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New CDs from big names in the business won't disappoint

Posted 9:12am on Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012

The season of summer blockbusters is winding down -- when it comes to movies, that is.

The music industry is just getting started, with a powerhouse slate of talent ready to unveil fresh albums from now until very nearly the end of the year. The remaining weeks in September alone pack a massive amount of new material, enough to make your iPod run for cover.

Here's a look at five of this week's biggest releases; you can hear samples from each record below.

David Byrne & St. Vincent, 'Love This Giant'

What's most surprising about Love This Giant isn't how cohesive the dozen tracks turn out to be, but rather why it took so long for David Byrne and St.Vincent (nee Annie Clark), like-minded purveyors of smart, edgy alt-rock, to join forces. Wisely, rather than punching out a dozen tunes blending a bit from each's wheelhouse, Giant (produced by the pair, with assistance from Patrick Dillett and Dallas' John Congleton) pushes the singer-songwriters into slightly foreign territory, which is startling, given that each wrote their own material and then solicited feedback from the other.

Lead single Who, with its herky-jerky rhythms, serrated guitar and jabs of brass, neatly encapsulates and celebrates the differences, and reveals surprises about both musicians. Byrne, no stranger to pop songs conceived at odd angles, forgoes his usually meticulous approach for something warmer and looser, while Clark erases the last vestiges of her perky accessibility ( Weekend in the Dust sounds positively desperate). Guests are scarce (Antibalas and the Dap-Kings contribute welcome splashes of sound), and the first thought that occurs after closing track Outside of Space and Time fades from the speakers is: How soon can Byrne and Clark create a sequel?

Dave Matthews Band, 'Away From the World'

For Away From the World, its sharpest studio effort in nearly a decade, the Dave Matthews Band gave up collaborating with hip, pop radio-minded producers and returned to the understanding ears of producer Steve Lillywhite, who guided the band's indispensible first three albums. Matthews still has a knack for penning some truly awful lyrics -- "We've got to do much more than believe if we want to see the world change," goes a groaner from Gaucho -- but the musicianship has not sounded this sharp since 1998's Before These Crowded Streets. Anchored by drummer Carter Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard, DMB manages some gorgeous moments, especially during the one-two opening punch of Broken Things and Belly Belly Nice.

The group seemed sluggish in concert this year, but perhaps World will guide a collective that's been around for more than two decades back to a path of rewarding creativity and renewed focus on its considerable sonic skills. By blending its vivid style and a lyrical preoccupation with mortality, the Dave Matthews Band is aging, if not gladly, at least gracefully.

ZZ Top, 'La Futura'

ZZ Top knows a thing or two about years spinning out -- it has been nearly a decade since the Texas trio's last studio effort (2003's middling Mescalero). Although La Futura has its roots in unlikely places (Houston's fertile hip-hop scene), the album evokes ZZ Top's '80s glory days without falling prey to slavish re-creation of past successes (although Chartreuse skates a little too close to Tush for comfort).

Compact at 40 minutes, this Rick Rubin- and Billy Gibbons-produced collection roars out of the gate with the gritty I Gotsta Get Paid, inspired by Houston DJ DMD and his single 25 Lighters. Throughout La Futura, ZZ Top sounds not like elder statesmen of Texas rock, but rather, a hungry young band ready to rip the roof off a sweaty, packed club near you -- a near-perfect fusion of the past and the present.

Bob Dylan, 'Tempest'

For Tempest, his 35th studio album, Bob Dylan -- he of the eternally sepulchral croak -- wades into the mists of memory intent on making them immediate and striking. Working as his own producer (under the pseudonym Jack Frost), Dylan cranks up the way-back machine from the opening moments of Duquesne Whistle through to the epic, nearly 14-minute title track centered on the sinking of the Titanic. Along the way, Dylan finds time to pay tribute to fallen friends ( Roll On John, which glances fondly backward at the late John Lennon) and continue dragging classic American music out of the attic, blowing off the dust and making it feel fresh once more. Given his erratic nature in concert, Dylan is more a curator and archivist than a strict performer at this stage of his decades-long career. At the very least, Tempest is stronger than Dylan's last offering (2009's wretched misfire, Christmas in the Heart), suggesting twilight has not yet set in.

Amanda Palmer, 'Theatre Is Evil'

Even without the infectious, glammed-out arena rock coursing through its veins, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer's first record in four years packs quite a back story. Frustrated with record labels' inability to market her music and effectively reach her rabid fan base, Palmer reached out via Kickstarter to fund what would become Theatre Is Evil, raising more than a million dollars in the process. The cash infusion allowed her to collaborate with Dallas producer John Congleton and mount an impressive, involved campaign to thank her dedicated followers. Still, Evil is an engaging, full-bore experience, blasting listeners with Palmer's frenetic fusion of mood and melody -- Do It With a Rockstar is wryly funny, while The Killing Type unsettles nicely -- and underscoring the value of following your gut, particularly in today's unforgiving, myopic marketplace.

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