Dylan, Stars top CD reviews

Bob Dylan and Amy Millan of Stars (AFP, QMI Agency photos)

Bob Dylan and Amy Millan of Stars (AFP, QMI Agency photos)

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:15 PM ET

What do Dylan, ZZ Top, Billy Talent, Matchbox Twenty, Stars, Pet Shop Boys, the Avetts and Melissa Etheridge have in common? New albums. So let’s stop the talk and start the rock.

Bob Dylan

Tempest

Americana

5 stars out of 5

Death becomes him. Dylan’s 35th studio album is a gleefully macabre masterpiece, with a fully energized Zimmy wheezing and croaking mordant epics about blood, murder, love and disaster — from the sinking of the Titanic to the slaying of John Lennon — atop anachronistic blues jams, jazzy vamps and balladry. If this is the 71 year old’s swan song, he’s truly going out with a bang.

Download: Duquesne Whistle; Narrow Way

ZZ Top

La Futura

Blues-Rock

3.5 stars out of 5

They’ve been up. They’ve been down. But after nine years, the Little Ol’ Band From Texas are finally back ’round. And back on track. Helmed by Rick Rubin, La Futura earns its title by pulling the trio forward with sizzling sonics, glitchy grooves and a crack-rap revamp — while reconnecting with the boogie-rock jams and slow-burning shuffles of their early days. Old school, new rules.

Download: I Gotsta Get Paid; Chartreuse

 

The Avett Brothers

The Carpenter

Indie-Folk

4 stars out of 5

From I and Love and You to Life and Love and Death. The sibling-led Carolina rootsers follow their 2009 breakthrough by raising the emotional stakes even higher on this philosophical seventh set. Elegantly poignant bluegrass ballads sweetened with strings and keys still rule, but a few loud ’n’ fuzzy roots-rockers add a little catharsis to their contemplations of mortality and morality.

Download: Live and Die; Pretty Girl From Michigan

Stars

The North

Indie-Pop

4 stars out of 5

Let there be light. Or at least less darkness. The beloved Montreal indie-popsters — last seen confronting personal tragedy on 2010’s The Five Ghosts — embrace joy with their sixth disc. Still, while the beats are livelier, the guitars edgier and ’80s synths brighter, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s heartbreakingly romantic lyrics and vocals continue to define their musical chiaroscuro.

Download: The Theory of Relativity; Backlines

The xx

Coexist

Dream-Pop

4 stars out of 5

Let’s dance. Slowly. After making their name with a Mercury Prize-winning 2009 debut, this co-ed London trio kick up their heels — relatively speaking — with this followup. Inspired by the club music they missed in their youth, these cuts embrace softly pumping beats and pulsing synths without sacrificing the ghostly ambience and honey-smoke duets of old. A peaceful coexistence.

Download: Angels; Fiction

Billy Talent

Dead Silence

Post-Hardcore

3.5 stars out of 5

BT are nobody’s fools. Knowing what happens to those who don’t learn from history, the hardworking T.O. punks have regrouped and rebounded from their tepid third disc. Under guitarist Ian D’Sa’s direction, tempos are boosted, riffs are redlined, and vocals soar and roar again. Granted, it’s still more Green Day than grenade, but hey, close enough for rock ’n’ roll. All is forgiven.

Download: Viking Death March; Surprise, Surprise

Matchbox Twenty

North

Pop-Rock

3.5 stars out of 5

Time flies when you’re Matchbox Twenty. Believe it or not, it’s been 10 years since Rob Thomas and co. made a new album. Perhaps that’s why they seem to spend much of this fourth album finding their feet. Bouncing between jangly pop, dance ditties, orchestrated rockers and the odd folksy lament or electro workout, North may lack direction — but it sure is packed with singles.

Download: She’s So Mean; English Town

Pet Shop Boys

Elysium

Synth-Pop

3.5 stars out of 5

Let’s hear it for the Boys. Nearly 30 years after West End Girls, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe continue their winning ways on their 11th album. Made in L.A. with rap producer Andrew Dawson, the disc works a mellower, more soulful vibe than 2009’s buoyant Yes, mixing warm, romantic synth-pop with wicked fare about egotistical musicians and their own past. A little slice of heaven.

Download: Winner; Leaving

Mark Knopfler

Privateering

Folk-Rock

4 stars out of 5

Money for nothing? Hardly. The Dire Straits leader’s seventh solo set (not counting soundtracks and collaborations) yields an embarrassment of riches. Armed with his virtuoso fingerpicking and Dylanesque grumble, Knopfler seamlessly shifts between folk, rock blues and Celtic, unspooling 20 relaxed, masterfully crafted odes to struggle, survival and salvation. That’s the way you do it.

Download: Privateering; Go, Love

Melissa Etheridge

4th Street Feeling

Heartland Rock

3.5 stars out of 5

One step forward, one look back. Etheridge revisits her misspent youth on her 11th studio disc of originals, recalling the carefree days of cruising Leavenworth in her Chevy. But the raspy rocker wisely balances nostalgia with progress, handling all the guitar chores herself while adding fuzzy blues-rock, upbeat banjo-folk and more to her passionate heartland sound. Positively forthright.

