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New Tunes On Monday: Green Day, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Tori Amos, Kate Voegele, and Mat Kearney

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Green Day -- 21st Century Breakdown

"Sing us a song of the century that's louder than bombs and eternity," sounds the first radio'd-out, bomb-sheltered strains of Green Day's new quasi-concept album, 21st Century Breakdown. Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool -- working with Producer Butch Vig, engineer Chris Dugan, and mixographer Chris Lord-Alge (plus a couple of guest musicians) -- created an extremely impressive follow-up to the Grammy-rewarded American Idiot, and this collection of tracks will help get you through your own breakdown, at least until Eminem returns with his impending Relapse.

Attention to detail went into every element of this project, and the songwriting is at its peak, possibly even a little more interesting than what's found on the latest works by long established icons such as U2. Of course, 'tude is still Billie Joe's and the gang's focus, though 21st Century Breakdown also explores miles of very credible musical territory. It flaunts all sorts of influences from both sides of the pond along the way, like in "¡Viva La Gloria!"'s fraternal pub chant where America's early sixties might as well be tearing it up with Who hooligans. And the group's version of "evolution" -- if we'd even call it that -- is clearly on display on many sophisticated arrangements and lyrics. On the title track, Billie Joe laments, "My generation is zero, I never made it as a working class hero," but it's not mere gen-something whining, it's a legitimate beef with the state of all things currently middle class. The track nicely sets up 21st Century Breakdown's Quadrophenia/Muswell Hillbilly tone, as well as the series of Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, and even Queen-like opuses that follow.

Despite all the sonic and musical upgrading, we get those mandatory, fist-pumping Green Day rallies such as their punky throwback, "Know Your Enemy," in which Billie Joe rails, "Silence is the enemy against your urgency, so rally up the demons of your soul." As if that weren't enough bile to satisfy, the recording spikes its fury with, "Violence is an energy from here to eternity...silence is the enemy, so gimme gimme revolution." Amazingly, tracks like that sit comfortably beside melodic outings such as "Before The Lobotomy" that fuses The Beatles, The Hollies, Queen, and The Who, especially in its hooky line, "Like refugees, we're lost like refugees," before heading into a second section that is a cool, direct rip of a song that's right on the tip of your tongue.

But it's not endlessly brilliant; luckily, for every throwaway like "Christian's Inferno" (and its vague suburban-apocalyptic theme reappearing spottily throughout the album), you get a helluva lot o' tracks that make you instantly forget the missteps. The mesmerizing John Lennon-esque "Last Night On Earth" stylistically ensnares his ghost, and that brings us to the end of the album's "Act I - Heroes And Cons" with two more similarly structured song cycles following.

Some of the more clever, remaining highlights are the poppy "Last Of The American Girls," the string-enriched, George Harrison-meets-Squeeze track, "Restless Heart Syndrome," the visceral "Horseshoes and Handgrenades," "The Static Age" (another sixties nod), and the best anthem of the bunch, "21 Guns," that features two loopy, stereo-panned guitar snippets, a frisky Armstrong falsetto, and a quick swipe of the Papa John Phillips-penned hit for Scott McKenzie, "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)." Overall, Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown and its Mad Max-ish staging is good, angst-y fun right up through its catchy closer, "See The Light." Where American Idiot had us saying, "Hey, these guys have heads on their shoulders," 21st Century Breakdown shows the band still is using their brains.

Tracks:
1. Song Of The Century

(Act 1 - Heroes And Cons)
2. 21st Century Breakdown
3. Know Your Enemy
4. ¡Viva La Gloria!
5. Before The Lobatomy
6. Christian's Inferno
7. Last Night On Earth

(Act II - Charlatans And Saints)
8. East Jesus Nowhere
9. Peacemaker
10. Last Of The American Girls
11. Murder City
12. ¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl)
13. Restless Heart Syndrome

(Act III - Horseshoes And Handgrenades)
14. Horseshoes And Handgrenades
15. The Static Age
16. 21 Guns
17. American Eulogy:
a) Mass Hysteria
b) Modern World
18. See The Light

