LIVE AT RIVER PLATE
The venerable Aussie band AC/DC is the epitome of meat-and-potatoes rock, with a recipe so basic it's almost Neanderthal: mix a bruising, no-frills rhythm section with the Chuck Berry riff catalog on steroids, add a razor-throated singer, and toss in a frenetic lead guitarist with a penchant for rolling around on the floor while playing.
The wonderful thing is how well it works, which is evident all over this two-disc live release that captures a 2009 show in Buenos Aires attended by 200,000 of their closest friends. It's the band's first live album in 20 years and an excellent retrospective of a group that will celebrate its 40th birthday next year.
"Whole Lotta Rosie" is a pummeling paean to a big, big woman; "The Jack" features the standard Brian Johnson intro to guitarist Angus Young who has the "devil in his fingers and the blues in his soul" followed by 10 minutes of down and dirty rocking, and the threesome of "Shot Down in Flames," "Thunderstruck," and "Black Ice" is a tremendous, wall-shaking blast of gutsy rock.
"Live at River Plate" also makes clear the powerful contribution that rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young makes to AC/DC. Long underrated thanks to his flashier brother, Malcolm Young's riffs and ability to hold everything together amid amplified chaos give the band its overwhelming crunch.
This is a knock-out punch of a release, 19 songs from a band that revels in sweaty, unapologetic rocking. Play it loud or don't play it at all.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
John Williams (Sony Music)
John Williams is an icon among Hollywood icons, one of the most consistent composers as well as one of the best. He's scored all but one of Steven Spielberg's movies over their 40-year collaboration, the longest and most productive director-composer partnership in film history with credits that include the Harry Potter Films, Star Wars, and Jaws.
Lincoln ranks among his best. Like other masterpieces from Williams, Lincoln has its combination of fun, lush, creative, clever, soothing, and bold moments offset by occasional quirkiness. One of the Williams' hallmarks is his penchant for a sense of euphoria and awakening, to allow the listener to come away from dark and somber overtones with a sense of warmth and inspiration.
By weaving in 1800s period music, he has made this a highly satisfying disc. The tension and contrasts of this soundtrack's aura, with the euphoric promise that emerges from moments of angst, is a remarkable musical tribute to one of our nation's most beloved presidents.
The score is executed with an outstanding performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with solos from some of its most distinguished principals. The five-time Oscar winner Williams trails only Walt Disney for Academy Award nominations with 47. This soundtrack is almost guranteed to get him at least one closer.
-- TOM HENRY
GIRL ON FIRE
Alicia Keys (RCA)
Alicia Keys doesn't do half-measures. Her fifth studio album, "Girl on Fire," comes on hard and fast, seemingly stripped but rich in sound, triumphant to the point of a cinematic epic scope. It's her first release since marrying producer-rapper Swizz Beatz and the birth of their son, Egypt.
Keys' name pops up buoyantly on all writing and producing credits of this 13-track record, a perfect mirroring of its title. But that's no surprise. She does, however, collaborate with some new folks -- including Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Jamie xx, and Emeli Sande -- and that helps make the album eclectic, while maintaining Keys' signature -- and stunning -- sound.
The Grammy winner's voice feels unstoppable and free, channeling the martial pop of Beyonce on "New Day," the romantic flourishes of Toni Braxton on the Maxwell-assisted "Fire We Make" and the bewitching auditory imagery of Tori Amos on the album's grand finale, "101." Nicki Minaj adds her brand of edge to the title track and lead single, while Keys' toddler, Egypt, pulls an adorable coda on the jazzy industrial "When It's All Over."
"Girl on Fire" feels organically fed with inspiration, from the drops of light of "Listen to Your Heart" to the weird urban sounds of "Tears Always Win" to the funky reggae riffs of "Limitless." Keys is on fire, and burning all the competition. Pun intended.
-- CRISTINA JALERU, Associated Press