Download: 4th Street Feeling; Falling Up

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David Byrne & St. Vincent

Love This Giant

Art-Pop

3.5 stars out of 5

It’s a match made in indie heaven. Former Talking Heads frontman Byrne brings his quirky sensibilities and soaring yelp. Singer-guitarist St. Vincent brings her offbeat dramatics and sweeping beauty. Toss in big bold brass lines, crisp drum programming and synth layers, and lashings of funk and Afrobeat from The Dap-Kings and Antibalas, and seriously, what is not to love?

Download: Who; I Should Watch TV

The Blasters

Fun on Saturday Night

Roots-Rock

3.5 stars out of 5

Stop the clock, baby. After eight long years, Phil Alvin and The Blasters are finally back with a new album. The bad news: Guitarist and songwriter Dave Alvin isn’t along for the ride. The good news: It’s still a rockin’ trip, with the band barrelling (and Alvin wailing) through a slew of blues, rockabilly, R&B and country covers with all the abandon of a roadhouse band at last call. Blast it.

Download: Fun on Saturday Night; Well Oh Well

Imagine Dragons

Night Visions

Synth-Rock

2.5 stars out of 5

Why take a gamble when you can bet on a sure thing? These buzzed-about Las Vegans play it fairly safe on their debut disc, doubling down on their sleek, anthemic Killers-style synth-rock and upping the ante with dashes of Vampire Weekend Afro-pop, hip-hop and dubstep. But none of it matches the bouncy stomp of their breakout hit It’s Time. Maybe they shoulda stayed in Vegas.

Download: Radioactive; It’s Time

Patterson Hood

Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance

Southern Rock

3.5 stars out of 5

Some stories are personal. And according to Drive-By Truckers’ frontman Hood, these grim sagas of drinking, death, depression and collateral damage began as a semi-autobiographical novel. Yikes. Not surprisingly, the southern singer-songwriter’s third solo disc displays a more intimate vibe than his day job’s muscular wallop (though most of DBT lends a hand). Transfixing stuff.

Download: Better off Without; Betty Ford

Swans

The Seer

Post-Rock

4 stars out of 5

Less is not more for Michael Gira. More is more. And the Swans mastermind / provocateur pushes that concept to the limit once again on his 12th disc. With 11 songs that last two hours, it’s a sprawling monster that encompasses everything from doom metal and industrial noise to hypnotic chanting and field recordings. Challenging, punishing, transcendent and fascinatingly unique.

Download: The Seer; The Apostate

Slaughterhouse

Welcome to: Our House

Rap

3 stars out of 5

Safety in numbers. That’s the guiding principle behind the rap “supergroup” of Crooked I, Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Royce da 5’9”. With Eminem in the producer’s chair — and on the mic now and then — the quartet’s second disc benefits from the combined strengths of its crew, but suffers from a plethora of dull beats and the usual mix of misogyny and slasher-flick cliches. Yawn.

Download: Coffin; Get Up

Julio Iglesias

1

Adult Contemporary

2.5 stars out of 5

All the songs he’s sung before. And sold before. Latin lover Iglesias becomes the latest artist to give himself an artistic do-over, recrooning 20 chart-toppers (in English, Spanish and/or French, depending on which version you buy) over slightly retweaked musical backdrops. Dedicated followers may notice the subtle sonic improvements; for casual fans, it’s just another compilation.

Download: To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (w/ Willie Nelson)

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DVDs

Mitch Ryder

Live at Rockpalast 1979 & 2004

Classic Rock

4 stars out of 5

Another double-shot of awesome from the German TV series Rockpalast: Two full shows by Detroit garage-rocker Ryder taped 25 years apart. The first features the apparently soused legend blasting through 90 minutes of ’70s guitar-rock (and includes a chaotically ribald interview); the newer one is a bluesier two-hour club show that finds Ryder older but still on top of his game.

KoRn

The Path of Totality Tour: Live at the Hollywood Palladium Electro-Metal HHH Some fans loved KoRn’s use of electronica and dubstep on 2011’s Path of Totality. Others loathed it. This live DVD could be just as divisive. The high-tech 75-minute set kicks off with most of Totality — with cameos by the likes of Datsik and Skrillex (who plays guitar) — and closes with a slew of hits, faves and covers. Everyone wins. And loses. The path of least resistance it ain’t.

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GARAGE BAND

Alenco

Markham, Ont.

soundcloud.com/alenco

The name sounds like an aluminum manufacturer. In fact, it’s the musical handle of teenage singer-songwriter Matt Pham. Now, in my experience, the words ‘teenage singer-songwriter’ usually mean ‘talentless self-indulgent tripe,’ I have to give Pham credit. His sound — a fusion of ambient folktronica, dreamy trip-hop and twitchy drum ’n’ bass — is produced and presented with more subtlety and restraint than you expect from someone who can barely drive. Youth isn’t always wasted on the young.

2.5 stars out of 5

Verdict: “Nice work, kid.”

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UPCOMING

Sept. 18

Band of Horses

Mirage Rock

Big & Rich

Hillbilly Jedi

Dinosaur Jr.

I Bet on Sky

Ben Folds Five

Sound of the LIfe of the Mind

Wiz Khalifa

O.N.I.F.C.

Kiss

Carly Rae Jepsen

The Killers

Battle Born

Little Big Town

Tornado

Pink

Truth About Love

Dwight Yoakam

3 Pears

 


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