Imagine Dragons’ latest is overstuffed, over-the-top rock that still feels hollow

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    Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs Jan. 30 in Glendale, Ariz.

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    Imagine Dragons (Interscope)

    Imagine Dragons are not ones for subtlety.

    The Las Vegas rockers have made their name on larger-than-life anthems like “Radioactive” and “Demons” that boil down complex emotions and ideas to simple (sometimes, too simple) choruses and catchphrases.

    On Smoke and Mirrors, they do it again, sounding even bigger and reasoning even simpler than before.

    “I’m sorry for everything, oh everything I’ve done,” Dan Reynolds sings to open the album on “Shots,” a truly odd bit of misdirection. Over a bouncy, synth-pop backdrop, Reynolds declares, “From the second that I was born it seems I had a loaded gun and then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved.”

    That disconnect is obviously what the band was going for, but either they were planning to build a happy-sounding psychopath or they didn’t realize how the two pieces would fit together. Either way, it doesn’t feel right.

    The misdirection works much better on “Gold,” where they turn the line “Everything you touch turns to gold” into something menacing, over a clattering hip-hop beat. It also works on the peppy “Polaroid,” where Reynolds swaggers his way through the sad-sack verses before hitting on a chorus of “Love is a Polaroid, better in pictures, never can fill the void.”

    It’s clear that success hasn’t spoiled Imagine Dragons, or, more accurately, lightened their mood. “Hopeless Opus” is plenty of proof of that, though sometimes glimmers of hope slip through, especially in the Mumford & Sons-ish “I Bet My Life.”

    In some ways, Smoke and Mirrors is an album written to be played live — the dynamic band’s true wheelhouse — crafted for maximum entertainment value. The problem is that in making every gesture seem arena-sized, much of the album feels distant and impersonal, like it’s about the show and not the emotions. Smoke and Mirrors needs to get a bit more real.

    — GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday



    Steve Earle & The Dukes (New West)

    Steve Earle came up as a country rebel, but the Texas songwriter has always cited Lone Star State songsters such as Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins as formative influences. And as a man who battled drug addiction and has seven failed marriages under his belt (including his latest, to dulcet-voiced singer Allison Moorer), he surely knows a thing or two about the blues.

    But besides having his authenticity bona fides in order, Earle also has all the requisite musical moves. His suitably raspy, world-weathered voice is deftly employed on everything from swaggering Chicago blues to finger-picked Mississippi Delta stylings.

    The 11 original songs on Terraplane, whose title nods to Robert Johnson, are loaded with familiar tropes. “The day I was born the moon crossed the sun,” he sings on “King of the Blues” — “Mama cried, ‘Sweet Jesus, what have I done?’ “ But the well-worn idioms make light of personal woes as well as wallow in them, and Earle sings his blues with a refreshingly light touch and a lack of self-seriousness, while also delivering laments like “Better Off Alone” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” that deliver considerable emotional punch.

    All that, plus a terrific band that includes guitarist Will Rigby and fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore, with whom he duets on the gently playful “Baby’s Just as Mean as Me,” revs Terraplane up into a genre exercise of the highest order.

    — DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer



    Dario Boente (Circular Moves/​Sunnyside Records)

    There's a Birdman connection to this very fine, upbeat, and sophisticated collection of modern jazz hybrid songs featuring brilliant Argentina-born pianist, Dario Boente. The drummer who plays with Boente on this disc, Antonio Sanchez, who also has been a longtime drummer for modern jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, wrote the score for Birdman, the movie that took home several Academy Awards on Sunday night, including the Oscar for Best Picture.

    Although the score that Sanchez wrote for Birdman was nominated for a Golden Globe and took home other major awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled it ineligible for Oscar consideration because Sanchez had blended in too much from other composers, including Mahler and Tchaikovsky. None of that, of course, really means anything in regards to Boente's Limelight, which is — for my money — one of the most uplifting and intensely beautiful piano jazz-based albums to come out in a while, one that showcases Boente's fantastic musical vision and his tango, Brazilian, World Beat, and dance-tempo influences.

    One minute Boente's doing an incredible solo on a grand piano and the next he's equally at ease with a swinging, swaying, loose electronic keyboard sound with other musicians. Of course, in any great project, there's a great drummer and, in this case, that's Sanchez. Boente, who now lives in New York, has released several other albums but there's something uniquely fresh, creative, and inspirational about this one. It's a complex, feel-good collection of mostly Boente originals, with fab reinterpretations of songs by Astor Piazzolla, Herbie Hancock, and another of Boente's role models, fellow Argentina-born pianist and Latin Grammy winner Fernando Otero.

    — TOM HENRY, The Blade