- Dan Weiss
(Warner Bros. ***)
Billie Joe Armstrong can't help himself: The Green Day songwriter has attempted to dial down the high-minded ambition and social commentary of his band's last two rock operas, American Idiot (2004) and 21st Century Breakdown (2009). But having set himself the task of writing power-pop punk songs that hark back to early adrenalized efforts such as 1994's Dookie, Armstrong got a little carried away and wrote enough tunes for not one, not two, but three new albums.
¡Uno! starts off the onslaught, with follow-up ¡Dos! due in November and ¡Tre! in January. So far, so good: The 12 hard-hitting numbers here consistently deliver the type of tuneful punch that comes naturally to the Berkeley, Calif., trio, who seemingly can knock out at will such radio-ready nuggets as the immediately ingratiating "Fell for You" and the snide "Loss of Control." At times, the basic formula is tweaked - "Carpe Diem" employs crunchy power chords akin to the early Who to put over its seize-the-day message - but for the most part ¡Uno! satisfyingly settles for sounding like Green Day did in the first place.
- Dan DeLuca
If Liza Minnelli and David Bowie ever procreated during their artistic '70s peak, the dream pairing's handsome offspring would have been vocalist Brandon Flowers. The merrily trilling, thrillingly dramatic singer and his Vegas-based band of renown have spent their platinum-plated career approximating glam rock's razor-sharp theatrics and Broadway's schmaltziness.
Four years away from Killers (blame solo projects) hasn't blunted the band's flashy brio or keen sense of epic songwriting. Together with grand-scale producers Brendan O'Brien, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite, the Killers sound as if they never left the Vegas strip's desert heat. There's a sweltering quality to the roaring, soaring "Runaways," an overheated rock-out filled with Flowers' perpetual-motion emotionalism. No mere amphitheater could contain the flashy stadium-pop grandeur of "A Matter of Time" or "Miss Atomic Bomb."
Still, for all of the Killers' brazen flamboyance, there's a humble, star-spangled quality to Battle Born's most poignant moments that's goes against its champagne grain. Derived perhaps from his Americana-laced 2010 solo album, Flamingo, Flowers' "Heart of a Girl" (cowritten with Lanois) and the gentle "From Here on Out" take the Killers on a wistful musical ride through cow country for a sound more Oklahoma than it is Guys and Dolls.
- A.D. Amorosi
As if to dispel memories of their last album, 2010's Grammy-nominated Infinite Arms, Band of Horses open Mirage Rock with "Knock Knock," a ripping one-chord rock song that blasts out of the gate with a joyful howl. Instead of Arms' cosmic country harmonies, Mirage Rock puts the emphasis on the Rock, and producer Glyn Johns, who worked with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, reins in the band's penchant for endless reverb.
The Portland band, helmed by Ben Bridwell, hasn't forsaken acoustic ballads, but this time around the anchors are loud rockers such as "Feud." Often, though, the album plays like a series of homages: "Electric Music," to the Stones; "Slow Cruel Hands of Time," to the Byrds; "Dumpster World," to America (the band); "Long Vowels," to recent tour mates My Morning Jacket. Maybe that's the mirage part.
- Steve Klinge
Country/Roots All Over the Road
(Mercury Nashville **1/2)
At his best on his second album, Easton Corbin brings to mind both Alan Jackson and George Strait - the former on the up-tempo title song (even if does employ the overworked theme of getting it on in a motor vehicle) and the latter on the smooth, mid-tempo ballads "It's Only a Girl" and "Tulsa Texas."
That's good company to be in, but All Over the Road also shows that for all his tastefulness and traditionalism, the young Florida native still has a ways to go. Despite the album's title, you could say Corbin is content here to stay in the middle of the road, relying a little too much on breezy, radio-ready affability in content and delivery. If you want to be one of the lasting greats, you've got to be able to work the darker, more downbeat emotional edges, which Corbin rarely tries to explore here.
- Nick Cristiano
(Mack Avenue ***1/2)
A newly refurbished Hot Club of Detroit takes off in new directions. The swing group retains its links to the legendary Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and to its drumless, two-guitar, accordion sound. But versatile reed man Jon Irabagon replaces Carl Cafagna and bassist Shawn Conley takes over from an ailing Andrew Kratzat. The band invites French-born singer Cyrille Aimee to offer her breathy worldliness on three tracks, including Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman."
The result is a joyful excursion that reaches improvising heights while pushing the band's concept gently into rock, funk, blues, and folk elements. That's no flag of surrender. The focus continues on smoky swing. The master's "Messe Gitane" gets reverent handling.
But there's a new sassiness, as evidenced by the tune "Chutzpah," which starts as if everyone has stuck their fingers into light sockets and then evolves into klezmer reverie. Overall, the music is upbeat and fun.
- Karl Stark
Classical Musicians Armeniens, Jordi Savall directing.
(Alia Vox ****)
Montserrat Figueras, Louise Moaty, Rene Zosso, Manuel Weber, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Savall directing.
(Alia Vox ***)
Of these two chunky packages from Hesperion XXI, the less assuming - Armenian Spirit - is the more notable. Inspired partly by the death of Hesperion's mainstay vocalist, Montserrat Figueras, and drawn from a collection titled Thesaurus of Armenian Melodies, this is a quiet, often melancholy, all-instrumental disc that employs mostly string instruments, such as soprano gamba and the distinctly Aremenian duduk. The music has an exotic Eastern modality, a bit Indian, somewhat Arabic, but with long-breathed melodies that are soulful and direct.
The Armenian disc comes with a 316-page booklet, but is dwarfed by the 503-page, two-disc Joan of Arc set, which draws in part from existing Hesperion discs (thus Figueras' posthumous appearance) in a succession of 15th-century music, some of it Dufay chansons with their dignified word settings and Burgundian cadences. The set has a strong narrative, with French-speaking actors re-creating events in Joan's life and trial, with incidental music by Jordi Savall. Ultimately, it feels like a high-toned radio play with too much talking and too little music.
- David Patrick Stearns