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Randy Newman, David Bowie have new CDs

Also, new releases from Lloyd, Carrie Rodriguez, Brazilian Girls, The Melvins
/ Source: Billboard

Randy Newman, “Harps and Angels”Randy Newman’s shock-and-aw-shucks wit is so joyfully scathing at times on “Harps and Angels” that it’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since his last album of new material. The sarcastic advice to undocumented immigrants, “Laugh and Be Happy,” is cleverly camouflaged by a giddy orchestra arrangement right out of Carl Stalling’s Warner Bros. cartoon playbook. “Korean Parents” also features the big orchestra and a comic critique of public education and family responsibility in the Wii era. In “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” Newman judges the current leaders in his laconic, bluesy drawl. Amid the satirical splendor and winning New Orleans piano and Dixieland swing are moments of poignancy, among them two love songs, “Losing You” and “Feels Like Home,” that should keep accruing royalties from covers long after the sun sets on our empire.

David Bowie, “Live Santa Monica ’72”Thanks to the increasing affordability of high-quality recording gear, the live album isn’t much of a valuable commodity these days. (“Live albums are dead,” announced a recent headline in England’s Independent.) Yet the official release of this long-bootlegged David Bowie gig still feels like an event, and not just because the sound is crisper and louder than what you’ll find on YouTube. “Live Santa Monica ’72” captures Bowie on his first U.S. tour in full Ziggy Stardust mode, back before American audiences knew quite what to make of this slightly scary, totally sexy new version of a rock star. There’s a confrontational thrust to Bowie’s performance here that fame would soften during the years to come. The set list includes plenty of hits — “Changes,” “Suffragette City,” “Space Oddity” — as well as a sympathetic cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man.”

Lloyd, “Lessons in Love”The languorous yet infectious beat and girl-watching theme of lead single “Girls Around the World” (a top 15 R&B hit featuring labelmate Lil Wayne) reflect the direction of “Lessons in Love.” This is an unabashed look at love’s various facets by a maturing singer-songwriter who has come a long way since his start in the 2000 preteen group N-Toon. Sporting a smooth tenor reminiscent of a younger Michael Jackson, Lloyd works it to the max on such single-worthy rhythmic tracks and ballads as “Treat U Good,” “Lose Your Love” and “I’m Wit It.” But he momentarily stumbles on the derivative, R. Kelly-esque “Year of the Lover.” Such slip-ups aside, Lloyd serves up a satisfying sophomore suite.

Carrie Rodriguez, “She Ain’t Me”With 2006’s “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” Carrie Rodriguez graduated from progeny status by convincingly stepping outside the tutelage of mentor Chip Taylor. On “She Ain’t Me” she continues to create her own oeuvre with an engrossing set of lushly arranged songs. Rodriguez starts things rootsy, textured and topical with the prototypically Americana “Infinite Night,” while such tracks as “Absence” and the gentle “The Big Mistake” have more pronounced country touches. She gets by with more than a little help from friends this time out, including Lucinda Williams’ singing on the epic “Mask of Moses” and songwriting collaborators Gary Louris, Dan Wilson and Mary Gauthier. None of that takes the spotlight off her, however; Rodriguez is a triple-threat artist who sounds more formidable with each successive release.

The Melvins, “Nude With Boots”It’s hard to imagine nearly 25 years have passed since King Buzzo formed the Melvins, who remain one of the most brutal forces in underground rock. Following the absolutely awesome “(A) Senile Animal,” “Nude With Boots” bookends the Melvins’ strongest one-two punch since ’93’s “Houdini” and ’94’s “Stoner Witch.” Flaunting the band’s love for classic album-oriented rock riffs more here than on any other previous record, “Nude” chugs along on the strength of licks lifted from Led Zeppelin and “Killer”-era Alice Cooper, bringing a sense of boogie to Buzz’s now perfectly honed tablature of bludgeoning guitar work. While the main crux is full-tilt heavy rock, a track like the spacious “Flush” keeps one foot in the hostile ambience the band explored with Lustmord a couple of years back.

Issa Bagayogo, “Mali Koura”Malian Issa Bagayogo has, in the last decade, tracked some of the most innovative and vibrant music to emerge from West Africa. His studio work with Yves Wernert and Philippe Berthier has produced a distinctive fusion of Malian traditional grooves and superbly executed electronica. With “Mali Koura,” Bagayogo delivers 11 songs that are rhythmically compelling and stretch his sound in the direction of jazz. “Tcheni Tchemakan” has an expansive, downtempo jazz feel, underwritten by string and piano flourishes that are quite impressionistic. “N’Tana” pushes an intense rhythmic groove that invites the jazz-inflected horns and flute. “Fimani” reprises the irresistible dance-floor vibe that has been Bagayogo’s signature sound, though even here we catch elliptical comments from horns and keyboard that are a new idea in his repertoire.

Jamey Johnson, “That Lonesome Song”To listen to Jamey Johnson’s latest is to take a step back in time. More Waylon and Willie than Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, “That Lonesome Song” is a testament to raw and real, right down to open studio mics catching stray commentary and static. First single “In Color” is a touching look at the world through his grandfather’s eyes. “Mary Go Round,” a stunning waltz, is a heartfelt plea for a woman to mend her ways. A modern outlaw in a world dominated by music for soccer moms, Johnson pays authentic homage to a brother in arms by covering Waylon Jennings’ “Dreamin’ My Dreams With You” and “The Door Is Always Open.” “The Last Cowboy” is an engaging but mournful take on days gone by.

Brazilian Girls, “New York City”On “New York City,” Brazilian Girls have crafted a set as internationally diverse as the Big Apple itself. Per usual, multilingual frontwoman Sabina Sciubba demands the spotlight, flaunting her pronunciations in French, Spanish, German and every other tongue she speaks. Attempting to pack so many styles into one sitting doesn’t necessarily make for a cohesive set. The organic oompah of “Berlin” and the gorgeous “L’Interprete” are interesting, but frazzle the fun-loving, beat-heavy spirit of the remaining songs. Opener “St. Petersburg” is irresistible (“Do you like my accent?” Sciubba queries), and “Good Time” is as playful as its name indicates, with inside and self-referential jokes and an underbelly of silly synths. DJs will surely gravitate toward primal “Internacional,” featuring Senegalese singer Baaba Maal.

Pistolera, “En Este Camino”Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Velasquez has not given herself an easy assignment: write searching, often politically conscious lyrics in Spanish with traditional Latin music instrumentation (such as jarana, accordion and tuba) for a diverse audience. Even with her limited vocal range, the results are often glorious and galvanizing (“Guerra,” a translation of Bob Marley’s “War,” couldn’t be more relevant). The musicianship is superb here, and it’s a pleasure to listen to a whole museum of brass, bongos, congas, caxixi, maracas and pandereta incorporated beautifully into a sound that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre.