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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five recent pop-rock releases

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

I Can See the Future

If there's a silver lining to Eleni Mandell's resorting to single motherhood via anonymously donated sperm-besides the resulting "Bun in the Oven" (a song title), that is-it's that Mandell has stopped short of recording songs extolling fatherlessness or other emotionally incomplete conditions. Rather, the mellow surfaces of her latest compositions strain with barely suppressed disappointment-mainly with men for not proving as true in the end as they seemed at the beginning. "I don't know what love is all about," she sings. She doesn't sound happy.

Murdered Love

Christian rock's mongrel-metal masters return with almost too much of a vengeance. Three of the first five tracks feature guest metal and hip-hop vocalists (lest anyone forget the group's street cred), and Track 1, "Eyez," couldn't be more rapture-obsessed if it had been written by Harold Camping. Eventually, though, the high-volume pummeling gives way to hooks, which in turn give way to lyrics of surprising sensitivity. A poignant anti-suicide plea is just one of the good things that the song "Beautiful" is.

California 37

Patrick Monahan, Train's wordsmith and singer, is like the too-clever-for-his-own-good conversationalist who can ruin a perfectly good party by leaving no punchline unpunched and no pun unturned. The runaway name dropping, for instance, that makes "You Can Finally Meet My Mom" as funny as it is sweet would be a lot funnier and sweeter if Monahan hadn't used the identical approach five tracks earlier on "This'll Be My Year." And, speaking of identical, his singing every song in the same piercing register gets annoying.

Americana

Neil Young has become so prolific that keeping up with his output is sometimes more trouble than it's worth. So when a project like this one-hoary folk songs rearranged for bass, drums, and ragged-glory guitars-comes along, practically flaunting its accessibility, fans will naturally pay attention. For the most part, they'll be glad they did. And if "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie's rejoinder to "God Bless America," feels excessively humanistic, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" done as "God Save the Queen" balances the scales.

Spotlight

Make what you will of Hank Williams Jr., the ol' boy sure knows how to capitalize on an opportunity. Before he was fired from Monday Night Football by ESPN last October, he'd been perceived for years more as a lovably eccentric American icon than as a still-vital country musician. Then, one clumsy Obama-Hitler analogy later, and he was front-page news again, a tongue-tied-conservative martyr. Well, on the evidence of Williams' latest release, ESPN picked the wrong bronco to bust.

On Old School New Rules (Bocephus), the 63-year-old rabble rouser unloads. "Takin' Back the Country," "We Don't Apologize for America," "Who's Takin' Care of Number One," "Stock Market Blues"-not even Ted Nugent has ever gone so politically ballistic all in one place. It's less politics or anger, however, than five-o'clock-somewhere humor (a little of it crude) that characterizes most of the songs. The anti-eHarmony.com "Three Day Trip" is a bipartisan riot.

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