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BuzzCuts: New Music

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In this week's reviews: Meat Loaf gets "batty" again, The Who jumps back with first studio album in 24 years, Craig Morgan spins inviting yarns, My Chemical Romance delivers muddled experiment, Willie Nelson partners with Ryan Adams for powerful "Songbird," and Lady Sovereign serves "Public Warning" on her U.S. debut

Meat Loaf - "Bat Out Of Hell III – The Monster Is Loose"
"Endless Wire" - The Who
"A Little Bit Of Life" – Craig Morgan
"The Black Parade" – My Chemical Romance
"Songbird" – Willie Nelson

"Public Warning" - Lady Sovereign

Meat Loaf, "Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose" (Virgin)

Twenty-nine years after the original "Bat Out of Hell" album — and 13 years after its sequel — Meat Loaf returns with the third installment of the franchise.

"Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose," sees longtime collaborator, Jim Steinman, contribute seven of the albums 14 songs, including the hit, "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," made famous by Celine Dion. Oddly enough, the 58-year old Meat Loaf not only pulls it off as a strong duet with Marion Raven, but delivers it with bombastic flair that resonates throughout the record.

At times, most of the tracks on the album live up to the dramatic expectation that Meat Loaf fans have come to love, though the Steinman compositions clearly feed the beast. Among them, "Seize the Night," a 10-minute composition that holds its own as one of the stronger tracks within the entire "Bat" universe. Another interesting track, "In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King," alludes to what Richard Wagner could do with a rock band.

But Steinman had a smaller role on this record — partly due disagreements that led to a lawsuit over the "Bat Out of Hell" name, partly due to reported health problems — and that's part of the problem. The album lacks the cohesiveness as the previous ones. Of his seven songs, one comes from his solo record, and the two others were part of his "Batman" musical. Regardless of these retreads, it's Steinman's Wagner-inspired rock operettas that feed the beast, both in terms of lyricism and structure.

Desmond Child, who also produced the album, has writing credits on most of the other songs. Child — the songwriting journeyman responsible for a slew of hits, including Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" — tries hard to compliment Steinman. Among his contributions is the title track, "The Monster is Loose," co-written with Nikki Sixx, of Motley Crue fame, and John 5, from Marilyn Manson.

While this "Bat Out of Hell" peaks at times, its still the runt of the bat litter. Ah, but don't be sad, "cause two out of three ain't bad." (John Carucci)

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The Who, "Endless Wire" (Universal Republic)

Almost 25 years since the Who's last studio album, 1982's "It's Hard," the legendary rock band behind such anthems as "My Generation" is back — older, not as invincible, but still rocking out, minus two members.

"Endless Wire" is an ambitious cauldron of 19 songs written by gifted guitarist Pete Townshend and funneled through singer Roger Daltrey's rough but capable pipes.

It's also the Who's first studio album without bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002 (wild-eyed drummer Keith Moon overdosed in 1978). And while "Endless Wire" certainly isn't vintage Who, there's enough '70s swagger and emotional grit on it to take notice.

"Fragments," which opens with the swirling synthesized intro of 1971's "Baba O'Riley," sets a retro tone.

Following in the footsteps of classic Who rock opera "Tommy," the album showcases a 10-song mini-opera, "Wire & Glass," originally composed by Townshend for his Web novella "The Boy Who Heard Music."

About a band of teens who rise to stardom as seen through the eyes of an aging '60s rocker in a sanatorium, the mini-opera's best songs range from the R&B stomper "Pick Up the Peace" to the harmony-laced "We Got a Hit."

Daltry's voice, like a joyously worn but worldly Billie Holiday, conveys time-seeped wisdom through Townshend's lyrics on fictional fame, love and tragedy.

The album's most compelling moment, however, isn't conceptual but personal.

On "You Stand By Me," a spare acoustic tune less than two minutes long, Townshend thanks his longtime girlfriend Rachel Fuller, and Daltry, telling them: "You take my side, give me back my pride."

With his arrest in 2003 as part of a crackdown on Internet child pornography — he said he was doing research and was eventually cleared of any charges — the song rings out as a refreshing sliver of vulnerability, frank words from a man whose career has lasted longer than most.(Solvje Schou)

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Craig Morgan, "Little Bit of Life" (Broken Bow Records)

Sit back, pour yourself a cup and let Craig Morgan continue to spin tales of "A Little Bit of Life" in his sleepy Southern style.

In a continuation of tunes like his No. 1 "That's What I Love About Sunday," Morgan delivers 11 snapshots of the mostly quiet life — and an occasional rowdy moment or two.

