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No sophomore slump for Presley

Daughter of King not just rich girl on a lark, plus other reviews
/ Source: The Associated Press

Elvis' daughter produces a solid sophomore album. Thank you, thankyouverrah much. This week also sees new albums from New Order, Hot Hot Heat, Donnie McClurkin and Serena Ryder.

Lisa Marie Presley, “Now What”A second album is generally problematic enough. Title it “Now What” and you’re almost compelling a consumer warning label: open this disc at your own risk.

Fear not. Lisa Marie Presley’s sophomore effort is solid enough to prove the King’s daughter is more than just a rich girl on a lark, and the strengths of her debut not a fluke. At least before it collapses under the weight of a few too many power ballads.

Presley is assisted by well-known song doctor Linda Perry, who co-writes six of the disc’s 11 tracks (not counting the uncredited Ramones cover). Although she feared being pushed in a politically correct commercial direction, Presley swears in the liner notes it didn’t happen. Oh, no. Her artistic integrity was spared.

Now where have we heard that before? Let’s see... Maybe EVERY time someone like Perry is hired? But Perry helps bring some strong melodies and, we suspect, discipline to Presley’s lyrics.

Some of the cuts, like the standout “I’ll Figure it Out,” indicate Presley spent a lot of time with Cure records in the 1980s. The arrangements are clever and skillfully cover the deficiencies in her voice. Her personal history and the burbling electronica also lend the cover of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” a real legitimacy — although Lord knows Presley left plenty of hers on the clothesline through the years.

There’s not much happening after the first half of this disc, when Perry brings more of a punch-the-clock mentality to the collaboration.

By then, turn to the liner notes for entertainment value, particularly where Presley effusively thanks everyone who was involved. Perry’s buddy Pink stopped by to add some vocals and Presley recalls, “I fell in love with you the minute we connected. I believe it was at around 4 a.m. one night, drunk on the floor barking at each other.”

Oh, to be a floor sweeper for that recording session!    —David Bauder

New Order, “Waiting For the Sirens’ Call”Time was, New Order was an ahead-of-the-curve quartet that presciently channeled the future of dance music when the rest of England was still coping with the hangover that was punk and waxing rhapsodic about the Smiths.

The group’s tight rhythm and droning synthesizer made songs like “The Beach,” “Touched By the Hand of God” and “Blue Monday” anthemic in their stature and staying power.

Fast forward 20 years or so and New Order’s latest LP, “Waiting For the Sirens’ Call,” finds a group that has matured and expanded, seeking new influences from which to propel its music.

Bear in mind, this LP, the group’s eighth since it rose from the ashes of Joy Division in 1980, is a far cry from the cold sterility that flowed across “Movement.”

Keeping up with shimmering melodies and entrancing songs, “Sirens’ Call” is that rare moment when a band’s creative juices are in full effect and effectively flowing through each individual note.

Standout tracks include the uptempo “Who’s Joe?” that is reminiscent of Joy Division and the first single, “Krafty,” which made me feel like I was 17 again, driving in my car, singing.

The music is still ahead of the curve, even in a time of synth-drenched emo, but where the latter lacks heart, New Order packs it in, by the truckload.    —Matt Moore

Hot Hot Heat, “Elevator”

In this undated publicity photo provided by Warner Bros. Records, music group Hot Hot Heat is shown. Hot Hot Heat's new album \"Elevator\" was released on Sire. (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Music)Warner Bros. Music / WARNER BROS. RECORDS

Hot Hot Heat’s latest release, “Elevator,” is good good stuff. The band’s daring guitar and vocal work — a jangle of minimalist rock — is understated at times, and soars in other spots.

To be certain, the British Columbia quartet’s music is mostly delivered in fervent fits — they pounce about their songs with endless energy and lead singer Steve Bays offers the closest thing to a “plaintive wail” in the business. He’s not shrill, but unforgettably high-pitched and demanding of attention.

None of that would work, however, without the catchy songwriting and melodies that Hot Hot Heat delivers.

The band established itself in 2002 with the well-recieved “Make Up The Breakdown.” But “Elevator” is even tighter, and songs like “You Owe Me An IOU” offer a pleasant showcase of the band’s knack for an unforgettable hook.

The title track “Elevator” is nicely layered with lush guitar and some unidentifiable but pleasant-enough orchestral effect. It’s slower than most of the tracks, but hits an emotional sweet spot. “Don’t take me up /I’ll just go down once again,” a forlorn Bays sings about mercurial relationships.

This is the modern version of glam rock. There’s less hair, more style and — if you’re as good as Hot Hot Heat — whipsmart songwriting that will set you apart from the pack.    —Ron Harris

Donnie McClurkin, “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”
Donnie McClurkin takes us on a tour of songs intrinsic to the worship experience of many faithful Christians on “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs,” a powerful two-disc set recorded live at The Rock Church in Virginia Beach, Va. He crosses language barriers, alternates easily between the worlds of contemporary Christian and foot-stompin’ traditional gospel music, and generally proceeds to have “chu’ch.”

Hymns like “At the Cross” and Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei,” anchor the first disc in a gentle atmosphere of reverential worship. The second disc contains more traditional congregational songs like “We’ve Come This Far By Faith” and “I Will Trust in the Lord,” with the audience audibly singing and praising God in unison. On “Jesus Medley,” McClurkin wails with a rarely heard degree of abandon. You can almost see the sweat flying from McClurkin’s brow.

McClurkin indulges his love of languages on the second disc, singing in Spanish with contemporary Christian artist Joann Rosario on “Saciame Senor,” and offering what’s got to be the first recording of a black gospel choir singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in Dutch. If this truly is one of McClurkin’s last albums before the pastor devotes himself full-time to his church, he has certainly given us enough variety on these tracks to have an aural feast for days.    —Aimee Maude Sims

Serena Ryder, “Unlikely Emergency”Serena Ryder is a tiger. “Unlikely Emergency,” her feisty first international release, dares to begin and end a capella. The soulster’s move would be too showy for some, but Ryder and her husky range make it work it, mostly because what comes in-between is so juicy.

Both delightful and slightly spiteful, Ryder’s soulful voice is as full-bodied as a bottle of cabernet savigon but as unpretentious as a can of beer. Although an enduring and original individual, she’s somewhere between an echo of Janis Jopin and a copy of Joss Stone.

Ryder’s vulnerability can be heard on such songs as the title track and the chirpy “Daydream” while her rawness powers “Again by Two” and “Just Another Day.” Sure, Ryder would be a prerequisite on the Lilith Fair bill if that chick fest ever kicked up again, but she’s still a tiger. Go on, hear her roar.        —Derrik J. Lang