When it comes to backup band loyalty, everybody isn't Bruce Springsteen. Take Ben Harper: After making 2007's Lifeline, among others, with the Innocent Criminals, he hooks up with Relentless7—a trio, not a septet—on his latest. The shake-up seems to have energized Harper, who sounds charged-up on rockers like the Hendrixian "Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart)." Elsewhere, the CD goes from the bluesy boogie of "Why Must You Always Dress in Black" to the Stonesy soul of "Lay There & Hate Me." On the latter, Harper sings, "I feel like an underpaid concubine/ Who's overstayed her welcome." Relentless7, however, is welcome to hang around.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Up to You Now," a festival-ready anthem
Chrisette Michele's 2007 album I Am was one of the best R&B debuts in recent years. This follow-up is solid but somewhat disappointing. Gone are many of the neo-soul nuances that made I Am a more distinctive affair. With Ne-Yo cowriting six tracks, including the slinky single "Epiphany (I'm Leaving)," and serving as an executive producer, it's good but more generic. Still, Michele's jazzy, Sarah Vaughan-esque vocals add her own special sauce.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Mr. Right," a retro-soul jam
Walking on a Dream |
Sounding as if they were beamed down from another planet, this Australian duo makes a dreamy synth-pop debut. On tunes like the atmospheric "Standing on the Shore" and the title-track highlight, which will have you floating up in the heavens, they come off like the sci-fi version of the Pet Shop Boys.
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>• It was downhill for O'Connor after 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. But a new limited edition of the album (with a bonus disc of rarities) reminds us of when nothing compared to her.
>IDA MARIA Fortress 'round My Heart The year's most exciting debut comes from this Norwegian dynamo. A cross between Courtney Love, Karen O and Avril Lavigne
, she's one of the baddest rock chicks to come around in a long time.
BOB DYLAN Together Through Life On his vibrant new album, Dylan goes from Tex-Mex (with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo on accordion) to zydeco. But it's the blues he's feeling—musically and lyrically—on songs like "Life Is Hard," an aching-all-over ballad.
CHESTER FRENCH Love the Future These two Harvard grads come from the same quirky school as another duo, MGMT. Their debut is a delightfully whimsical pop pastiche that nods to the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Prince.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS It's Blitz! Sounding more new wave than punk, the indie rockers launch a dance-floor attack on their third album. They still maintain their New York City cool; it's just that now instead of CBGB, they're ready to hit Studio 54.
>• Find out where members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hanson and Maroon 5 are moonlighting.
Singer Sammy Hagar, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, guitar god Joe Satriani and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony.
The link: No spring chickens, these rockers are all over 45.
Super or not? Their self-titled album, due June 9, is a blast for classic-rock fans.
Hanson singer Taylor Hanson, Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos.
The link: Hanson and Schlesinger met in the '90s, Iha and Schlesinger co-own a label, and both FOW and the Pumpkins have played with Cheap Trick.
Super or not? Syrupy vocals aside, the pop-rock on Tinted Windows will hook you.
Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, Phantom Planet bassist Sam Farrar and Gomez singer Ian Ball, among others.
The link: Maui, Hawaii, where the 14 (!) members vacationed together, staying in tree houses, and made music.
Super or not? The raw quality detracts from the breezy, Wilco-like jams on Operation Aloha.