Sugarland, “Love on the Inside”
Sugarland’s third album is proof positive that singer-songwriters Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are on the cusp of superstardom. Hooky and infectious first single “All I Want to Do” is a tantalizing tease of the album’s breadth. Steamy “What I’d Give” finds Nettles growling her way through a honey-do list that would get any man’s blood pumping, while “Keep You” finds her convincingly pleading a seemingly no-win situation. “Joey,” a foreboding throwback written with Bill Anderson, leaves one wondering about the title character’s fate. “Genevieve” starts acoustic and slow, building into a rollicking ode to a favored beau, and “Steve Earle,” about the oft-married song poet, is hilarious and, from a production standpoint, refreshingly raw.
Scars on Broadway, “Scars on Broadway”
System of a Down guitarist/chief creative force Daron Malakian sets the tone for his new project early on when he sings, “Ain’t nobody searching for a second chance/I’m just looking for a new romance.” He could, of course, be talking about a real relationship, or perhaps SOAD’s long-lasting hiatus. But in any event, Malakian and SOAD drummer John Dolmayan have indeed brought something new for their fans to love — and perhaps even for non-fans as well, given the more direct and accessible nature of Scars’ music. The duo still delves into SOAD-style idiosyncracies via sonic tumult and machine-gun dynamics, but Scars is just as apt to delve into poppier melodicism, full-on funk or metallic muscle. Scars, like Serj Tankian’s solo album, makes SOAD’s absence much easier to endure.
Third Day, “Revelation”“Revelation” should appeal to Third Day’s core Christian music audience while expanding its fan base in the mainstream rock arena. Possessing just the right amount of gritty intensity combined with sweet Southern charm, frontman Mac Powell is equally effective on tender ballads like “Let Me Love You” and such hard-charging rockers as “This Is Who I Am.” “Born Again” is both a study in self-examination and celebration of a life redeemed that features a gorgeous guest vocal by Flyleaf’s Lacey Mosely. Third Day fan Chris Daughtry lends his voice to “Slow Down” and guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph mixes it up on the bluesy firestorm of “Otherside.” “Call My Name” is a well-crafted number that has already topped the Christian charts. Great songs, excellent musicianship and Powell’s passionate vocals make this one of the best albums of the year.
David Banner, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”Since he first appeared on the national stage with 2003’s “Mississippi: The Album,” Banner has used his platform as an opportunity to showcase the best and worst qualities of Southern hip-hop. The contrast reaches a head-scratching apogee on “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” where Banner alternates furiously soulful tracks about inner-city violence (“So Long”) with chest-beating sex jams in which foreplay is reduced to strangling a woman till her face turns blue (“A Girl”). The extremes offer up a portrait of a man far more complex than what we get from many of Banner’s peers, and the inventive beats (by Banner, Cool & Dre, Akon and others) add vital life to his gruff flow. But you have to wonder if some of these tracks simply reflect the rapper’s desire to be all things to all consumers.
Mike Gordon, “The Green Sparrow”The centerpiece of Gordon’s second solo album (and first since his old band Phish split in 2004) is undoubtedly ”Andelman’s Yard,” a wondrous, well-constructed romp on which he handles all the instruments, including banjo, bass, keys and acoustic guitar. Showing the influence of sometime collaborator Leo Kottke in its delicate, searching lines, Gordon’s dream-inflected mini-epic exudes a glowing warmth. The silly/sweet “Pretend” and “Another Door” (which is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers) employ a similarly light, bouncy touch. Jam-oriented rockers ideal for Phish’s inevitable reunion also turn up: see “Traveled Too Far,” featuring two of his ex-bandmates. It all goes down smooth until Gordon introduces funk and calypso to the mix, the results sounding stiff or dated. But he’s got plenty to be proud of here.
Rick Springfield, “Venus in Overdrive”Springfield may be best known for 1981’s Billboard Hot 100 topper “Jessie’s Girl,” but the Australian singer’s career has endured a full 40 years in an industry that blows hot and cold for his brand of mainstream power-pop. After a 2005 covers album and a 2007 set of Christmas standards, the all-original “Venus in Overdrive” demonstrates the strengths that keep Springfield in the game: broad stylistic range and pure emotional energy. First single “What’s Victoria’s Secret?” relies on a near copy of the “Jessie’s Girl” musical formula, but the album builds to include modern rock, a reggae-tinged title track and the intense “Warning Shots,” surprisingly Reznor-esque to the point of invoking Lucifer. The album’s third, less radio-hungry act is its most satisfying, settling into soul-rock and Beatles-influenced tunes like “She” and ”Saint Sahara.”
Hawthorne Heights, “Fragile Future”This Ohio-based emo-rock outfit has spent the time since 2006’s “If Only You Were Lonely” dealing with drama considerably heavier than what most emo bands sing about. Hawthorne Heights sued (and was subsequently countersued by) its label, Victory, for breach of contract (since resolved); then, late last year, guitarist Casey Calvert died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on the group’s tour bus. Not surprisingly, on “Fragile Future,” HH finds comfort in the familiar, with frontman J.T. Woodruff layering catchy (if slightly worn-sounding) vocal melodies over stop-and-start guitar chug that never gets too fuzzy. Emo fans will be satisfied; dabblers will have their assumptions about the genre confirmed.
Plastilina Mosh, “All U Need Is Mosh” Mexico’s anarchic popsters are at it again on their latest compendium of high-energy electronic absurdity. Think nonsensical, bilingual lyrics delivered over wacked-out samples, hard-driving guitar and thick dance beats. There are a few atmospheric, arty tunes here, but the most fun songs are either shamelessly silly (“My Party” name-checks Danny Bonaduce, Gary Busey and Mario Lopez on the guest list) or are blessed with choruses so catchy as to be almost (gasp!) commercial.