NEW YORK (Billboard) - Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley is gone but hardly forgotten — at least not as an integral component of the band’s murky, melodic brand of hard rock. The quartet returns 14 years after its last new studio album (and seven years after Staley’s death), with an 11-track set that sounds like it could well have been recorded in the same session as the 1995 “Alice in Chains.” New singer William DuVall’s voice boasts the same kind of cadence and weight as Staley’s, and more importantly his vocal blend with guitarist Jerry Cantrell ensures that that integral harmonic trademark remains intact. So does Alice in Chains’ dark countenance, from the twisting opening of the song “All Secrets Known” to the sinewy groove of the first single, “Check My Brain.” The droning “Private Hell” takes the listener into a trance-like state, while the album-closing title track is a salute to Staley that features Elton John on piano.
Patty Loveless has an innate soulfulness that can’t be taught, bought or won on a reality show. That’s one of the reasons — along with sterling musicianship and inspired song selection — why her new album, “Mountain Soul II,” is a must-have for fans of Loveless and roots music alike. When she sings, “There’s no place so lonely as being half over you” on the track “Half Over You,” listeners feel the same belief in her lyrics as they did when listening to Vince Gill sing “Never knew lonely till I met you” 20 years ago on the song “Never Knew Lonely.” The stark tune “Diamond in My Crown,” which finds Loveless accompanied by Emmylou Harris and a pump organ, is as pure and aurally fulfilling. Meanwhile, the gospel trio of “Working on a Building” (with Del and Ronnie McCoury), “Friends in Gloryland” (featuring Gill and Rebecca Lynn Howard) and “(We Are All) Children of Abraham” provides the album’s spiritual center.
Grieving the loss of a loved one may yield a harvest of creativity. In Rosanne Cash’s case, the 2003 death of her father, Johnny Cash, inspired the heartfelt originals on her 2006 release “Black Cadillac.” The late country legend’s memory also largely informs Cash’s new album, “The List” — sublime renderings of tunes her dad considered essential American gems. Cash not only infuses love into her delivery on the collection but also proves herself a supreme song stylist. Guest vocalists contribute gracefully to these country classics, highlighted by Bruce Springsteen singing into the marrow of the midtempo track “Sea of Heartbreak” and Elvis Costello spicing up “Heartaches by the Number.” But the spotlight is rightfully on Cash, who sails gently through “Miss the Mississippi and You” while deliciously strolling through Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.” She ends the acoustic affair with a heartrending interpretation of the Carter Family’s “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.”
There’s always been a bit of crazy in the way Canadian crooner Michael Buble has structured his repertoire, love songs and otherwise; he has the standards down, but he’s certainly not trapped in the Great American Songbook. The curveballs on Buble’s fourth studio release, “Crazy Love,” give the album some additional cheek, whether it’s the finger-snapping take on the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight,” the samba-flavored groove of Ron Sexsmith’s “Whatever It Takes” or Dinah Washington and Brook Benton’s “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes),” a slinky R&B romp with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. He also holds his own on a treatment of the Ella Fitzgerald staple “Cry Me a River” (which sounds like a potential James Bond movie theme) and the Van Morrison-written title track. Meanwhile, the single “Haven’t Met You Yet” — one of two Buble writing credits on the album — is a Merseybeat pastiche that seems about to break into “All You Need Is Love” at any minute. “Crazy Love” is another step in Buble’s creation of his own kind of songbook, and there’s nothing necessarily crazy about that.
Despite Bebel Gilberto’s Brazilian musical bloodlines (her father is Joao Gilberto and her mother is Miucha), she didn’t achieve widespread notoriety until she left the South American country. Her 2000 international debut release, “Tanto Tempo,” produced in London, put Gilberto on the world music map. Her latest album and Verve debut, “All in One,” is something of a return to Brazil, conceptually speaking. Collaborating with artists like Daniel Jobim, Didi Gutman and Carlinhos Brown, Gilberto offers a Euro/Brazil mix of tunes. The set features several strongly tropical numbers, like the gentle “Cancao de Amor” and a fine cover of her father’s original bossa nova classic “Bim Bom.” Her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “The Real Thing,” on the other hand, is insubstantial compared with simpler efforts, including the dark colors of “Secret,” the lovely ballad “Port Antonio” and her spirited cover of the Carmen Miranda nugget “Chica Chica Boom Chic.”
It’s probably unwise to assume that “Darkside of the Sun,” the second track from the German band Tokio Hotel’s second international set, “Humanoid,” references the famous Pink Floyd album with which it almost shares a title. After all, little about Tokio Hotel suggests the group’s young members feel any connection to the classic rock canon. Led by elaborate-haired frontman Bill Kaulitz, the band looks to Depeche Mode the way guitar groups regard Led Zeppelin. With its whirring synth riffs (“Noise”), pumping arena-emo grooves (“Pain of Love”) and liberal use of Auto-Tune (“Hey You”), “Humanoid” is no less appealingly shiny than its 2007 stateside debut, “Scream.” But with the exception of the song “Automatic,” an instantly catchy chunk of bubble-grunge perfection, it does have fewer killer melodies, which allows more of your brain to focus on Kaulitz’s lyrics. That’s a dubious advantage: The song “Dogs Unleashed” sounds an awful lot like he’s singing, “We are dogs in heat.”
If Basement Jaxx has a flaw, it’s the group’s tendency to overdo: too many of the craziest sounds you’ve ever heard happening at once, at too high a volume, surrounding one defenseless vocal line. But the U.K. production duo has found a happy medium between total sonic freedom and pop-wise efficiency on its fifth album, “Scars.” The release is a study of balanced brilliance, a junkyard carnival of found sounds and international influences. The irresistible start-stop title track features a Kelis vocal over a gothic choir, chopped into syncopated bits. The song “Twerk” recalls Basement Jaxx’s jump-up mix of N*E*R*D’s “She Wants to Move,” while the track “Saga” takes Santigold into ska territory — with a cartoon-like ghoulishness, a la Scooby-Doo. Crooner Sam Sparro leads the album standout “Feelings Gone” with a faithfully soulful vocal over a kinetic dance rhythm that would make Annie Lennox proud. But by closing the song with unadorned strings, Basement Jaxx seems to be finding feeling in its new efficiency.
7 Worlds Collide’s new double-disc album, “The Sun Came Out,” is the answer to a question few had probably thought to ask: What would happen if members of Crowded House, the Smiths, Radiohead, Wilco, assorted family members and other guests spent three weeks in a recording studio? The result should have been a misbegotten mess. Instead, with Neil Finn serving as host and co-producer, “The Sun Came Out” turns out to be an inspired exercise in artistic collaboration and pop songcraft. Johnny Marr sounds rejuvenated as he takes the mic on “Too Blue,” the beautiful album opener he co-wrote with Jeff Tweedy. Radiohead’s Phil Selway and Finn’s son Elroy make surprisingly strong solo bows. KT Tunstall shines on two standout tracks, “Black Silk Ribbon” (with Bic Runga) and “Hazel Black.” And Finn serves up the breezy pop charmer “Little by Little” with his wife, Sharon. Here’s hoping the entire collective reconvenes for another go-around.
Editing by DGoodman at Reuters