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Billboard album reviews

April 28, 2006

NEW YORK (Billboard) – It’s tempting but misleading to
label Pearl Jam’s first record since 2002 a “comeback” — the
band has spent its career keeping a judicious cap on its
profile.

But one thing is clear: Pearl Jam is fully, comprehensively
re-energized. While its last few records sounded tangibly
downcast, “Pearl Jam” feels like pure power — witness the
one-two punch of “Life Wasted” and “World Wide Suicide,” which
find Eddie Vedder’s fiery baritone in mighty roar. One of
rock’s most eloquent rabble-rousers, Vedder has written what
initially sounds like a concept piece on war, but he steps back
from virulent anti-Bush sentiments and lets his well-drawn,
humbler stories do the talking. The band steps up musically as
well: “Severed Hand” gets unexpectedly funky, and “Comatose” is
150 seconds of pure punk stomp. This album will put Pearl Jam
squarely back on the map, whether the band likes it or not.

ARTIST: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

ALBUM: WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE SEEGER SESSIONS (Columbia
Records)

Just one year after “Devils & Dust,” Springsteen offers
another acoustic-based set sans the E Street Band, a collection
of traditional songs associated with folk hero Pete Seeger, who
turns 87 next month. Cut live with 13 local musicians, the
Boss’ first covers album is a surprisingly upbeat tour de
roots, veering from tavern tunes (“Old Dan Tucker”) and banjo
tales (“John Henry”) to swinging gospel (“O Mary Don’t You
Weep”) and boisterous Mardi Gras chants (“Pay Me My Money
Down”). Throughout, Springsteen’s raucous rasp — often more
Tom Waits than Woody Guthrie — soars with lightness and ease,
driven by swampy brass, accordion and spontaneous shouts. Even
the protest anthem “We Shall Overcome” becomes a relaxed
prayer, delivered with a knowing smile. Anxious rock fans can
relax, too: This folk album is a loud, energetic, arena-ready
fiesta.

ARTIST: NESTOR TORRES

ALBUM: DANCE, PRAYERS & MEDITATIONS FOR PEACE (Heads Up)

Flutist Nestor Torres expresses himself with everything
from straight-ahead Latin jazz to instrumental pop on “Dances,
Prayers & Meditations for Peace,” an album of original material
written in the wake of September 11, 2001. The project also
includes a world music component that deviates from previous
Torres fare, and that’s precisely what makes this album stand
out. The flute is a difficult instrument to give weight to, but
here Torres supports it in a variety of ways using richly hued
percussion, choruses (Brazilian voices in “Lotus Sutra of the
Wonderful Law,” one of the most beautiful tracks here) and
programing in addition to the acoustic instrumentation. In
addition, Torres’ melodies are some of the best of his career,
making for an album with wonderful depth.

ARTIST: KORN

ALBUM: KORN: LIVE & RARE (Epic Records)

This live companion piece to Korn’s 2004 “Greatest Hits
Vol. 1″ grabs half of its tracks from a secret show the band
performed at CBGB in 2003. The club setting offers better audio
quality than a larger venue, where Korn’s down-tuned
instruments sometimes turn into sonic mud. Every floppy slap of
Fieldy’s loosely strung bass is distinct, while the
high-pitched guitar licks of Munky and former member Head
retain their chilling effect, particularly via the eerie plinks
and squeals of “Falling Away From Me.” David Silveria’s skill
as time keeper peaks with his elaborate, booty-shaking
percussion on “A.D.I.D.A.S.” Crowd interaction on that song and
“Blind” are as entertaining as the rollicking “Here to Stay”
and “Got the Life,” but the tepid covers of “Another Brick in
the Wall” and “One” are for completists only.

ARTIST: TAB BENOIT

ALBUM: BROTHER TO THE BLUES (Telarc Records)

Louisiana bluesman Tab Benoit has risen to the top of the
genre in the past 15 years, earning his stripes as an
instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist. He’s also earned the
right to indulge his fancy a bit, and that is what’s up with
“Brother to the Blues.” Guests Jim Lauderdale, Billy Joe Shaver
and Waylon Thibodeaux (fiddle) add spice to this special gumbo,
and Louisiana’s Leroux backs Benoit from start to finish.
Particularly cool tracks include Hank Williams’ “I Heard That
Lonesome Whistle,” “Can’t Do One More Two-Step,” Sam Cooke’s
“Bring It on Home” and the funky “If You Love Me Like You Say.”
Benoit pulls off this moveable feast with ease, which strongly
suggests that the student has become the master.

ARTIST: MOBB DEEP

ALBUM: BLOOD MONEY (G-Unit/Interscope)

Some fans guffawed when Mobb Deep signed to G-Unit,
wondering whether it would lose that maverick charm that makes
the duo so special. But when the death threats of “Put Em in
They Place” bust loose in the second track, it’s clear the
group hasn’t strayed too far. Throughout, Prodigy and Havoc
float through their classic murder rhetoric, while cursing out
God and threatening to rough up Jesus. Musically, new beatsmith
J.R. scores with “In Love With the Moula,” a rolling guitar
joint featuring a drifting piano and vocal “I want you” sample.
And while it’s surely hard to turn down a verse from 50 Cent,
Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, with only seven of the 14 tracks on
“Blood Money” cameo-free, Mobb Deep often sounds like a guest
at its own party.

ARTIST: GOMEZ

ALBUM: HOW WE OPERATE (ATO Records)

It pays to get another opinion. After self-producing all
five of its studio albums, Gomez enlisted outsider Gil Norton
to energize its new tunes. Norton’s adroit knack for fully
realizing the potential of the raw material has made all the
difference on “How We Operate,” the finest and most
listener-friendly album of Gomez’s 10-year career. The disc
buoys with clipping rhythms, infectious lyricism, country
infusions and distinctive vocal harmonies by its trio of
songwriting, acoustic/electric guitar-wielding frontmen. The
fact that the three share the lead spotlight is remarkable in
and of itself. But what makes “How We Operate” so exceptional
is the simple brilliance of the songs, ranging from the two
catchy leadoff tracks, “Notice” and “See the World,” to the
reflective “Charley Patton Songs,” with its pleasing arc of pop
arrangement.

Reuters/Billboard


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