Robert Plant, New Pornographers top this week's CD reviews

Robert Plant (WENN.COM)

Robert Plant (WENN.COM)

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Darryl Sterdan lists the week's top albums

ALBUMS OF THE WEEK

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters

lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar

4 stars out of 5

You can love what Robert Plant did with Led Zeppelin. But like it or not, you have to respect what he’s done since. And where’s he’s gone.

For much of the last three decades — and most of the past 10 years — the leonine rocker who sang Ramble On has continued to embody that lyric in more ways than one. Content neither to rest on laurels nor trade on past glories, Plant has remained a restless seeker, chasing a muse that has led him around the globe — literally and stylistically — from blues and Americana to electronica and world music. But with his 10th solo album, it’s finally starting to come together for Percy. In the musical sense, at least. The floridly typographed but fittingly titled lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (out Sept. 9) finds the inveterate traveller opening his bags, unpacking his massive accumulation of sonic souvenirs and stylistic keepsakes, and arranging them in an aesthetically pleasing display that balances contrasting and complementary influences. Many may already be familiar to those who have been paying attention to Plant’s various pan-cultural missives from near and far over the years. There’s rustic Mississippi Delta blues and its desert-dry North African counterpart; earthy Appalachian string fare and lilting Tuareg melodies; exotic trance-grooves along with trip-hoppy electronic loops and beats; Leadbelly standards and traditional numbers peppered between new originals. All of it has been skillfully and stylishly rendered by some former frequent fliers — a reconstituted version of his previous band Strange Sensation, working with an arsenal blending traditional American and African instruments with circuitry and programming. It’s swirly and jangly, dreamy and hazy, dusty and buzzy — in short, it’s a dark, richly textured backdrop for Plant’s intimately restrained moan and typically restless lyrics of embracing the inevitability of change, willingly burning down the house of love and moving on to new distant lands (along with at least one recycled Zep line for old time’s sake). Favouring mood over bombast and tension over release, it is far from his boldest and most extroverted work; cathartic choruses are few and far between, guitar heroics are minimal and the first big power-chord crash doesn’t come until the fourth song. But make no mistake, it’s well worth the wait. And well worth your time. This is a disc that not only grows on you, it’s one that reveals its treasures over time, disclosing new secrets and surprises with each spin. After all, with Plant, it’s always about the journey — even when he’s finding a way to retrace his steps while continuing to move forward. Enjoy it while you can — it won’t be long before he’s gone, gone, gone again.

The New Pornographers

Brill Bruisers

4 stars

Everything New is old again. Well, almost everything. And it’s about time. After spending the past few years and albums in a more reflective and even sombre frame of mind, head Pornographer A.C. Newman makes a welcome return to happier form on his Canadian indie supergroup’s sixth album. He’s not alone. Driven by bouncy beats and buoyed by sunny melodies, these cuts find bandmates Dan Bejar and Neko Case in equally fine spirits, resulting in their most upbeat outing in nearly a decade. But even as they reconnect with their inner power-popsters, they advance with the help of more synth-based cuts and electronic touches. So basically, everyone wins. Time to rekindle the mass romance.

NOW HEAR THIS

Ariana Grande

My Everything

3 stars out of 5

Kids are in such a hurry these days. Less than a year after her deservedly acclaimed debut made her a superstar, 21-year-old singer Grande apparently wants everything all at once. So she returns with an unfocused sophomore set that expands her soulful horizons with bigger pop and R&B hooks, dance-pop and EDM moves and cameos by everyone from Iggy Azalea to Childish Gambino. It’s not bad, but it’s a little too much — and a little too soon.

Brad Paisley

Moonshine in the Trunk

3 stars out of 5

Ignorance may not be bliss — but irreverence and irrelevance have always been pretty good to Paisley. So, after running afoul of critics with last year’s Accidental Racist, the Nashville singer-guitarist pulls a 180 and speeds back to his musical comfort zone, filling his 10th studio album with his usual mix of comedic country-pop ditties about drinking down by the river, ballads about love, God and country, and chicken-pickin’ fretboard fireworks. That’s no accident.

DragonForce

Maximum Overload

3 stars out of 5

Well, maximum everything, really. As usual, these British power-metal maniacs go gleefully over the top on their sixth album, hyperspeeding through majestic mini-epics laced with video-game effects, jack-hammer drumming, lung-busting vocals and blistering solos. Hang in there for the most insane cover of Ring of Fire you’ve ever heard.

Kimbra

The Golden Echo

3.5 stars out of 5

She’s somebody you got to know a few years ago. But now, after winning a Grammy for her ubiquitous duet with Gotye, New Zealand singer Kimbra has truly come into her own on her superb second album. She’s also found her groove — in the form of retro-freaky R&B, funk and disco fare that contains echoes of everyone from Prince and P-Funk to Pharrell and Jacko. Lend an ear.

The Muffs

Whoop Dee Doo

3.5 stars out of 5

That was fast. And not. Months after being sacked from Pixies for apparently being too enthusiastic, Kim Shattuck has picked up her guitar for the first Muffs disc in a decade. And fittingly, it’s a snotty, take-that spitball of old-school punk-pop fashioned from Shattuck’s power-chord riffs and Jekyll-Hyde vocals, which go from sweet purr to a primal scream faster than Frank can email a pink slip. Talk about falling up.

