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New recordings: Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, Todd Rundgren [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Chris Stapleton

"From a Room: Volume 1"


It's not just any old room that's referenced in the title of Chris Stapleton's follow-up to his 2015 CMA award-sweeping "Traveller." It's Studio A, the Music City studio founded by Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley in 1965 and saved from demolition in 2014. Working again with producer Dave Cobb, the burly voiced songwriter and stinging guitarist, Stapleton went into the hallowed room and cut eight songs that he wrote while trying to make it as a country songwriter, pre-"Traveller," plus a cover of "Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning," originally recorded by Willie Nelson. (Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, is present on several tracks, as is Stapleton's wife, Morgane, who's a standout star at his live shows.) Stapleton's rugged, soulful voice burrows down into the blues on "I Was Wrong" and "Death Row" as he luxuriates in his troubles, and he amuses himself with the empty-pocketed pot smoker's tale of woe "Them Stems." By recording old, back-catalog tunes, Stapleton wisely sidesteps the pressure of following up a blockbuster release, and, at 33 minutes, "From a Room" leaves you wanting more. Which will be coming soon: "Volume 2" is due in the fall.

_Dan DeLuca


Brad Paisley

"Love and War"


As his fame grew, Brad Paisley began to go adrift. The charm curdled into smarm, and he grew a little too cute and clever for his own good. With "Love and War," however, the country superstar keeps those tendencies in check, and the result is his best album in years, reestablishing what made him so appealing in the first place with a solid collection of songs that still includes a number of sure-to-be-crowd-pleasers.

Paisley can still be funny. "Selfie#theinternetisforever" is hilarious, but it's in the service of some worthwhile advice. And "Drive of Shame," with Mick Jagger, is a taut, Stonesy lark. On the other end of the emotion spectrum, "Dying to See Her," with Bill Anderson, is a tear-jerking ballad that manages to be moving rather than maudlin, and the title song, with John Fogerty, is a scathing indictment of the neglect of veterans - a sequel of sorts to Fogerty's "Fortunate Son." The weakest number is actually the opener, "Heaven South," yet another generic paean to the region.

Paisley also has a reputation as a guitar virtuoso, and his generous helpings of Telecaster twang and other six-string delights are the icing on this cake.

_Nick Cristiano


Todd Rundgren

"White Knight"


By this point in his 50-plus-year career, no one expects the genius, Rundgren to do the usual or the conditionally successful when it comes to pattern-driven career moves. When he was a psychedelic whiz kid with hits under his belt, he moved to all-but-inventing blue-eyed soul. When white-boy R&B was a smash, he followed it up with densely complex, radically uncommercial synth-pop. Then prog rock; then industrial.

Therefore, even with something as populist as the "duets album" concept - which "White Knight" is - he messes up by not even singing on his most passionately soulful new songs, such as the icily gorgeous "That Could Have Been Me." Luckily, Rundgren's winnowing pipes can be heard on the intricately chorded Philly soul of "Chance for Us" featuring Daryl Hall and Bobby Strickland. The effect is delightful - a Gamble & Huff-worthy trio that never was. After that, the organ-driven lounge jazz of "Tin Foil Hat" allows Rundgren and Donald Fagen to trade vocal licks and eviscerating lyrics about our current president. "Deaf Ears" is the Todd and Trent (Reznor) show: a soft, twilighty production that reeks of smoldering embers. There's plenty more of the oddly alluring where that came from - yet with Rundgren at the helm, that's not a new sensation. - A.D. Amorosi



Snoop Dogg, "Neva Left"; Rascal Flatts, "Back to Us"; Faith Evans and the Notorious B.I.G., "The King & I"; The Mountain Goats, "Goths"


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