Clapton & Winwood -- Live From Madison Square Garden

Live From Madison Square Garden culls tracks from their 2008 performances, when Clapton & Winwood officially celebrated their Blind Faith collaborative period (of about forty years ago), adding-on material from early solo outings and Winwood's Traffic tenure. The formula for this summit is established right from the release's opening track, "Had To Cry Today," that finds Winwood boyishly straining for stratospheric high notes, and Clapton jamming alongside his partner's competing guitar licks. They are backed solidly by bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Chris Stainton, and drummer Ian Thomas, replacing original members Ginger Baker and the late Rich Grech. Despite the absentees, there is much magic in the expanded arrangements of Blind Faith tracks such as "Can't Find My Back Home" and "Presence Of The Lord." Winwood's Traffic numbers, "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Pearly Queen," get a lot of Clapton solo love, and their back-to-back tribute of "Voodoo Chile" and "Little Wing" to their former contemporary, Jimi Hendrix, honors the master's original manuscripts as they add their own signatures.

Crowd-jolters such as "After Midnight," "Low Down," and "Tell The Truth" keep the pace grooving along right up through Clapton's classic (and J.J. Cale composition), "Cocaine" -- with a seventh inning stretch of segued solo songs (Clapton on Robert Johnson's "Rambling On My Mind," Winwood on Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind") providing a brief reprieve from the bluesrocking. The best compliment that can be paid to this live reunion is that it comes off like a boot, with none of the performances seeming overly precious or rehearsed. With Clapton and Winwood obviously having such a good time on this project, creating another studio experiment possibly is crossing their minds. But maybe they shouldn't mess with a good thing. Live From Madison Garden perfectly reacquaints us with the kind of primal, bluesy rock that this duo's early records introduced us to four decades ago.

Tracks:

CD 1:
1. Had To Cry Today
2. Low Down
3. Them Changes
4. Forever Man
5. Sleeping In The Ground
6. Presence Of The Lord
7. Glad
8. Well Alright
9. Double Trouble
10. Pearly Queen
11. Tell The Truth
12. No Face, No Name, No Number

CD 2:
1. After Midnight
2. Split Decision
3. Rambling On My Mind
4. Georgia On My Mind
5. Little Wing
6. Voodoo Chile
7. Can't Find My Way Home
8. Dear Mr. Fantasy
9. Cocaine

DVD 1:
1. Had To Cry Today
2. Them Changes
3. Forever Man
4. Sleeping In The Ground
5. Presence Of The Lord
6. Glad
7. Well Alright
8. Double Trouble
9. Pearly Queen
10. Tell The Truth
11. No Face, No Name, No Number
12. After Midnight
13. Split Decision
14. Rambling On My Mind
15. Georgia On My Mind
16. Little Wing
17. Voodoo Chile
18. Can't Find My Way Home
19. Dear Mr. Fantasy
20. Cocaine

DVD 2:
Documentary: The Road To Madison Garden
Documentary: Rambling On My Mind (includes Eric Clapton at a sound check)
Bonus Material: "Low Down," "Kind Hearted Woman," and "Crossroads"

Tori Amos -- Abnormally Attracted To Sin

This ol' pro had us at "Crucify," "Silent All These Years," and "Cornflake Girl." Though Tori Amos' career may have suffered from being overly prolific and recording some questionable cover songs, every new album is a bouquet of interesting, intelligent songs for her loyal fans. Abnormally Attracted To Sin delivers just what the title implies, sex and religion -- make that sexy religion -- in biblical proportions. The wordy "Mary Jane" alone needs its own gospel to interpret its strange rhymes and elongated verbiage. On the other hand, "Welcome To England" sutures a concise vocabulary to an artsy, Kate Bush-style melody. Speaking of Bush, check out "Fire To Your Plain" and "That Guy" for more of that vibe, try "Maybe California" for some beautifully orchestrated heartbreak, "500 Miles" for a semi-folky anthem, and the closing track for a sultry, after hours come-hithering: "Boys play well into the night, 'Can I join you?' said the lady in blue." Tracks to forgive but respect for their ambitiousness are "Give" that trips over it own clunky, chunky synth, and the dissonant "Strong Black Vine" that musically wraps around itself like an Escher graphic. As a whole, the album will work best for those abnormally attracted to Amos, while others can cherry-pick its tempered decadence for a handful of guiltless pleasures.

