michael gallucci

ALBUM REVIEWS

In album review on 09/10/2012 at 9:57 am

Mumford & Sons

Babel

(Glassnote)

When Mumford & Sons quietly released their debut album three years ago, nobody could have guessed that an acoustic folk group from London would go on to sell two million records in the U.S., play a Grammy set with Bob Dylan, and become one of the most popular bands in the world. So expectations are so high for their follow-up LP, Babel, that the quartet aims for the cheap seats with an arena-ready set of songs that makes banjo- and mandolin-fueled folk music sound like the new classic rock. And there are times when they effortlessly pull off this mix of campfire singalong and stadium rock: the forward-marching title track, the horn-kissed “Lover of the Light,” and especially “I Will Wait,” a hook-filled room shaker. But like Sigh No More, Babel is more a scattered collection of songs than a unified work, placing it squarely in folk’s storied tradition.

Django Django

Django Django

(Ribbon)

The Scottish quartet Django Django play art-rock spiked with a dose of psychedelia. In other words, their self-titled debut album is all sorts of messed up, as it weaves from one airborne space jam to another. But Django Django lift enough inspiration from post-punk, spanning the ’80s through the ’00s, to ground it from time to time. Songs like “Hail Bop” and “Default” fuse tribal drumming, handclaps, and far-out synths that trip out on the atmosphere.

John Hiatt

Mystic Pinball

(New West)

When you’ve racked up more than 20 albums in your long career, curveballs, while not entirely out of the question, aren’t expected or even welcomed. The cozily familiar music on John Hiatt’s 21st album won’t win him any new fans at this point, but those who’ve been there for the long haul will appreciate the bluesy shuffle of “We’re Alright Now” and “It All Comes Back Someday”’s pop push. Mystic Pinball is reliable roots rock from an old master.

Bettye LaVette

Thankful N’ Thoughtful

(Anti-)

On her fourth album since her rediscovery and rebirth seven years ago, the 66-year-old soul singer returns to familiar territory after the slight detour of 2010’s Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. She covers contemporaries (Bob Dylan), new kids (the Black Keys), and artists who couldn’t be further removed from her comfort zone (Tom Waits). Plus, she reworks Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” into a slow-boiling shuffle, claiming it as her own.

R.E.M.

Document (25th Anniversary Edition)

(Capitol/I.R.S.)

R.E.M.’s commercial breakthrough from 1987 still sounds like a perfect mix of the band’s indie spirit and the desire for something more (indeed – they jumped labels for their next album, collecting a hefty paycheck). The key tracks – “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” “The One I Love” – are balanced by some of the group’s most political songs like “Exhuming McCarthy.” This two-CD reissue includes a live disc.

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