Fall's Harvest Of New Music CDs

Bruce Springsteen performs with the E Street Band in a benefit rehearsal performance at the Paramount Theater in his beloved Asbury Park, N.J., on Sept. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
AP Photo
Sunday Morning music critic Bill Flannagan says that the music industry has produced many fine albums this fall.

There will be new releases from the Eagles, Madonna, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Joni Mitchell, Kanye West and many other big stars. If this is the end of the album, it's going down swinging.

Country icon Allison Krause has teamed up with Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant to make a brilliant CD called "Raising Sand." Plant and Krause might seem an unlikely duo, but they share a keening - a longing in their voices that strips these rock and country songs back to their haunted souls.

"Magic" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is a real rock record, with the vocals mixed low and the guitars up-front. It sometimes seems as if Springsteen has aged backwards.

He started out in his twenties writing songs full of warmth and nostalgia. In his fifties he sounds fiercer, more defiant and less sure that the comforts of old friends and shared experience is a real defense against the world's darkness. Springsteen has more fight in him than rockers half his age.

Photos: Born In The USA
I hope that the attention on Bruce's record won't cause people to overlook the fine new album by Patti Scialfa, E Street Band member and Mrs. Springsteen. On "Play It as It Lays," her distinct voice has emerged as a strong woman holding onto a belief in the best possibilities in spite of the world's disappointments. She has the gift for writing very specific details that speak to common experiences.

Counting Crows have a new album called "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings" that back in the days of vinyl would have been a double-LP. The "Saturday Nights" half is rowdy rock and roll dealing with getting drunk, chasing girls, and falling down. "Sunday Mornings" is delicate folk rock that deals with the consequences, and to my ears is the more interesting half of the story.

Lyle Lovett is at that dangerous point in his career where he¹s been so good for so long that we might begin to take him for granted. Well, his new album, "It's Not Big, It's Large," will nip that in the bud. The record is beautifully played and produced, but beneath the smooth surface there is a profound sense of mortality; a recognition that even in our brightest days, night is coming, and what makes life worth living in the face of that is love and memory. Lyle Lovett has never made a bad album, but this one is exceptional.

Rilo Kiley are a beloved indie rock band or at least that¹s who they were until now. Last year singer Jenny Lewis made a great solo album which got a lot of attention. So now Rilo Kiley are in the position that the Faces were with Rod Stewart or Genesis was with Phil Collins: When the singer¹s side projects get bigger than the band, the band has to either step up or break up.

So Rilo Kiley are rolling the dice. They have signed to a major label and traded in their alternative rock for dance beats that recall Gwen Stefani or Blondie. Some purists will be offended, but who invites purists to a party? Rilo Kiley's "Under the Black Light" proves that dance rhythms, sweet melodies, and smart lyrics are not mutually exclusive.

I know Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder proved that in 1971, but sometimes we forget.

Are albums as we've known them going to go away, to be replaced by digital downloads of individual songs? Maybe, but these new releases demonstrate that there's a lot of life in the old format. We live in a short attention span society, but some pleasures are worth spending time on.