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Morrissey, M. Ward have new CDs

Also, new releases from And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Our Dead, more
/ Source: Billboard

Morrissey, “Years of Refusal”Morrissey is no stranger to the artful expression of frustration, but here he blows off steam with an unusually high level of rock intensity. At times reminiscent of 1992’s “Your Arsenal” and 2004’s “You Are the Quarry,” the latter also produced by the late Jerry Finn, “Years of Refusal” is full of satisfying attitude, from the driving distortion of “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” to the confident swing of “All You Need Is Me.” But as with much of Morrissey’s work, there is a deceptively joyful energy in the music itself, especially present in songs like first single “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” which is almost pastoral in its resignation that “only stone and steel accept my love.” Though a few tracks, like “That’s How People Grow Up,” fall back on overused Morrissey formulas, others add welcome variety, among them the Latin-tinged “When Last I Saw Carol.”

M. Ward, “Hold Time”Fresh from reaping critical acclaim with actress Zooey Deschanel as the duo She & Him, M. Ward releases “Hold Time” with a higher profile than ever. And it’s a good thing too, as the album could serve as an excellent point of entry for a new crop of fans. From the shimmering, upbeat opener, “For Beginners,” to the ominous instrumental “Outro,” “Hold Time” highlights the full range of the singer-songwriter’s styles. Ward, a master guitarist, had a little help from his friends as well. Deschanel’s sweet voice backs him on “Never Had Nobody Like You,” the perfect driving song, while his duet with Lucinda Williams on blues tune “Oh Lonesome Me” pairs his dusty guitar grooves with her gravel-road voice.

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Our Dead, “The Century of Self”
Since severing ties with Interscope Records after one masterpiece (“Source Tags & Codes”) and two uneven follow-ups (“Worlds Apart,” “So Divided”), this Texas rock combo returns to form on “The Century of Self,” with producer Chris Coady stepping in for longtime collaborator Mike McCarthy. The album recalls the epic rock of 2002’s stellar “Source Tags” rather than the admirable but often failed attempts at variety on its other two Interscope projects. The instrumental opener, “Giants Causeway,” sets the tone for an album that’s grand in scope and ideas. The guitar-fueled chaos is balanced against piano-led cuts like “Insatiable One” and the group-sung chorus of “Fields of Coal.” Having cleared away its major-label entanglements, Trail of Dead has once again found its footing.

N.A.S.A., “The Spirit of the Apollo”There isn’t enough space here to mention all the stars, A-list and otherwise, who crop up on the debut by N.A.S.A, a global-groove duo made up of Brazilian DJ Zegon and Los Angeles-based producer Squeak E. Clean (aka Sam Spiegel). Suffice it to say that it’s unlikely there will be another album in 2009 with appearances by Tom Waits, Kanye West, Seu Jorge and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (unless Norman Cook completes a second BPA album before the end of the year). That overstuffed guest list doesn’t necessarily work to the exclusive benefit of “The Spirit of Apollo,” as sometimes the clutter makes it hard to hear precisely what kind of music Zegon and Spiegel are trying to make here. It definitely contains beats and voices, though — that much is evident.

Jim Suler & Monkey Beat, “Tijuana Bible” Texan Jim Suler has been George Thorogood’s lead guitarist for the past decade. But he’s also led his own band, Monkey Beat, for quite a while, and with it, Suler conjures up a serious Texas roadhouse blues-rock mojo. The album opens with the title track, simmering in a low-down buzz that sets the tone. Elvin Bishop takes on the slide guitar chores on his song “Drunken Hearted Boy,” and Suler and his crew take on AC/DC’s “Up to My Neck in You,” summoning the requisite fury in preparation for Suler’s blazing guitar solo. The beautiful thing about this album is that it starts out nasty and just gets meaner. The groove is Texas juke-joint paradise.

Charlie Wilson, “Uncle Charlie”Those familiar with ‘80s funk trio the Gap Band will find a decidedly modern R&B sound on the second Jive solo album from frontman Charlie Wilson, which by turns is riveting and a little disappointing. His voice — still powerful, nuanced and explosive — is underexploited in tracks that give extra weight to reverb, vocal doubling and melodies with limited range. Less remarkable contemporary tunes like “One Time” and “Love, Love, Love” are blown out of the water by pounding dance jams like “Let It Out” featuring Snoop Dogg, disco ballads like the sweeping Babyface-penned first single, “There Goes My Baby,” and the spacey, syncopated T-Pain-produced “Supa Sexxy,” a “The Girl Is Mine”-style love-off between Uncle Charlie and Jamie Foxx for a caped superheroine. And for Gap Band fans, “Thinking of You” brings back the group’s familiar distorted rhythm and leaves lots of room for Wilson’s gigantic pipes.

Claudio Roditi, “Brazilliance X4”Trumpeter Claudio Roditi made this stellar jazz project with a trio of notable Brazilian players: pianist Helio Alves, drummer Duduka da Fonseca and bassist Leonardo Cioglia. The ruling vibe is bossa nova. Several tunes were authored by Brazilians, including Johnny Alf’s “Rapaz de Bem,” highlighted by fluent solos from Roditi and Alves, and Victor Assis Brasil’s “Pro Zeca,” featuring a fiery Duduka da Fonseca solo. Roditi’s original “Song for Nana” is a lazy samba, illuminated by the glow of his warm horn sound. The disc closes with “Gemini Man,” an uptempo Roditi original recorded live. He and Alves embark on hectic, deliciously articulated solos, punctuated by Fonseca’s percussive comments.

Audrye Sessions, “Audrye Sessions”This Oakland, Calif., quartet cut its teeth on the Northern California coffee shop circuit before inking to the new RCA imprint Black Seal. Those formative years have honed Audrye Sessions’ sound into gossamer rock with a surprising edge. “Turn Me Off” has a soaring chorus and catchy melody that could be hit material, and the ballad “New Year’s Day” strikes an emotional chord that is likely to resonate with first-time listeners. The band’s sweeping, swelling sound lends itself to dreamy landscapes of the mind. Things skew slightly off the mark on tracks like “Nothing Pure Can Stay” with its classic rock rhythms and earnest singing, but for the most part, “Audrye Sessions” stays focused on its shadowy beauty.