Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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New Recordings: Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson

Pearl Jam: "Lightning Bolt"
Pearl Jam: "Lightning Bolt"
Pearl Jam: "Lightning Bolt" Gallery: New Recordings: Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Willie Nelson

Paul McCartney


(Hear Music )

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  • "We put a lot of energy and effort into making this album," Paul McCartney writes in the liner notes accompanying New, his first album of new material in six years. "Hard work? No, not at all. We don't work music. We play it!"

    Truer words were rarely spoken, at least for McCartney, who at 71 continues to make optimistic music that seems to flow out of him effortlessly. On New, he worked with young producers Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth, and Giles Martin (son of George), all of whom add tasteful contemporary touches while having the good sense not to get in the way of Macca's way with a melody.

    As with last year's one-off collaboration with the surviving members of Nirvana, the singing bass player sounds energized. Which is not to say that many of the unfailingly agreeable, intelligently crafted songs on New will stick with you for very long, engaging as they are. The exception that proves the rule is "Early Days," a stripped-down remembrance in which Macca gets feisty about people who pretend to know his story better than he does himself. Reaching for high notes, he allows us to hear the strain in his voice as he sings about the "many times I had to change the pain to laughter," giving us a glimpse of what it's like to be the Beatle everyone expects to be cheerful all the time.

    - Dan DeLuca

    Pearl Jam
    Lightning Bolt

    (Monkeywrench )

    Pearl Jam was always the most classic-rock-

    connected of the early 1990s grunge bands. True, the Eddie Vedder-led crew, which plays the Wells Fargo Center on Monday and Tuesday, can still come at you with punked-up fury, as on "Getaway" and "Mind Your Manners," the two lead tracks on the band's 10th studio album. But for all the frequent torment heard in Vedder's baritone, the band has always been about sustaining itself and its connection to its audience, in a way that their celebrated contemporaries Nirvana could not.

    Lightning Bolt delivers its share of primal force, coming on strong with the hard-riffing "Mind Your Manners" and the winning title track before settling back for a mellower-groove second half. The shimmering "Pendulum" is a standout, the bluesy "Let the Records Play" is a misstep, and "Swallowed Whole" the requisite fanboy nod to The Who. Not a classic or, God forbid, an attempt at reinvention, just another rock-solid addition to a still-productive career.

    - Dan DeLuca

    New Recordings

    On Sale Tuesday

    Katy Perry, Prism; AFI, Burials;

    Best Coast, Fade Away (EP);

    Andrea Bocelli, Love in Portofino

    Pearl Jam plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. Tickets: $77. Phone: 800-298-4200.

    Willie Nelson
    To All the Girls . . .

    (Legacy )

    Willie Nelson loves to duet, and judging by his myriad guest appearances, he'll sing with just about anybody (Billy Currington?). There's no questioning his taste or his material here, though, as the 80-year-old Red-Headed Stranger teams with 18 female guests - from eminences like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris to young lights like Miranda Lambert and Brandi Carlile - on a set whose title alludes to Nelson's biggest duet smash of all, with Julio Iglesias in 1984.

    Just about everything here - from the country-oriented character of "Somewhere Between" with Loretta Lynn to the more supper-club strains of "Far Away Places" with Sheryl Crow - possesses the drily understated elegance that has been the hallmark of Nelson's best work. Tersely lyrical Willie guitar solos and Mickey Raphael's trademark keening harmonica punctuate many of the arrangements, helping to provide a unifying undercurrent. And if the mood is predominantly mellow, Nelson does occasionally shift gears to good effect - racing through a twang-fueled "Bloody Mary Morning" with Wynonna, Western swinging with Shelby Lynne on "Till the End of the World," or injecting some bluesy grit with Mavis Staples on "Grandma's Hands."

    - Nick Cristiano

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