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Foo Fighters back with best CD yet

‘In Your Honor’ is reminiscent of Nirvana’s sound
/ Source: The Associated Press

This week the Foo Fighters seem likely to gain even more fans with their best effort to date.  Also this week, the Backstreet Boys return, Dwight Yoakum releases his 16th CD, Lizz Wright does her chanteuse thing on her latest, Ry Cooder uses his new CD to tell a fictional story of a Latino Los Angeles neighborhood, and finally Gabby La La makes music for adult cartoons.

“In Your Honor,” Foo FightersThe Foo Fighters aren’t just trying to keep a following of fans with their newest album “In Your Honor.” One decade and three albums after rising from Nirvana’s ashes after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, they’re out to become the greatest rock band of a generation.

Lofty ambitions indeed for Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer turned Foo Fighter frontman. But by striking a perfect balance on the 20-track, double album between hard driving anthems and pensive acoustic melodies, the band that few took seriously years ago just may have done it.

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Split between hard and loud on one disc, soft and quiet on the other, the album opens with the title track “In Your Honor,” a toss-up between high-energy guitar riffs and machine-gun drums. The song comes on strong, never lets up and slaps listeners from the every direction they weren’t looking.

“Friend Of A Friend” incorporates chord structures reminiscent of Kurt Cobain’s and seeps with the deep reverence Grohl knows. “He plays an old guitar with a coin found by the phone. It was his friend’s guitar,” Grohl whispers, only thinly veiling the period following Cobain’s death. Ironically, the song sounds similar to Nirvana’s own acoustic album.

“In Your Honor” undoubtedly stands as the Foo Fighters most profound effort to date.—Ryan Lenz

“Never Gone,” Backstreet Boys
Stick the new Backstreet Boys disc in your computer and you’ll see that it shows up in iTunes as part of the pop category.

But don’t be fooled. With their first release in nearly five years, the Backstreet Boys have plunged deeply and irreparably into the adult contemporary pool.

The fivesome — Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough and Nick Carter — had already begun dipping their toes into these waters when their rivals, ’N Sync, were experimenting with two-step and beat-boxing and singing about one-night stands.

But you can’t be a boy band forever, and “Never Gone” represents what appears to be the inevitable, bland transition into musical adulthood.

The first song — the promising “Incomplete” — rises and falls and rises again with a simple but melancholy piano melody. From there it’s an insipid mix of mid-tempo love songs and ballads — “I Still ...” “Safest Place to Hide,” and the title track — any of which would be suitable on the soundtrack of a forgettable romantic comedy.

“Weird World” is an anomaly, though — their well-intentioned but clunky attempt at social relevance, with overly literal lyrics like: “Sent a message to a GI. in the desert, said, ’Thank you, man, for bringing another dawn.’ Back here it’s her and me, and we’re having our first baby. He’s out there, takin’ ’em on.”

They’re not normally mentioned in the same breath — in fact, this may be the first time in recorded history! — but the Backstreet Boys’ new album calls to mind a classic line from Neil Young.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” Young sang on “My My, Hey Hey.”

In this case, fading away — and leaving all those giddy fan-girl memories shining and intact — would have been preferable.— Christy Lemire

“Blame the Vain,” Dwight Yoakam

New West

In these modern times, when many country hits sound like those on pop radio, Dwight Yoakam’s new album is cause to celebrate for connoisseurs of the Buck Owens-inspired “Bakersfield” sound and those who like their country a bit more honky tonk.

Though Yoakam doesn’t break a lot of new ground on “Blame the Vain,” his 16th album — the first he’s produced himself — it’s a work that will please longtime fans and garner new ones, too.

Fusing his trademark twang with Southern rock, baleful country and melodious guitars, the 12-song disc is a fable of romantic longing and desires — some attainable, others better left unsaid, if not untouched.

Take the title track: It’s a confessional about a failed romance where the only blame to be had is on the man singing the song himself.

But Yoakam, a non-Nashville maverick with a penchant for clever lyrics and profound observations, isn’t afraid to poke fun, either. In “Intentional Heartache,” a woman wronged takes the fast road to her cheatin’ man and puts a real hurt on him, spraying painting his car, destroying his comics and making him hurt the way he made her.

