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Robert Plant & the Strange Sensation
Mighty Rearranger
Sanctuary
A dozen years after former Led Zep front man Robert Plant's last collection of new material surfaced, he returns wielding the hammer of the gods — and the moody mysticism of summer in the Sahara. On the aptly titled Mighty Rearranger, Plant, an inveterate dabbler during his 25-year solo career, brings it on home in an amalgamation that bespeaks passion, not pastiche. Memo to Jet and the other kids pretending to stake claims on the hard-rock mantle: Forget it. First single "Shine It All Round" dips into hippie idealism without sounding dated, thanks in large part to the Strange Sensation band backing Plant with formidable chops, as well as refreshing dollops of grit and sheen. Ballad "All the Kings Horses" yields soothing acoustic guitar and the wistful trepidation of a troubadour taking another shot at love.

Throughout the disc, North African rhythms meld with bastardized blues and Celtic accents. Yeah, yeah, all well and good, but does it rock? It does, with ferocious momentum. Plant has spent much of his solo tenure repudiating his black light-poster past, though he recanted during a brief reunion with Jimmy Page during the mid-1990s before retreating into obscure blues covers on 2002's Dreamland. And now? It's one-stop shopping. There is enough Bron-y-Aur stomp on, for example, "Takamba" to satisfy any visitor from 1973; "Dancing on Heaven" sparkles with the more adventurous spirit of In Through the Out Door. As for "Freedom Fries," it scorches. The highest of many high points arrives on "Tin Pan Valley," where the lethal combination of well-honed disparate influences and flab-free songwriting soar, bolstered by hammering guitars and trademark "Immigrant Song" wails. Plant, sensing the full-circle blend of savvy and spunk, offers a humorous rebuke to wallowing in the trap (and trappings) of pop-star yesterdaze: "My peers may flirt with cabaret/Some fake the rebel yell/Me, I'm moving up to higher ground/I must escape their hell." And when his searing roar arrives on cue — "Liiike thissss!!!" — so do the fully Led-ed guitars, galloping alongside rumbling drums and bass. Without pandering, Plant stretches and gives his audience a whole lot to love along the way.

Track to burn: "Tin Pan Alley"

Rating:

-Erik Spanberg

Robbie Fulks
Georgia Hard-
Yep Roc
The 1970s saw a renaissance in country music where art and commerce peacefully co-existed side by side. Evenings were spent watching Buck Owens, Marty Robbins and Loretta Lynn on Hee-Haw before that show became merely a punch-line. This is Fulk's background, and Georgia Hard harkens back to this classic 70s style. Fulks has a clear grasp on the song as story. "You Don't Want What I Have" is a classic, heartbreaking barroom confession/warning from one lost soul to one almost lost, "All I have is a helpless feeling/Of a man slowly sinking down/And these few fellow drunkards for a family/Wish I had back my real one right now." This is where Fulks sounds positively George Jonesian. The only real weakness is the throw-away "I'm Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)," a completely out-of-place and lifeless duet that brings the record to a screeching halt. Luckily, it's short-lived. The redneck posturing of recent, modern country music television hits have no place in Robbie Fulks' world. He's too clever, too knowing to ever pander. Georgia Hard is some of the best real, modern country that there is. But heck, Loretta Lynn can't even get played on CMT these days.

Track to burn: "You Don't Want What I Have"

Rating: 1/2

-Tara E. Flanagan

Spoon
Gimme Fiction
Merge
The sparse, crisp attack of Spoon distinguishes the band from nearly every rock peer, much like The Minutemen's jazz-funk take on punk separated them from their peers. Built on a supple, loose-limbed backbeat, the rhythms split the difference between post-punk angularity and new wave perk, while Daniel's croon emanates a slinky cool. This cool permeates every corner of the tracks from the bubbling piano-driven rave up, "Mathematical Mind," to the slow-burn Hollies-esque power pop of "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," as well as the faux-Prince indie soul of "I Turn My Camera On." However for all its electicism, this is much more of a rock album in the mold of Girls Can Tell than their last album Moonlight Mile, picking up steam across the second half. It's highlighted by the dragging folk jam "The Delicate Place," the chunky ringing blasts of "Sister Jack," and the pastoral pop bounce of the love song "I Summon You." No two tracks sound quite alike, which makes the album a bit of slow read, but it warms significantly with subsequent listens.

Track to burn: "The Beast and Dragon, Adored"

Rating:

-Chris Parker

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