Tracks:
1. Give
2. Welcome to England
3. Strong Black Vine
4. Flavor
5. Not Dying Today
6. Maybe California
7. Curtain Call
8. Fire to Your Plain
9. Police Me
10. That Guy
11. Abnormally Attracted To Sin
12. 500 Miles
13. Mary Jane
14. Starling
15. Fast Horse
16. Ophelia
17. Lady In Blue

Mat Kearney -- City Of Black & White

For a time, the singer-songwriter genre was unfairly marginalized and in real danger of being wiped out by quirk-for-quirk's sake eccentricity. Times change, and along came a cartel of artists on the pop scene such as John Mayer and Jason Mraz who, by example, educated their generation and reminded older fans about that style of music's merits. Like his contemporary Matt Nathanson, Mat Kearney has been on the verge of "breaking" for years, partly due to the path pioneered by the likes of Mayer, but mostly from his music's continued presence on über-popular television shows like Scrubs, One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, Grey's Anatomy, Kyle XY, Bones, and many more. Following his equally fine 2007 album Nothing Left To Lose, City Of Black & White showcases twelve more examples of TV-friendly songs that should both fit into your flat screen habits and his demo's daily lives.

Kearney's relaxed, natural style has much in common with Five For Fighting's John Ondrasik's, but his everydude persona has the potential of connecting him more effectively with a broader audience. On his new album, he ignores pretense and overkill and happily embraces his inner Hornsby, Sting, and Bono, tossing hooks and vocals about like the pros of yore. Wisely leading-off with one of the strongest tracks, "All I Have," a parade of similarly-sounding songs follows and establishes Kearney's consistency. "Fire & Rain" (as in "...my love will not fade through the fire and rain," located nowhere near James Taylorland) acts like the album's second kick-off to a procession of fine writing and pleasing aesthetic choices, though they are a bit on the safe side production-wise.

On one of the best tracks, "New York To California," Kearney performs his piano ballad with a real genuineness, something that a performer like Adam Duritz might have been tempted to over-dramatize. And one of the best moments occurs during the sublime vocal arrangement and guitar/piano noodlings at the end of the title track that weirdly evokes the mood of Joni Mitchell's "Two Grey Rooms" from her criminally ignored Night Ride Home album. That brings us to one small suggestion: In the future, it might be wise for Kearney and his production team to employ more of these colors in his palate since most of the album is so straight forward in its approach that ears may stray. However, though City Of Black & White casually portrays the world that most of us live in with few excessive frills or flowery poetry and no daredevil musical antics to speak of, that simple, natural approach does make this an honest champ.

Tracks:
1. All I Have
2. Fire & Rain
3. Closer To Love
4. Here We Go
5. Lifeline
6. New York To California
7. Runaway Car
8. Never Be Ready
9. Annie
10. Straight Away
11. On & On
12. City Of Black & White

Kate Voegele -- A Fine Mess

No, A Fine Mess is not one, thank you very much. Kate Voegele's second album (following last year's debut, Don't Look Away) doesn't suffer the sophomore jinx, and it finds the singer maturing slightly despite her role as One Tree Hill's young pop waif. Actually, with Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton moving on to career adulthood and greener pastures over the Hill, now would be a great time for the show's handlers to feature the singer-songwriter-actress front and center since her material is stronger than a lot of the licensed-in emo and bad boy semi-rock the show famously locks its plots around.

The album, right. At times, A Fine Mess occasionally seems inspired by old Belinda Carlisle records like "Circle In The Sand" ("99 Ways"), and there are a handful of hints that Fiona Apple's been checked out a time or two. Other times, like when listening to "Angel," you can't help but compare her to Miley Cyrus. Everything, literally, has a fat, over-memorable, pop chorus that will haunt you at times when you'll wish it would just leave you alone. Kate's potential and talent are obvious, but she might be in danger of burning out too quickly if her records continue heading down that mandatory, cookie-cutter, Disney meets American Idol road. She's too good to be the latest variation of a purity ring--see South Park's Jonas Brothers episode for more cynicism. Sure, Kate is young enough to have done two ultra-pop albums in a row without a critical backlash, but her handlers now need to let her experiment with more durable writing and recording so that ultimately, her career does not reflect this album's title. For now, it's all good, maybe even too good. But just like One Tree Hill's four-year leap forward and Murray's and Burton's wise career moves, it's now time to move on already, for Kate's sake.

Tracks:
1. Inside Out
2. 99 Ways
3. Who Are You Without Me
4. Angel
5. Sweet Silver Lining
6. Playing With My Heart
7. Manhattan From The Sky
8. Talkin' Smooth
9. Lift Me Up
10. Say Anything
11. Unfair
12. Forever And Almost Always