Paper Gods (Warner)
Since the early-'00s reunion of its core members — singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor (no relation) — Duran Duran musicians have tried to find a niche for themselves and the retro-yet-cool New Wave synth-pop sound they helped invent in the 1980s. Their 2007 Timbaland-produced album Red Carpet Massacre did not work, but 2010's All You Need Is Now, with Mark Ronson, highlighted all that was glorious about Duran Duran while maintaining its grooving, melodic base.
Ronson returns on Paper Gods with his patented uptown funk and brings producer/guitarist Nile Rodgers along for slick, soulful songs such as Pressure Off, reminiscent of Rodgers' great band Chic.
There's help on Paper Gods (including Janelle Monae and John Frusciante), but Duran Duran doesn't need it. "Whatever happens, we're still here," croons Le Bon in that steely tone of his on the ruminative Sunset Garage, one of the album's sweetest moments. There's a sweeping, epic sound in The Universe Alone — a genuine surprise. Duran Duran still focuses on its obsessions (big money, fashion, celebrity), yet during Danceophobia and the hypnotic title track, the members also throw it all away: "Bleeding from paper cuts/Money for headshots/Fools leading/Who needs it." HHH1/2
Download: Pressure Off, Danceophobia
— A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Hollow Meadows (Warner)
AFTER a diversion into heavy, guitar-centric rock with 2012's Standing at the Sky's Edge, Richard Hawley is back to being the romantic crooner who has become a beloved figure in his native England.
Hollow Meadows, the eighth studio album from the former leader of the Brit-pop band the Longpigs and brief member of Pulp, is full of moody, brooding, lushly arranged songs that exist outside of time and genre. Hawley's thoughtful, resonant baritone lends every song gravitas, whether he's singing about love, loss or longing.
He does melodrama well: hints of Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond and Tony Bennett run through the album. His voice sounds weathered on the sombre, string-soaked I Still Want You and graceful on Long Time Down, a gently rolling ballad graced with slide guitar and cooing female backing vocals. From the chiming, edgy Which Way to the understated, introspective What Love Means, Hollow Meadows rings true. HHHH
Download: Long Time Down
— Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Bottle Rockets
South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot)
I first fell in love with alt-country act the Bottle Rockets back in 1994, when they released The Brooklyn Side album — containing the incredible and still-relevant track Welfare Music — which made me a fan for life.
The St. Louis quartet has always been a meat-and-potatoes band that usually keeps things simple. Big Fat Nothing is a perfect example, as it's a song about doing nothing. Canine fans will fall in love with Dog and lines such as, "I love my dog, he's my dog/If you don't love my dog, that's OK, I don't want you to/he's my dog." Meanwhile, XOYOU has a powerful early-'80s British Invasion feel.
They can get serious on occasion, as they do on the hard rockin' Building Chryslers: "He's building Chryslers, drivin' a Toyota, 'Cause he knows lots of guys on the line/He knows they don't care about quality control, as they care about their overtime."
With longtime producer Eric (Roscoe) Ambel (of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts) behind the board, the band's 12th release is just as engaging as any of its previous outings. HHHH
DOWNLOAD THIS: Building Chryslers, Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)
— Bruce Leperre
It's a Dream (Independent)
Winnipeg's music scene has always been a wonderful melting pot for cultural mashups of all kinds. Over the decades, real roots-reggae music — once a clarion call musical style describing release from colonial culture in Jamaica — has become an effortless way to bring people together to get marijuana mellow and shuffle around a dance floor.
RasTamils' uncomplicated music combines Sri Lankan (Tamil) lead singer/guitarist Franklin Fernando's sweet-as-honey vocals with solidly mid-tempo reggae beats (Ras) to pleasing effect. Sure, some of the lyrics offer a wobbly, peace-love-and-oneness vibration, but considering our geographical location, there is no doubt the singer and his talented mates are preaching to the choir — or at least the hipster elite of the Exchange District. A CBC radio personality adds a paper-thin rap to the super-slow-motion Rolling Stone to no noticeable good effect.
If this band truly wants to reach the highest highs rather than just have product to sell off the stage, they should consider toughening up their sound. Otherwise imminent success will be just a dream.
Franklin Fernando and RasTamils release It's a Dream at the Pyramid Cabaret on Sept. 26 at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $20. HHH
— Jeff Monk
Symphony No. 10 (Orange Mountain)
You would might think a composer of Philip Glass's stature, hailed as one of the 20th-century pioneers of minimalism, might enjoy resting on his laurels, but this new release proves the American maverick is still going strong at age 78, continuing to shake up the music world with his self-described "music with repetitive structures."
Symphony No. 10, originally composed for the fireworks gala display at the 2008 Expo Zaragoza in Spain, is classic Glass. He later chose to re-orchestrate the 35-minute work after realizing that its earlier, more functional chamber music guise had only been heard once during its fireworks show première accompanied by "a cacophony of 200,000 drunk revellers," according to the liner notes, and thus deserved more dignified treatment as a concert work.
Each of its five short movements features his idiosyncratic, repetitive syncopated rhythmic patterns and slow-as-molasses harmonic progressions. This particular style also notoriously poses unique challenges for its performers — sheer physical stamina and concentration come to mind — with the massive, 130-member Bruckner Orchester Linz led by Dennis Russell Davies keeping the pace.
Also included is his Concert Overture (2012), an arguably more palatable offering for Glass newbies, unfolding as a compact, kaleidoscopic one-movement work just shy of eight minutes long.
Glass's musical esthetic will always be a matter of taste. Some listeners will continue to eagerly embrace his meditative ethos, while others will find it off-putting. Whichever camp you find yourself in, this album proves this great American icon's creative spark still burns bright. HHH1/2
— Holly Harris