In "The Ballad of Mr. Jenkins," he tells the poignant story behind the old man on the bar stool clutching his bourbon. "My Kind of Woman" is a tribute to his wife, Karen. "I Am" gives you a glimpse of the artist, while "Tough" praises the woman of the house in the sometimes hard-scrabble rural life.

The album's title track (and current hit) opens with a banjo lick reminiscent of Keith Urban that resurfaces in other cuts. The album's solid instrumental backgrounds complement Morgan's energetic vocals.

"International Harvester," an ode to the farm combine, opens with the machine firing up, then fades into a banjo and fiddle riff while Morgan sings about the machinery. Kenny Chesney may have had his tractor, but not the sound effects.

Lyrics drive Morgan's album — his fourth — and get a delightfully listenable treatment from the artist.

His look at the bucolic life is summed up in "Nothin' Goin' Wrong Around Here," about life in a town that's "half a mile between the city limit signs ... There's always somethin' goin' on, but there ain't nothin' goin' wrong around here."

Ain't nothin' goin' wrong with this album, either. (Tom Gardner)

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My Chemical Romance, "The Black Parade" (Reprise)

Bright musicianship attempts to save My Chemical Romance's new album "The Black Parade" from becoming mired in trite experimentalism. The guys have serious chops on their instruments in this alt-emo-rock release, though it appears aloof at times.

"The Black Parade" is big and bombastic from all angles. Soaring guitar leads and top-of-the-lung vocals race along well enough on some tracks, but the arrangements can be convoluted at times. The college radio wonks may eat up this weird sub-sub-genre of rock, but the casual ear will find it confusing.

Morbid themes abound, and songs like "This Is How I Disappear" do it right. Having lost love, our protagonist must trod forward alone. Lead singer Gerard Way and his support crew are dramatic in their obsession with themes of death. This is a rock opera of morbidity, to be sure.

But tracks like "House of Wolves," with its drum-driven cadence, are all over the map. It's like four songs in one, with haphazard pacing. Perhaps the boys in My Chemical Romance are too talented for their own good, because it seems like they want to throw every trick at every song.

The result takes too much effort to comprehend and enjoy. (Ron Harris)

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Willie Nelson, "Songbird" (Lost Highway)

Willie Nelson, at 73, could be the grandfather of his first-time producer, Ryan Adams, who turns 32 next month.

They share several traits: They issue albums with a dizzying frequency; they regularly mix the transcendent with the forgettable; and they shift styles and collaborators with no apparent pattern.

"Songbird" may be credited to Nelson, but it's truly a joint effort. Adams' band, the Cardinals, lays down the tracks, and the arrangements sound more like Adams' album "Jacksonville City Nights" than anything Nelson has ever recorded. Moreover, the song selection shows Adams' predilection for the sounds of the '70s, as Nelson covers the Grateful Dead's "Stella Blue," Gram Parsons' "$1000 Wedding" and Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird."

Still, Nelson's the only voice we hear, and his sly, mystical intonation and jazzy, heavy-string acoustic guitar blends well with the Cardinals' loping Americana sound. The covers, with their complex emotional themes, fit with Nelson's sage perspective.

But the most powerful songs come when Nelson and Adams re-fashion several of the Red-Headed Stranger's older songs, especially a galloping take on the little-known "We Don't Run" from Nelson's 1996 album, "Spirit."

This time, these two compulsive artists gamble and win. (Michael McCall)

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Lady Sovereign, "Public Warning" (Def Jam)

London's reigning rapper, Lady Sovereign, comes correct on "Public Warning." She's brassy, bossy and maintains her B-girl vibe to the fullest.

She's trotted out all the old-school tools for this offering. The 808 bass effect is a heavy presence on "Gatheration." The dense electronic percussion machine was either dusted off for this hardcore track, or nicely emulated as it backs her energetic rap technique.

One minute she's dropping rhymes about slugging back drinks and hitting the bong — the self-described pint-sized clown is going all frenetic on the title track "Public Warning." Then the electro-clash technique gives way to a high-paced ska bit. Go figure. It works.

"Random" is another good song, with a lazy buzzing melody streaming through the song. She takes playful shots at a lot of rap cliches, honoring the Humpty crew one minute and blasting Atlanta's slurring `urr' crowd the next — made most popular by Chingy's "Right Thurr" hit.

Lady Sovereign does the rap game proud, and it's nice to hear her stick to some low-fi, bass heavy tricks like Roxanne Shante and BDP's Ms. Melodie long, long before her. (Ron Harris)

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Last Week's BuzzCuts: Reviews Of Albums By John Legend, Montgomery Gentry, George Jones & Merle Haggard, Paul Stanley, Frankie J And Brooke Hogan.