Kings of Leon (RCA)
Three years after the Kings of Leon's last record, the edgy rock foursome return in top shape with "Mechanical Bull."
The album takes the band's unique sound — the recognizable longing guitars and Caleb Followill's growl — and adds a hint of melancholy and a stillness that gives the songs an aura of contentment.
Nervy desire and wildness is still present in their music, most prominently in "Tonight," with its sexy vibes of earlier hits that hinted at mad tumbling into lust, and in the obsessive strumming of "Wait for Me." The playful notes of the first single, "Supersoaker," set the tone, adding a sense of giddiness to the proceedings.
"Don't Matter" goes full-on rock in the beginning but is gradually imbued with a hint of Billy Joel. "Temple" starts out noisily and morphs into the confident stage presence of a rock star. "Beautiful War" rounds up the sound with a heartfelt ballad that showcases Caleb's voice. And "Family Tree" sounds like an old man trying to give advice to the young, who think they know better than everyone else.
Despite tackling the familiar themes of drunken nights and tentative love, the songs weave the story of a man who knows the meaning of being lost and who has finally been found. "Mechanical Bull" isn't the anguished edgy ride you'd expect from Kings of Leon but a fun, stirring experience you don't want to end.
— CRISTINA JALERU, Associated Press
SWING FEVER PRESENTS GRAND MASTERS OF JAZZ
Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, and Terry Gibbs With Guest Vocalist Jackie Ryan (Openart)
Grand masters, indeed.
This gorgeous CD/DVD combination released Tuesday offers some of the most irrepressible swing likely to be recorded in 2013, a real treat for jazz enthusiasts who want an emotional lift or inspiration to get up and dance.
Swing Fever, one of San Francisco's top swing bands over the past 35 years, brings together a trio of American Jazz Hall of Fame inductees who work well together and provide plenty of 'wow' factor with their intense-yet-loose and complex-yet-fun solos.
On trumpet, flugelhorn, and vocals is Clark Terry, who has performed for seven U.S. presidents and been a featured soloist for Count Basie's Septet, Duke Ellington's Orchestra, and for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show band. On clarinet is Buddy DeFranco, a winner of 20 DownBeat magazine polls who led the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 to 1974. On vibes is Terry Gibbs, a featured soloist with the Benny Goodman Sextet who's played with Parker, Gillespie, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, and was the musical director for the Steve Allen Show.
Bottom line: The legends still got it. And they bring their 'A' game. Jazz fans, don't pass this one up.
— TOM HENRY
THE BLUEGRASS ALBUM
Alan Jackson (ACR/EMI Nashville)
Veteran country star Alan Jackson ranks among the most tradition-based singers of his generation. Most of his influences are on the surface: honky-tonk, swing, blues and songs both romantic and social that draw on details from his personal life.
Jackson’s new “The Bluegrass Album,” much like his two collections of gospel hymns, brings out another form of American roots music that he loves. With characteristic laid-back charm, Jackson applies his sweet baritone to the hot acoustic picking and soaring harmonies that characterize bluegrass.
What Jackson brings to the table is outstanding songwriting — an area where contemporary bluegrass can be lacking. The 54-year-old contributes eight original songs, including the standouts “Blacktop” and “Let’s Get Back To Me And You,” as well as two by his nephew Adam Wright, who co-produced the collection with Jackson’s longtime studio collaborator, Keith Stegall.
Jackson tips his hat to bluegrass history by covering Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and the Dillards’ great “There Is A Time,” and he runs John Anderson’s “Wild And Blue” through a mountain gap without losing its soulful strength.
To Jackson’s credit, he doesn’t aim any of these songs to fit country radio’s format. Instead, he concentrates on making a solid string-band album for the ages — and succeeds.
— MICHAEL MCCALL, Associated Press