Some recent CD releases worth listening to — or not:
Jason Aldean, “Old Boots, New Dirt” (Broken Bow)
For his sixth studio outing, Jason Aldean is serious about rockin’ and rollin’ all night long — and then some. But sometimes too much of a good thing…
“Old Boots, New Dirt” is at times vastly predictable (“Sweet Little Somethin'”) and at others, marvelously pure country (“Two Night Town”), but overall there’s too little in the way of big surprises. And Aldean has been one of the most fervent purveyors of consistently pushing the envelope when it comes to the next generation of country music.
The highlights, and there are more than a few, include the power ballads/love songs such as “Tryin’ to Love Me” and “Miss That Girl” (check out the gorgeous emotion and depth of Aldean’s vocals on the latter) that will resonate with more than a few fans of traditional country. The sexy “Burnin’ It Down” is positively as edgy and it is catchy. “Gonna Know We Were Here” is all about partying hard and taking no prisoners, a power country rocker if ever there was one.
There’s a sensual side to Aldean that permeates “Old Boots, New Dirt,” perhaps a reflection of his newfound love (afterall the title cut is all about new beginnings) in real life? Whatever the reason, Aldean delivers another winner, albeit safe and sound. — Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times
Lady Antebellum, “747” (Capitol Nashville)
Lady Antebellum took off at jet speed with back-to-back multi-platinum albums in 2008 and 2010. Since then, while continuing to score radio hits, the trio’s sales leveled out and started drifting downward.
The group’s fifth album, “747,” sounds like a concerted effort to head back toward the stratosphere. After a couple of uneven albums, “747” has a cohesive, celebratory feel that brings out the best in members Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott.
Landing on a sound all its own, Lady Antebellum presents pop-flavored, adult-oriented country music that stands out from Nashville’s party-all-the-time male singers and the hard-edged, aggressive female stars. The inter-weaving voices of Scott and Kelley have a buoyancy and maturity that returns on “747,” an album that ranks with the trio’s previous best, 2010’s “Need You Now.”
The first single, “Bartender,” is a grown-up take on country music’s current obsession with hard drinking. But the album has better songs: the beautifully sensual “Damn You Seventeen,” the musically and vocally complex “Down South,” the sultry, spiritual “One Great Mystery” and the yearning “Lie With Me,” which makes good use of the clever double-entendre in the title and chorus.
With “747,” Haywood, Scott and Kelley find their own distinctive path, once again. Long may they fly. — Michael McCall, Associated Press
Florida Georgia Line, “Anything Goes” (Republic Nashville)
Busting out with a record-breaking country single, as Florida Georgia Line did with its multiplatinum smash, “Cruise,” doesn’t always ensure long-term success. But “Anything Goes,” the duo’s second album, suggests they have enough talent and ideas to get past the backlash that comes with overexposure.
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley keep the mood fun and grooving, with producer Joey Moi bringing plenty of fresh sonic surprises amid the beats and harmonies. For example, “Sun Daze” could be undermined by the silly pun of its title, on a song about spending a Sunday soaking in rays and indulging in at least two brand-name liquors. But Moi’s arrangement brings in whistling, hand claps and a banjo to create a bright groove that insists on making hips sway.
Similarly, new single “Bumpin’ the Night” works a predictable double-entendre about a couple moving in tandem while drinking (of course), cruising the town and sharing time alone. But the arrangement once again comes to the rescue.
Florida Georgia Line’s recent hit “Dirt” proved the band can deal with subjects beyond throwing down with friends.
But they rarely bother on the rest of “Anything Goes.” And that’s OK, as long as Florida Georgia Line remains this consistently inventive and engaging. — Michael McCall, Associated Press
Johnny Marr, “Playland” (Warner)
When Johnny Marr completed his first solo album, “The Messenger,” in 2013, the man behind the beautifully maudlin rhythms of The Smiths didn’t rest on his laurels. He continued to write, and his sophomore effort, “Playland,” is the pleasant result of that work ethic.
“Playland” is strong with guitar certainly, but is also rich with hooks and a decidedly energetic pace. If you’re waiting for sad Smith-ian sand kickers, you won’t find them here. Marr is ready to embrace the pell-mell pace of the universe on “Back in the Box.” ”Just everything is breaking us out/ From the inside and the outside,” Marr sings on that track.
Marr airs out things into a larger wall of sound, offering the solid song “Candidate” about living in the moment. I’m tempted to play that song backward to discern if there’s a hidden clue about a reunion of The Smiths. Mercurial Smiths frontman Morrissey and Marr remain publicly at odds over the proposal, but there’s always hope.
Meanwhile, Marr’s solo effort on “Playland” proves he’s capable of going it alone. — Ron Harris, Associated Press
Various Artists, “The Best of Me” Soundtrack (EMI Nashville/Relativity)
True love songs are rare these days on country music radio. But romance rules on the soundtrack of “The Best of Me,” based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, the king of sentimental relationship tales. Mirroring past Sparks page-to-screen love stories — “The Notebook,” ”A Walk to Remember,” ”Safe Haven” — “The Best of Me” gives a long list of young contemporary country and pop singers a chance to celebrate passion and everlasting love.
For the most part, the performers all make the best of these heart-searching songs. Colbie Caillat turns in a goose bumps-raising performance on “In Love Again,” as does newcomer Phoebe Hoffman on “Crossroads.” The blended voices of Lady Antebellum (“I Did With You,” ”Falling for You”) and Thompson Square (“Borrowed Time”) sound well-suited for songs about the power of togetherness. Similarly, the Eli Young Band proves adept once again at exploring the sensitive side of bonding on “Unchanged.”
The album suddenly shifts in tone by slipping in an old Cowboy Junkies cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” The late-night, low-fi mood of the 26-year-old recording remains effective, but it comes across like a goth kid crashing an Up With People party. A little darkness around the edges doesn’t damper the prevailing idea that love can make any of us sing its praises. — Michael McCall, Associated Press
Compiled by Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times