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Musicmakers: Elvis Presley, Trey Anastasio, Disney, Def Leppard

Some recent CD releases worth listening to — or not:

“If I Can Dream,” Elvis Presley with the Royal London Philharmonic Orchestra (Legacy)

It’s been a yearlong celebration of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday way back on January 8. And this latest release is one of the more glamorous music releases to date in honor of the milestone. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios under the auspices of Don Reedman (“Hooked on Classics”) and Nick Patrick, the 14 tracks feature Presley’s gorgeous vocals accompanied by new full-orchestral arrangements. The result is lush and lovely, and makes one wonder if Presley would have enjoyed a detour into classical music somewhere along the road.

Courtesy Legacy Records
Courtesy Legacy Records

The cuts are indicative of the music Presley made his own: rock, gospel, blues, pop, ballads. Michael Buble shows up for a steamy duet with the King on “Fever,” with its sizzling new arrangement. Italian popsters Il Volo are backgrounders on “It’s Now or Never” (that unique spin on “O Sole Mio”), one of Presley’s biggest hits ever (more than 20 million copies of the 1960 release were sold); the arrangement evokes a sunny summer day on Italy’s southern coast if ever a song could.

Guitarist/Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy dazzles on “American Trilogy” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” “Steamroller Blues” positively jumps out at you. “In the Ghetto” is even more haunting with beautiful strings underpinning its oh-so-timely message. And the album’s title tune, one of Presley’s most heartfelt ever, is even more potent in message and manor.

These interpretations will in no way replace the originals; they’re not meant to and that’s a good thing. But the album is a beautiful reminder of how perfectly pure Presley’s voice was. Not even a full orchestra could outshine what flowed from his soul. — MIRIAM DI NUNZIO, Chicago Sun-Times

Trey Anastasio, “Paper Wheels” (Rubber Jungle/ATO Records)

When Phish frontman Trey Anastasio settles into a groove, his latest solo record “Paper Wheels” shines.

Anastasio, on his first solo record in three years and 10th of his career, produces a tune, aptly titled “The Song,” that is not only the best track on “Paper Wheels” but also serves as a mission statement for the 51-year-old rocker.

COURTESY ATO RECORDS
COURTESY ATO RECORDS

“And the hands on the clock keep ticking, just rolling along,” he sings. “In the end, all that’s left is the song.”

Moments like those help make up for weak spots, like backing vocals relying too much on la-la-la-la-ing and ah-ah-ah-ah-ing that mar other tracks like “Never” and “Flying Machines.”

Let’s face it, Phish and Anastasio aren’t known for lyrical dexterity. So it’s not too surprising there are some clunkers here.

But when he focuses on the riff and groove, songs like “In Rounds” are hard to resist. Those are the moments that Anastasio fans look for in concert, and that are harder to replicate on record, but they can be found on “Paper Wheels.”

You just have to be patient in waiting for them to roll around. — SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

Various artists, “We Love Disney” (Verve Records)

“We Love Disney” takes thirteen of some the most iconic Disney tracks and puts them in the hands of contemporary hitmakers such as Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani and Fall Out Boy for a fresh update, but the album feels more like a pleasant hodgepodge.

Courtesy Verve Records
Courtesy Verve Records

Some of the tracks — like Kacey Musgraves’ “A Spoonful of Sugar” from “Mary Poppins” and Rascal Flatts and Lucy Hale’s “Let It Go” — get a genre, or country, makeover, while Jason Derulo’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” and Jhene Aiko’s “In A World of My Own/Very Good Advice” do a minimal invasion contemporary lift. But tracks like Jessie Ware’s “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and Grande’s “Zero to Hero” remain almost unchanged bar the vocals.

Fall Out Boy’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” is a special case of updating the jazzy instrumental to a delightful rock beat, and Pete Wentz matches Louis Prima’s vocals almost to perfection. Stefani gets the unglamorous task of taking over for Kermit the Frog on “The Rainbow Connection,” but acquits herself impressively. Charles Perry’s version of “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” relies more on percussion than the original, while Tori Kelly’s “Colors of the Wind” is crystalline.

Ne-Yo’s take on “Friend Like Me” is more energetic and smoother, and Jessie J’s “Part of Your World” lends itself to a more confident, grown-up little mermaid.

The album tries to stride the line between original and commercial, but it’s never really sure why.

— CRISTINA JALERU, Associated Press

Def Leppard, “Def Leppard” (Mailboat Records)

With a diverse set of songs that range from potential arena anthems to driving rock ballads, it seems pretty obvious that Def Leppard wasn’t taking any chances on their eponymously titled new album.

And who could blame them. It’s hard for a band to recapture that sound of a particular era, and even harder for fans to accept something out of character from the band. So they did the next best thing: capture the spirit of their earlier work, while maintaining a strong sense of freshness on their first album of new songs since 2008.

Courtesy Mailboat Records
Courtesy Mailboat Records

That’s kind of special coming from a band that made their bones in the late 1980s with catchy hard rock tunes. Resting on the laurels of the mega-selling albums “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” from decades ago, the band has enjoyed a long career of live performances that continue to thrill its fan base.

But frontman Joe Elliott has always proclaimed “the band will never be a nostalgia act,” so it’s not a surprise he put so much time and effort into this album. He wouldn’t play any of its tracks on the band’s last tour because he felt the new songs deserve their own showcase.

Standout tracks include the bouncy “Man Enough,” the guitar-rich “Sea of Love” and “Dangerous,” which sounds like something left off “Pyromania.” While it’s not for everyone, the die-hard fans will appreciate this effort, as well as Elliott’s word that Def Leppard will never become its own tribute band. — JOHN CARUCCI, Associated Press