It’s classic revenge — and it’s classic Yoakam.—Matt Moore

“Dreaming Wide Awake,” Lizz WrightThe climax to Lizz Wright’s marvelous second album comes toward the end, when she sings “I don’t want to be the one who can’t let go” and holds the final word for four bars, her warm, smoky alto lending beauty to the poignant sentiment.

That moment is transcendent but hardly an anomaly. Lovely from start to finish, “Dreaming Wide Awake” provides proof that Wright is a major young talent. The classically trained singer from Georgia shows impressive range in taste as she covers tunes that have been performed by Madonna, Fats Waller and the Tijuana Brass. She also sings fine songs by Neil Young, Joe Henry and Marc Anthony Thompson, and takes a writing credit on three original tunes, all excellent.

“Dreaming” is more guitar-oriented that Wright’s highly praised 2003 debut, “Salt.” Bill Frisell provides his distinctive touch on three cuts, and studio veteran Greg Leisz also contributes. The album was produced by Craig Street (Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang), and he helps Wright explore the charms of jazz, pop, cabaret and the blues. “Dreaming” also makes evident Wright’s own considerable charms.—Steven Wine

“Chavez Ravine,” Ry Cooder

Nonesuch

Using both real and fictional characters, archival recordings and new versions of vintage Latin pop, jazz, conjunto, corrido and R&B songs, Ry Cooder takes the listener on a mythical ride with “Chavez Ravine.”

“Chavez Ravine” sets out to tell the story of the hilltop Los Angeles Chicano neighborhood known as Chavez Ravine that was ripped apart in the 1950s to make room for Dodger Stadium. Baseball, McCarthyism, urban renewal, racism, community and history all play a part in what may be Cooder’s crowning achievement.

Surreal in spots, seductive throughout, “Chavez Ravine” is a magical mystery tour to a time and place long gone but still alive in stories, memories and now, in song — in both Spanish and English.

Two of the main collaborators on the album are no longer around. Chicano music legend Lalo Guerrero died in March while Don Tosti, who created the Latin “Pachuco” sound of the 1940s-era Zoot Suit culture, died last year.

Their presence only adds to the ghostly nature of “Chavez Ravine,” which grabs you on the first listen and keeps whispering for you to listen again and again, revealing itself slowly over time but forever remaining out of reach.—Scott Bauer

“Be Careful What You Wish For,” Gabby La LaThere’s something not quite right about Gabby La La, whose debut album “Be Careful What You Wish For” has the qualities of a cartoon you’d be wary of ever letting children see.

A dainty woman who sometimes hides behind oversized sunglasses shaped like pursed lips, Gabby’s doll-like voice and eclectic choice of instruments — toy pianos, a sitar, a Theramin and accordions tied together by fast-slap bass riffs — bring an absurdly disconcerting sound to an album that attempts to meld the everyday with the nonsensical and fantastic.

The lynchpin to that attempt is Gabby’s ability to take the interests of children’s fairy tales — cartoons, candy and creatures unseen — and throw them at adults like insults.

Bouncing slow and cute, her song “Walkie Walkie Walkie” sounds innocent enough, but its lyrics foreshadow an ominous ending. “Bread crumbs glowing in the dark,” Gabby says with a screeching whine. “All little children in the woods, follow bread crumbs and be good.”

It’s what’s not said that piques a perverse interest. And the entire album is like that, each song grinding listeners closer to a mania that begs to know what exactly is going on with this Gabby La La.

On “In and Out Of Dreaming,” which is arguably the album’s peak moment, Gabby takes minor key melodies that appear perfect for the denouement of a horror flick and plays them on a little plastic piano as she sings a bedtime song.

And you’d thought you’d heard it all before.

As the first act signed on Les Claypool’s Prawn Song label in a decade, Gabby’s approach falls in line with Claypool’s anything goes vision by hitting listeners with instruments played in a way they didn’t expect while singing about those things she just shouldn’t.

But if Claypool’s band Primus cut its teeth by going where no band had, punk or otherwise, Gabby La La’s “Be Careful What You Wish For” ventures to that place you thought no one would.—Ryan Lenz