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OLD SCHOOL, NEW RULES
Hank Williams, Jr. (Bocephus/Blaster)
Hank Williams, Jr., kicks off his new album by addressing ESPN's decision to drop his song as the opening theme for Monday Night Football, a role he held for more than 20 years. In a robust voice, Williams bellows: "I'll go find a network that will treat me right" to start "Takin' Back the Country," a song set to a rocking arrangement of his legendary father's song "Mind Your Own Business."
The lyrics of "Takin' Back the Country" refer to his notorious 2011 interview on the TV program Fox & Friends in which he made an allegory that some construed as comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Williams makes it clear that he considers the incident an example of political correctness run amok.
Singing with fire in his belly and offering up ferociously rocking tunes fueled by a bluesy slide guitar, Williams tackles political themes throughout "Old School, New Rules." He wrote every song, save a cover of his father's "You Win Again," which he turns into a southern-rock stomper, and a duet with Merle Haggard on the latter's classic hit, "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," in which the two aging country stars have a ball trading lines with ribald delight.
Williams' conservative viewpoint will rankle some and rally others. At age 63, though, the old lion of country music continues to roar -- and to say exactly what is on his mind.
-- MICHAEL McCALL, Associated Press
Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/Atlantic)
The Zac Brown Band delivers a message with the title of its new album, "Uncaged" -- and the songs back up that statement. Although still likely to be described as a country band, the Georgia group purposely, and admirably, avoids current Nashville conventions on their new collection.
Ten years in, the ZBB instead focus on the tight interplay the ensemble has developed through heavy touring, dwelling on instrumental chops as much as on vocals and hooks. They also cast a broad view toward material: There's country music, for sure, in the harmony-driven "Goodbye In Her Eyes" and hoedown picking in the exhilarating "The Wind." But, keeping to its theme, "Uncaged" takes on fierce southern rock on the title cut, gospel-tinged mountain soul on "Natural Disaster," 1970s singer-songwriter musings on "Lance's Song," and Caribbean-influences on "Jump Right In," which has more in common with Paul Simon than Kenny Chesney.
Altogether, "Uncaged" is a powerful artistic declaration rather than an album carefully plotted to achieve maximum radio exposure. It succeeds, too, suggesting Brown and his fellow instrumentalists and songwriters plan on gaining a reputation for musical diversity rather than safely repeating an established formula.
-- MICHAEL McCALL, Associated Press
Marc Streitenfeld (Sony)
Munich-born Marc Streitenfeld, a protege of noted composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Inception, Dark Night Rises) shows why he is one of Hollywood's rising musical writing talents with the sixth soundtrack he has scored since 2005 for another one of the movie industry's giants, director Ridley Scott.
Dark atmospheric music, which is almost a given for intense science fiction, can often turn drab. Not this time. Streitenfeld's score isn't perfect, but it's almost worthy of being viewed as one of the betters models for the genre, integrating a hybrid of electronic sounds with traditional orchestral arrangements to move the listener along a journey of mixed emotions, including hope, inspiration, euphoria, tension, danger, conflict, redemption, and mystery.
Streitenfeld offsets eerie moments with soothing sounds for an all-instrumental composition that, if it doesn't put the listener of the edge of his or her seat, provokes attention through a wonderous, unpredictable journey.
Included on the 25-song, hour-long set are two pieces by another composer, Harry Gregson-Williams, and one by Jerry Goldsmith.
-- TOM HENRY, The Blade