Judas Priest, “Firepower” (Epic Records)

Music Review: Judas Priest goes ballistic on ‘Firepower’

If you think these heavy metal dinosaurs have had it, you’ve got another thing coming.

“Firepower,” the fast-paced title track from the British steel merchants’ latest album, is the best song Judas Priest has recorded in nearly three decades, kicking off a strong album that stands with any they’ve done before.

Though not intended as a concept album, “Firepower” has a common thread running through much of it, songs from the viewpoint of soldiers or warriors in battle, whether it’s the unnamed foes in the title track, the devil in “Evil Never Dies,” or mortal opponents in “No Surrender.” The album ends with “Sea of Red,” an ode to those who died in battle so that others might live.

The album also features a string of “Blacklist”-type villains, each given a sinister name that could have formed an episode of the James Spader TV show: “Necromancer,” ”Flame Thrower” and “Spectre.” Come to think of it, shave off singer Rob Halford’s beard, plop a fedora atop his head and he’d look more than a little like a heavy metal Raymond Reddington.

Though not the vocal siren he used to be, Halford is still scary, intense and convincing in the lower registers.

“Firepower” may also be the last album that founding guitarist Glenn Tipton plays on, having retired last month from touring due to Parkinson’s disease. But he’s holding out the possibility of future contributions, and his solos here with guitar colleague Richie Faulkner are definitely Priest-worthy.

WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press

 

David Byrne, “American Utopia” (Todomundo/Nonesuch)

Music Review: David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ seeks answers

David Byrne has been asking questions and looking for answers since the first Talking Heads album over 40 years ago, and “American Utopia” continues that healthy habit.

His last release billed as a solo album was “Grown Backwards” from 2004 and from then on Byrne’s been releasing joint ventures with folks like St. Vincent, Fatboy Slim and Brian Eno.

The new album is Byrne’s alone but it is “based on original tracks” by Eno, who also plays on several of the tunes, while two songs are co-written, performed and produced with Brooklyn-based Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never. Go figure.

Whatever the songs’ origin, the result is a mix of some anxious, highly-charged moments tempered by sweet melodies and gentle rhythms.

Sometimes it all happens on the same track. Opener “I Dance Like This” starts as a gentle piano ballad, albeit with quirky lyrics, and turns into an assault of mechanic rhythms before switching back again. “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” could be off “Naked,” the last Talking Heads album, while the South American refrain from “Every Day Is A Miracle,” a song with four drummers plus drum programming, would fit on “Rei Momo,” Byrne’s first post-Heads solo album.

The “ripe for a remix” and sinuously danceable “Everybody’s Coming to My House” reminds of LCD Soundsystem in more than just its title, while “Bullet” is a poetically graphic description of a projectile as it makes its way through a man’s body.

In his liner notes, Byrne says “music is a kind of model — it often tells us or points us toward how we can be.” On “American Utopia,” you can find questions and reflections about how we are and how we can be. Here’s hoping the path between the two is not a road to nowhere.

By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press

 

Jimi Hendrix, “Both Sides of the Sky” (Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy)

Review: Jimi Hendrix studio archives plucked for new album

Elvis has left the building but Jimi is still busy in the studio. Or so it would seem from the staggering number of posthumous Hendrix albums that record labels, bootleggers and — for the past two decades — his family have been releasing since his death in 1970.

“Both Sides of the Sky” is billed as the last in a trilogy gathering assorted Hendrix studio recordings, following 2010’s “Valleys of Neptune” and 2013’s “People, Hell and Angels.” Nearly the full batch comes from sessions at New York’s Record Plant between Jan. 1968 and Feb. 1970.

Ten of the 13 tracks are billed as previously unreleased, though several are alternate or instrumental versions of known Hendrix tracks.

A take on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” recorded just 42 days after the end of the festival, features Hendrix on bass, with vocals and organ by Stephen Stills. It sounds like a demo of the track released by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young some five months later. Hendrix switches to guitar on another Stills tune, “$20 Fine,” which also sounds very CSN&Y. Or, rather, CSNY&H.

Lonnie Youngblood sings and plays the sax on “Georgia Blues,” while Johnny Winter contributes his usually excellent slide guitar to “Things I Used to Do.”

“Sweet Angel,” the oldest track here and the only one recorded in London, is an instrumental version of “Angel,” a beautiful ballad and close relation to “Little Wing.”

“Power of Soul” was mixed by Eddie Kramer and Hendrix at his own Electric Lady Studios just weeks before his death. Hendrix was known to be a perfectionist and maybe he’d have continued tweaking the complex, upbeat, optimistic song, but it seems to provide the clearest sample of what may have come next.

By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press