Ty Segall

Manipulator

4 stars out of 5

Quantity and quality. You usually have to sacrifice one for the other. But not with Segall. The prolific California singer-guitarist pulls out all the stops on his latest and greatest album, unspooling a 56-minute monster of falsetto vocals, searing solos and stylistic variety that bridges ’60s garage and psychedelia, ’70s glam and pop, ’90s Britrock and much more. A many-splendored thing.

Devin Cuddy Band

Kitchen Knife

3 stars out of 5

Don’t think apples and trees; think roots and branches. Yes, Devin Cuddy (or Devil Cuddly, as my AutoCorrect insists) is the son of Blue Rodeo co-founder Jim. Yes, Dad’s bandmate Greg Keelor produced the scion’s sophomore set. And yes, the younger Cuddy’s musical path is somewhat familiar. But the singer-pianist’s sound is less Blue Rodeo than blues — be it tinged with low-rolling New Orleans swagger, gospel uplift or chicken-pickin’ Americana. Well done, son.

Sunny Sweeney

Provoked

3.5 stars out of 5

There’s only so much room in the trailer court. And while Miranda and Kacey are the queens, you should find a double-wide spot for Sweeney. Don’t let her name fool you — the singer-songwriter’s provocative third disc is as fine a batch of bad-girl redneckery as you’ll find, with whiskey-soaked, cigarette-smoked tales of cheating husbands, used cars and blue-collar pride.

Loverboy

Unfinished Business

2.5 stars out of 5

Everybody needs a second chance. Even the guys who wrote that line. So, for their latest disc, the CanRock kings dug up a batch of uncompleted tracks from back in the day, finished them off and turned ’em loose. And surprise! From the guitar crunch and pop-rock punch to the dry-ice synths and Mike Reno’s radio-ready rasp, it sounds pretty much like a Loverboy album from the ’80s, minus the undeniable hits — because that’s pretty much what it is. The kids were pretty hot back then, after all.

Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker

3.5 stars out of 5

“I’m a new beginning,” claims Booker. Well, not quite. But he is a new wrinkle in the garage-rock ranks. The 20-something Florida singer-guitarist and his debut disc arrive bearing all the gifts you expect (slashing guitars, bashing drums, general sense of wild abandon) but also with a few you don’t — namely, a soulfully raspy drawl, some exploratory songwriting and enough sensitivity to lower the volume and mood from time to time. He’s off to a good start.

Mark Lanegan

No Bells on Sunday

3.5 stars out of 5

And no flies on Lanegan. Less than a year after his covers album Imitations — and shortly before his upcoming Phantom Radio — the restlessly prolific, eternally grim singer-songwriter returns with an EP of downtempo, synth-heavy meditations (and one tensely chugging rocker) that continue the trajectory of 2012’s Blues Funeral. Ask not for whom Dark Mark’s bell tolls.

J Mascis

Tied to a Star

3.5 stars out of 5

Even J Mascis likes some quiet time now and then. So once again, Dinosaur Jr.’s singer-guitarist turns down his pulverizing Marshall stacks and unplugs his pedal board for a solo album built from acoustic-guitar fingerpicking, folk-rockers and Eastern-tinged workouts topped with his creaking-door vocals and world-weary lyrics.

Royal Blood

Royal Blood

3.5 stars out of 5

Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. To wit: While this British blues-rock duo sound a little too much like The White Stripes for their own good, their relentlessly heavy riffage and hooky songwriting — bolstered by injections of QOTSA’s darkness and Zep’s swagger — are enjoyable enough to help their debut full-length earn its own stripes. Play it loud.

Charlie Hunter & Scott Amendola

The Cars, Hank Williams, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington

3 stars out of 5

Four tributes are better than one. Especially from these guys. Seven-string guitarist Hunter and drummer Amendola spread the love around with their latest collaboration, stylishly revamping tunes from new wavers The Cars, country icon Williams, ace songwriter Porter and bandleader Ellington — all with their usual nimble understatement and interplay. Let the good times roll.

Bebel Gilberto

Tudo

3 stars out of 5

It means all. And rightly so, since singer-songwriter Gilberto’s first album in five years has everything you expect — which is to say, breezy vocals and smoothly sophisticated Brazilian bossa nova rhythm — along with something surprising: A cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. All good.

Billy Joe Shaver

Long in the Tooth

3.5 stars out of 5

A disgrace ages gracefully. On his first studio disc in seven years, 75-year-old country outlaw Shaver sounds older, wiser and calmer than the two-fisted hellraiser he was. But he’s still got more than enough spark — plus some help from old pals like Leon Russell, Willie Nelson and Tony Joe White — to power these old-school honky-tonk and country confessions. He may be long in the tooth, but he ain’t short on what it takes.

IN THE PIPELINE

Sept. 9

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

American Hi-Fi

Blood & Lemonade

Rich Aucoin

Ephemeral

Banks

Goddess

Better Than Ezra

All Together Now

Lee Brice

I Don’t Dance

Paul Collins

Feel the Noise

Death From Above 1979

The Physical World

Delta Spirit

Into the Wide

Justin Townes Earle

Single Mothers

In Flames

Siren Charms

Interpol

El Pintor

Karen O

Crush Songs

Gladys Knight

Where My Heart Belongs

Meek Mill

Dreams Worth More Than Money

Sergio Mendes

Magic

Simian Mobile Disco

Whorl

Sloan

Commonwealth

Tennis

Ritual in Repeat

Tricky

Adrian Thaws

Michelle Williams

Journey to Freedom

The Beatles

The Beatles in Mono Vinyl Box Set

Queen

Queen: Live at the Rainbow ’74 Box Set

 


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