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Release The Stars
If it wasn’t evident before, it is now: Rufus Wainwright is a size queen. And he likes it B-I-G – walloping string-laden riffs, orchestral frills, and the popera’s pipes. “Release The Stars,” inspired by Wainwright’s trip to Berlin, is the kind of colossal disc (number five, exactly) we’ve come to expect from the queer crooner. His choice of musical seasoning – horns, strings, piccolo flutes, choirs – is nothing short of grandiose, which muddies the theatrical vision of lead-in “Do I Disappoint You?” As it swells – like a blister that’s so tempting to pop – into an instrumental-consuming climax, Wainwright’s vocals drown in the arrangement of an ultra chaotic chant, leaving us with a hook-less symphonic mess. Thankfully, it’s follow-up, “Going To A Town,” strips to piano and sprinkled musical flourishes that don’t distract from his drowsy-sounding chops as he stings America on the wisely written track. More of the same, like the string-laden “Nobody’s Off The Hook” (which references a guy hanging “with a homo and a hairdresser”) and the horn-heavy title track, serve as solid testaments to this lad’s glowing talent, even if, sometimes, the anchor drags down his ship.
Miranda Lambert ain’t shooting blanks on her smokin’ sophomore album. Honky-tonking her way to the top with twangy-rooted rockers, like the bangin’ “Gunpowder and Lead,” and a primo tear-stained ballad “More Like Her,” the “Nashville Star” finalist lights up a thoroughly inspired, and on-fire, trail of tears. In classic Lambert style (see: fiery debut, “Kerosene”), she puts a bullet in her abusive boyfriend, craves booze on the anything-but-dry “Dry Town,” and finds redemption (sort of) on the Emmylou Harris closing-track “Easy From Now On.” Lambert, a gifted quasi-country sounding vocalist who can easily shift from feisty fed-up chick to sweet songbird, feeds bitch-tude as she reiterates the inevitable letting-go of her boy toy on the penultimate Patty Griffin-penned “Getting Ready.” But on the said lilting ballad, Lambert’s slight vocal quiver makes her sound unsure that riding through a “fandangled sky” is, indeed, a sunnier one.
American Doll Posse
Tori Amos isn’t herself lately. On “American Doll Posse,” the Queen of Quirky’s ninth album, Amos resurrects the electric rock edge absent from her pop offering, “The Beekeeper.” It’s a musical facelift she needed to flee the Sarah McLachlan rut she was falling into. With the help of her drastically different alter egos (made evident by the outfits they sport in the liner notes, and the online blogs they rant on), hooks are heavy and, though “Posse” is one of Amos’ less mind-tangling projects, the album still should come with some Cliff Notes. The redhead piano master launches with “Yo, George,” a Bush-bash that has Amos alter ego No. 1 ah-chooing (!) at the president’s politics. Then, on the smashing single “Big Wheel,” a bouncy, bold kiss-off where Amos proclaims she’s a MILF, a catchy drumbeat yields a raucous feminism rant. Virtually a 180 from this album’s predecessor, Amos sounds more confident and, frankly, more fun. The breezy “Bouncing Off Clouds” wraps Amos’ foxy falsetto around beaming electric guitar and pulsating drums for a groovy jam tailored for feet-shuffling. “Secret Spell” and the tender “Roosterspur Bridge,” easily a top-10 Amo’s sap song, sail past the stratosphere, but the quirky bounce of “Programmable Soda” tastes flatter than an old bottle of Coke. The horn-infused tune is just one of several dull ditties that could’ve been axed from the overlong 23-song disc. Still, it’s a highly and mostly pizzazz-filled, ambitious project for the out-there songstress – and her lady clique.
Ah, Arcade Fire is sparking skyrockets again on their sophomore set. The Canadian septet mine deep philosophical territory covered in multi-instrumental orchestration, including the clever church-organ use on “Intervention,” and thread a near flawless follow-up to “Funeral.” The epic “Neon Bible” parades never-distracting theatrical production with Bruce Springsteen-tinged vocals from front man Win Butler on the intense, water-rising tune “Windowsill,” an anthemic progressive rocker where the sister-country singer boldly declares: “I don’t wanna live in America no more.” Much of “Neon Bible” is enshrouded in fear, dramatic instrumentation and haunting, picturesque melodies (see: pitch-dark power of “Ocean of Noise”) – all of which, ironically, accrues a magical upper. And just when the electric band unleashes a chirpy tune, like on “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” it spirals into an epic abyss of darkness.
Who You Are
Cary Brothers could be the Sex Saint. His quasi-cinematic cuts on “Who You Are” flaunt smooth melodies dovetailed with the Nashville native’s rich vocals – a duo that’ll likely land on those bangin’ mixed tapes (you know you have one!). They’re soft, sweet and, sometimes, don’t stick. The breezy “Ride” sizzles with electric guitar in a solid road trip tune while “Honestly,” gleaming with acoustic guitar and draped in the cello, highlights the atmospheric vibe that racks up “Z’s” during his debut’s final third. Luckily, a “Garden State” charmer, the less-of-a-downer-than-the-rest-of-the-album “Blue Eyes,” scores points for being a romantic tongue-twisting anthem.