Quick Spin Record Reviews: The Oak Ridge Boys, Passion Pit and Utada

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

THE BOYS ARE BACK

The Oak Ridge Boys

The title of the Oak Ridge Boys' latest album could be taken to suggest a return to pop-country form after years of making mostly gospel records. And yet take one glance at the songwriting credits -- John Lee Hooker, Neil Young, Ray LaMontagne -- and it's obvious that this isn't the second coming of "Elvira."

To say nothing of the record's apocalyptic-sounding version of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Cynics might write it off as late-career pandering to the youth market. But with bass singer Richard Sterban matching the bum-bum-bum of the White Stripes' version note-for-note, and the rest of the voices re-creating the chords that Jack White plays on the chorus, the Oaks sound nothing if not committed -- and inspired. And, as their by turns tender and robust harmonies on the spiritually themed likes of "Hold Me Closely" and "You Ain't Gonna Blow My House Down" attest, they haven't exactly abandoned their Southern gospel roots.

Still, the mood is reinvention, assisted, in no small way, by producer David Cobb. With his help, the Oaks turn Hooker's "Boom Boom" into a full-tilt romp and rework LaMontagne's "Hold You in My Arms" as if demoing it for Solomon Burke. William Lee Golden's elegiac take on Young's "Beautiful Bluebird" offers yet another highlight. The Shooter Jennings-penned title track might be hampered by some narrow-minded blurring of church and state, but it's imaginatively arranged, with down-home rhythms that owe as much to ZZ Top as they do to the Dirty South.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Seven Nation Army," "Hold Me Closely," "Beautiful Bluebird"

MANNERS

Passion Pit

It's not entirely Passion Pit's fault. The comparisons to last year's hipster band, Vampire Weekend, just kind of write themselves. Consider: Both bands are straight-outta-the-J. Crew-catalogue upstarts who have fashioned sharp, pleasure-filled debuts out of the most unpromising of source materials. For Vampire Weekend, it's a fusion of world music, pop and Peter Gabriel; for Passion Pit, it's uncool '80s new wave, the Beach Boys and, well, Vampire Weekend.


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