall Live" (RCA Inspiration); Matt Skiba & the Sekrets, "Kuts" (Superball Music); Chris Stamey, "Euphoria" (Yep Roc); Sun Kil Moon, "Universal Themes" (Caldo Verde); Tellico, "Relics and Roses" (self-released); Ten, "Isla De Muerta" (Rocktopia); The Tenors and Victor Micallef, "Under One Sky" (Decca)

From The Vaults: Jeff Beck, "Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's (Deluxe Edition) (Eagle Rock); Alex Chilton, "Live at the Ocean Club `77" (Norton); Robin Gibb, "Saved By the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970)" (Reprise/Rhino); Iron Butterfly, "Ball (Expanded Edition)" (Real Gone); Simply Red, "Big Love" (Elektra Catalog)

Soundtracks: "An American in Paris (Original Broadway Cast Recording)" (Masterworks Broadway); "Bessie (Music From the HBO Film)" (Legacy)

New Music DVDs: Jackie Evancho and Allen H. Newman, "Awakening: Live in Concert" (Sony Masterworks); R.E.M., "R.E.M. By MTV" (Rhino)

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