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Dylan covers Sinatra ‘Xspace’ mixed bag for Jackson fans

LOS ANGELES, May 14, (Agencies): Bob Dylan released a surprise track on his website Tuesday covering a Frank Sinatra staple, “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” fueling talk of a new album by the iconic singer this year. The 72-year-old, whose Never Ending Tour hits Europe next month, also posted a picture of himself in what looked like a mocked-up album cover with the title “Shadows in the Night.” Sinatra’s crooning voice on the “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is transposed into Dylan’s infamous growl on his version of the hit 1945 track, written by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman. Dylan’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for more information, but told Rolling Stone: “This track is definitely from a forthcoming album due later on this year.”

The mocked-up album cover was in the style of legendary jazz label Blue Note records, the magazine said. Public radio network NPR speculated that the hints might suggest an album of cover versions of classic tunes, something which he has done before with folk songs, in 1992’s “Good As I’ve Been To You” and “World Gone Wrong” (1993). In 2009 Dylan released an album of Christmas songs, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which was famously covered by Sinatra. Dylan, famous for 1960s hits including “The Times They are a-Changin’” in a long and varied career which has won him 11 Grammys including a Lifetime Achievement Award, turns 73 on May 24.

Four decades after their debut, the 1970s pioneering New York City new wave and punk group Blondie released their 10th studio album, “Ghosts of Download,” on Tuesday to mark the anniversary. “Ghosts of Download,” which features 13 new tracks, is part of a two-disc package “Blondie 4(0) Ever” that also includes an album entitled “Deluxe Redux: Greatest Hits.” “I can’t believe it,” said Debbie Harry, 68, the group’s blonde singer and punk rock sex symbol, about the longevity of the band behind hits “Call Me” and the crossover disco chart-topper “Heart of Glass.”

Harry founded the band with guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke in 1975 and went on to score a string of hits such as “The Tide Is High” and 1981’s “Rapture,” regarded as the first No. 1 hit to feature rap.
“With most of our stuff there is never a master plan,” Stein, 64, said during an interview. “It’s always just moving forward bit by bit. This is like that, you know. I think there is a do-it-yourself aspect to Blondie that is what people like.” Stein has been working on the project since the group finished their last album “Panic of Girls” in 2011. He said the new album is more computer-based than their last record, with electronic and Caribbean sounds.

“Ghosts of Download” features a mix of dance-floor music and pop tunes. On the first single, “A Rose by Any Name,” Harry performs a duet with Beth Ditto of indie rock group Gossip. “I think that the biggest thing for me about this collection is that there are so many people that have contributed,” Harry said. “And, you know, that’s a little bit unusual for a Blondie album.”

In addition to Ditto, hip hop/R&B group Systema Sola are featured on “Sugar on the Side” and Oakland-based Panamanian rappers Los Rakas can be heard on “I Screwed Up.” The stalker-love song “One Way or Another” and “Hanging on the Telephone” are among the songs on the greatest hits album by the group that has sold more than 40 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Stein will also be releasing a book of photographs of Blondie in September, and the group will perform concerts around the globe in support of “Blondie 4(0) Ever.”

Michael Jackson, “Xscape” (Epic Records)
Michael Jackson was such a perfectionist about his music that he was notorious for releasing albums on a painfully slow timeline: His last album of new music was 2001’s “Invincible” — eight years before his death — and that record was a six-year wait for Jackson’s fans. His estate is less discerning when it comes to his music. There are now two albums that have been released under Jackson’s moniker since his untimely 2009 passing — 2010’s “Michael” and now “Xscape.”

Like “Michael,” this latest posthumous release is a compilation of Jackson outtakes that includes material from decades ago, so there’s already a dated feel to much of the album, despite the wizardry and production under the helm of Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid, who worked with Jackson in the studio for one of the tracks. But that doesn’t necessarily negate the music, and some of the most enjoyable songs are the oldest: The first single, “Love Never Felt So Good,” with its mirrored-ball disco groove, is infectious and irresistible, with Jackson’s youthful-sounding falsetto sounding like it is gliding. It was recorded in 1983.

The magic continues through the funky jam “Chicago” as well as “Loving You,” a smooth, dreamy track given a fresh, modern sound, thanks to the magic of well-placed keyboards and Timbaland, the album’s main producer (the deluxe version of “Xscape” lets you compare the originals with the finished works). Songs like this make you wonder why Jackson shelved them. Things start to falter a bit with “A Place With No Name,” which has the same beat and sound as “Leave Me Alone” from the “Bad” era and is lyrically weak: We can tell why Jackson left it on the cutting room floor. And it’s a sentiment that most will share for about half of the eight-track album.

There will likely be more posthumous Jackson records, given his penchant for overproducing, but will it be music the world and Jackson’s rabid fans (of which this writer is one) will cherish? Jackson may have been neurotic about recording, but it worked: In his adult career, he created two albums considered masterpieces and others that range in the spectrum of excellent to very good to good, which is an amazing track record.
Putting out music that falls below Jackson’s standards — even if overly high — detracts from the carefully constructed catalog the King of Pop spent decades creating and protecting. The holders of Jackson’s estate would be wise to apply some of the same standards the next time they consider releasing another posthumous album.

Little Dragon, “Nabuma Rubberband” (Seven Four Entertainment/Republic)
Three years after the release of its 2011 breakthrough, Little Dragon returns with the quirky sounding and titled “Nabuma Rubberband.” After gaining underground prominence with tracks such as “Twice” and “Ritual Union,” Swedish electronic band Little Dragon’s fourth studio album “Nabuma Rubberband” references the group’s earlier records while pushing the boundaries of its electronic soul sound farther. Opening track “Mirror” harks back to the stark simplicity of “Twice,” relying heavily on vocals provided by singer Yukimi Nagano. Yet the song uses dramatic keyboard to make it seem almost spooky.

The introduction of a pounding drumbeat toward the end of the track allows variation in the song. The lead track oozes synth and progresses into a twinkling vibrato toward the track’s conclusion. Nagano claims she got inspiration from listening to the likes of Prince and Janet Jackson’s slow jams and the basic keyboard in “Paris” even seems to reference Kraftwerk with Nagano’s smooth voice uttering melancholic lyrics: “Remember you said it was Paris/You said we were gonna meet?” “Nabuma Rubberband” requires some patience. Lead single “Klapp Klapp” is the only track that really jumps out at you on first listen. But an eclectic concoction of synth-heavy tracks emerges with multiple listens.

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