Spring Music Preview 2010

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Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge's latest reunites her with John Shanks — he started as her guitarist and became a producer for Bon Jovi, Miley Cyrus and others. "When we sat down, I said, 'Let's make that Zeppelin record we always wanted to make!'" says Etheridge. The pair realized their goal on raucous, riff-y tracks like the title tune and "Nervous." Etheridge really lets it rip on "Miss California," about the state's ban on gay marriage. "I thought California was so forward-thinking," she says. "Proposition 8 was a reality call."

"This record is about greed, vengeance and feminism," says Courtney Love of the ragged rock songs on her first LP in six years — and the first she'll release with a new incarnation of Hole. Writing began in 2005, while Love was strumming raw folk tunes on an acoustic during a rehab stint. But as the songs developed — with help from producer Michael Beinhorn, Billy Corgan and Linda Perry — Love says, "Shit got darker, I got meaner, and the tracks got hard and big." Highlights: a ballad called "Honey" and the scuzzy, blues-derived punk tune "Skinny Little Bitch." "It's more important than any record I've made," says Love. "And who says rock & roll has to be made in six fuckin' weeks?"

Broken Social Scene
The sprawling Canadian collective brought a mob mentality to its fifth album: "It's a lot more fun than being in a four-piece band," says Broken Social Scene co-founder Brendan Canning. Cut mostly in Chicago, the LP features a dozen or so contributors, including Feist, Emily Haines of Metric and Pavement's Scott Kannberg. The sound is surprisingly reined-in on pretty tunes like "All to All," a sparkling, loop-driven song, and "Sentimental X's," a country-rock cut where Feist, Haines and Amy Millan harmonize over busy, syncopated drums and chiming effects.

Court Yard Hounds
"We've been better known as background singers, so it's exposing," says Martie Maguire of the album she and her sister Emily Robison made without fellow Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. With Maines semiretired, the sisters began cutting demos — and wound up with a full-length disc, complete with bare-bones ballads and a Jakob Dylan cameo. "The album isn't very country," says Maguire. "I have a hard time thinking of myself as a country artist."

The Hold Steady
Frontman Craig Finn says the New York rockers' fifth album is "more of a guitar record. It sounds like a Hold Steady record, but it's something new, too." The LP reunites the band with producer Dean Baltulonis, who worked on the group's first two LPs, and has some typically arcane rock-geek references: "We Can Get Together" is about two people playing and discussing the songs they love, including Pavement's "Heaven Is a Truck" and Hüsker Dü's "Makes No Sense at All." Lyrically, the album deals with "embracing suffering and finding reward in our everyday lives," says Finn. "There's heavy parts and funny parts."

The New Pornographers
"I wanted to bridge the gap between Led Zeppelin and [Sixties psychedelic pop band] the Fifth Dimension," says Carl Newman, chief songwriter for Canadian-American power-pop collective the New Pornographers. Newman recorded Together in his native Vancouver and in a cabin in upstate New York, enlisting guests like Annie Clark of St. Vincent, who played a trippy guitar solo on the ballad "My Shepherd." Together still sounds like the New Pornographers, thanks to its catchy British Invasion melodies and to longtime Pornographer (and solo star) Neko Case, who sings lead on several songs, including "The Crash Years," a rocker with strings and flutes, and "My Shepherd," whose lyrics are based on the creepy 2007 documentary Crazy Love. "She's a secret weapon," Newman says of Case. "It's hard not to use her."

The National
After breaking out with 2007's slow-burning set Boxer — which includes the ballad "Fake Empire," used to soundtrack an Obama campaign spot — Brooklyn indie rockers the National are amping up their sound for the follow-up, a set of aggressive tunes that guitarist Aaron Dessner describes as "cathartic and darker." The disc, which features cameos from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens, will contain cuts like the crunchy "Blood Buzz, Ohio" and the orchestral "L.A. Cathedral." "It starts as a stately, elegant affair but explodes in the end," says Dessner. "It'll be great live."

The Black Keys
The Black Keys assumed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where the Rolling Stones cut "Wild Horses," would have incredible mojo. "Awesome things happened there in the Sixties and Seventies," says drummer Patrick Carney. "That's the mystique." But when the Akron, Ohio, garage-blues duo arrived in August, they found a spare, rundown building in a ghost town. Fueled by local dirt weed and vending-machine snacks, the pair banged out 16 songs in 10 days, recording everything with gear that co-producer Mark Neill trucked in from San Diego. The result is an album that's darker and more stripped-down than 2007's Danger Mouse-produced Attack and Release. "We like spooky sounds," says Auerbach. "Not like Tim Burton spooky, but more like Alice Coltrane, where a dark groove is laid down."

Stone Temple Pilots
The grunge-era rockers' first new album since 2001 was inevitable, says singer Scott Weiland: "I always felt it would happen. We left things incomplete." The band-produced LP collides riff rock and Beatles psychedelia with gospel-rocker "Maver" and the Seventies-style "Huckleberry Crumble." Weiland sings of his impending divorce and his brother's recent death, while guitarist Dean DeLeo lays down heavy blues and Spiders From Mars-style licks. "Dean really stepped up," says Weiland. "His playing is amazing."

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"I knew there was something in the band that hadn't been brought out," says Tom Petty, who let the Heartbreakers run wild on Mojo, his loudest, loosest, bluesiest album ever. "I was listening to early Jeff Beck Group, Peter Green, Muddy Waters, even a little JJ Cale — so that's kind of the way I was thinking when I was writing." To make it all work, Petty pushed guitarist Mike Campbell to let go of his signature restraint and step up as a guitar hero: He solos with almost Buddy Guy-like abandon throughout and riffs Zep-style on the surprisingly heavy "Good Enough." There's more than just blues rock here, though. "First Flash of Freedom" has a psychedelic swing that suggests Love; the stoner's lament "Don't Pull Me Over" is an unexpected stab at reggae; and "The Trip to Pirate's Cove" is a classic Petty story-song ("I've got a friend in Mendocino/And it's getting close to harvest time," he sings). Says Petty, "We were having so much fun recording that we had to force ourselves to pull the plug — it could have gone on and on."

"These new songs are pretty true to what we would be doing if we would have gone into suspended animation 20 years ago and just woke up," says Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo's first album since 1990. "If you listen to some of them with your eyes closed, you might go, 'Oh, my God, it's Album One, Side Three' or Freedom of Choice, Side Three.'" Outside collaborators, including Lily Allen producer Greg Kurstin and Santigold, were brought in to work on the tracks. "Devo are rather insular, so we wanted to work with people who are connected to the rest of the world," says Mothersbaugh.

Nas and Damian Marley
Nas and Damian Marley's last collaboration — a track on Marley's 2005 LP Welcome to Jamrock — went so well that the pair decided to team up again for a new album. This time, they focused on a common theme: Africa. "We always thought we'd give something back to Africa," says Marley, who will donate proceeds from the disc to various charities. Highlight: the funky, horn-driven "As We Enter," which samples Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke and features Nas rhyming "Ghana" and "Obama."

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

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