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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Elton John, Charles Kelley, Foreigner, Future and more...

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, February 5, 2016

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Elton John

"Wonderful Crazy Night"


Grade: A-

The covers of Elton John's last two albums speak to the vast difference between the two. On 2013's "The Diving Board" a man stands at the end of a springboard, hesitating as he looks down into an abyss -- much like many of the low-key, ruminative songs that populated the set. On "Wonderful Crazy Night," however, we have an ebullient John, rose-colored glasses and all, in front of a colorful abstract splash. And that's fitting because the 10 songs are upbeat and mostly uptempo, with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin writing about love, joy and settled early adulthood while John -- who co-produced with T-Bone Burnett -- and his band romp through rockers such as "Guilty Pleasure," the swampy "In the Name of You," the shuffling "Looking Up," the gospel-tinged "Claw Hammer" and the rowdy, New Orleans-flavored title track. Even more textured fare such as ""Blue wonderful," "A Good Heart," "Tambourine" and "The Open Chord" have an earthy energy and sonic variety that recalls early 70s John favorites such as "Honky Chateau" and "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player." Only "I've Got 2 Wings," Taupin's musing about the late Louisiana guitar-playing preacher Elder Utah, veers from theme, but it complements it, too, a departed spirit that never lost its vigor cheerleading for a man whose vitality is equally intact.

New & Noteworthy:

Foreigner, "In Concert: Unplugged" (Sony/RED): Eleven of the veteran group's favorites, recorded acoustically last August at the Ford Motor Company Conference & Event Center in Dearborn as a benefit for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Future, "EVOL" (A1/Freebandz/Epic): The Georgia rapper's fourth studio album is largely guest-free save for the Weeknd on the track "Love LIfe."

Charles Kelley, "The Driver" (Capitol Nashville): The Lady Antebellum man goes solo, with Miranda Lambert, Stevie Nicks, Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay helping out.

Ellott Smith, "Heaven Adores You" (UMe): The soundtrack to the acclaimed 2014 documentary about the late singer-songwriter includes demos, alternative recordings, live tracks and other previously unreleased gems.

Trixie Whitley, "Porta Bohemica" (MRI): The singer-songwriter (daughter of the late Chris Whitley) titled her album after the old train line that once ran between Germany and Austria.

Lucinda Williams, "Ghosts of Highway 20" (Thirty Tigers): Williams draws on the Louisiana roadway she grew up on for the vivid songs on this two-disc set.

Also Out: Bonnie Prince Billy, "Pond Scum" (Good To Go); Ane Brun, "When I`m Free" (Balloon Banger); John Cale, "Music For a New Society/M.Fans" (Domino); Michael Cerveris, "Piety" (Low Heat); Alan Cumming, "Sings Sappy Songs -- Live at the Cafe Caryle" (Yellow Sound); Luther Dickinson, "Blues & Ballads (A Folksingers Songbook)Volumes (I & II)" (New West); Dr. Dog, "The Psychedelic Swamp" (ANTI-); Lou Doillon, "Lay Low" (Verve); Dressy Bessy, "Kingsized" (Yep Roc); Drowning Pool, "Hellelujah" (eOne);Elevation Worship, "Here As in Heaven" (Essential); Escondido, "WAlking With a Stranger" (Kill Canyon); Field Music, "Commontime" (Memphis Industries); Fleshgod Apocalypse, "King" (Nuclear Blast); Freakwater, "Scheherazade" (Bloodshot); Dori Freeman, "Dori Freeman" (Free Dirt); Golden Bloom, "Searching For Sunlight" (Rhyme & Reason); Hey Marseilles, "Hey Marseilles" (Shanachie); James Hunter Six, "Hold On!" (Daptone); Infamous Stringdusters, "Ladies & Gentlemen" (Compass); Johnnyswim, "LIve From Rockwood Music Hall" (Big Picnic); Majid Jordan, "Majid Jordan" (OVO Sound); Mike Farley Band, "Where We Stand" (self-released); Modoc, "Automatic and Voluntary" (SoulStep); Nothing But Thieves, "Nothing But Thieves" (RCA); Obscura, "Akroasis" (Relapse); The Pines, "Above The Prairie" (Red House); Prong, "X -- No Absolutes" (Steamhammer/SPV); Eric Prydz, "Opus" (Astralwerks); London Suede, "Night Thoughts" (Rhino); David G. Smith, "First Love" (self-released); Striker, "Stand in the Fire" (self-released); Sunflower Bean, "Human Ceremony" (Fat Possum); SWV, "Still" (eOne); Textures, "Phenotype" (Nuclear Blast); Zak Trojano, "Yesterday's Sun" (self-released); Various Artists, "Now That's What I Call Power Ballads" (UMe/Sony); Various Artists, "Now 57: That's What I Call Music" (UMe/Sony); Various Artists, "Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here Symphonic" (Decca); Van Wilks, "21st Century Blues" (Texas '51); Tony Yazbeck, "The Floor Above Me" (P.S. Classics)

From The Vaults: Game Theory, "Lolita Nation" (Omnivore); Grateful Dead, "Dave's Picks: Volume 17 Selland Arena -- Fresno, CA -- July 19, 1974" (DeadNet/Rhino); Buddy Guy, "I'll Play the Blues For You -- Live" (Klondike); Gretchen Peters, "The Essential Gretchen Peters" (self-released); Stephen Stills & Manassas, "Bananafish Gardens, NY" (Air Cuts); Quicksilver Messenger Service, "More Happy Trails 1969" (Purple Pyramid); UFO "Live Sightings" (Cleopatra);

Soundtracks: "A New Brain (2015 New York Cast Recording)" (P.S. Classics); Cirque du Soleil, "Toruk -- The First Flight" (Cirque du Soleil)

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