New releases from dance to downhome and back

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This week’s new music has it all, from vampires to show choirs, with dance and bluegrass in between. Divas Christina Aguilera and Erasure’s Andy Bell bring on the dance, Jewel and Dierks Bentley interpret country, plus the “Glee” and “Twilight Saga” soundtracks continue their cultural domination.

Christina Aguilera
“Bionic”

imageWell, the lead single from this album sums things up pretty succinctly: Aguilera just isn’t herself these days. Maybe it’s too much electronica in the morning, maybe it’s nostalgia for her wild days before she had a kid, and maybe it’s true that she’s feuding with reigning dance/pop diva Lady Gaga.

Whatever the reason, Aguilera decided to go all techno on this follow-up to 2006’s “Back to Basics.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Xtina, and I love dance music (probably too much), but something about these tracks just feels cold. It’s almost as if Aguilera made a dance version of the last few Janet Jackson albums – the tracks sound OK, but given who we’re dealing with, they just don’t mesh like they should. And since she has several Grammy Awards and that strong, golden voice, I expect better.

The best songs on the album are “All I Need,” “I Am,” and “You Lost Me,” which were all co-written by Australian singer Sia. That makes me wish Aguilera had ditched old faithful producers like Linda Perry and Tricky Stewart and just worked with Sia. Hell, the Sia-penned bonus track “Stronger Than Ever”–and the five other bonus tracks on the iTunes deluxe version–is better than most of the tracks on the album. Take these nine tracks and the lead single “Not Myself Tonight,” and you have a decent record.

If Aguilera is really gunning for Lady Gaga’s position on the charts, then Gaga has nothing to worry about. Maybe the dance remixes will help endear fans, but Aguilera missed a step on this one.

Andy Bell
“Non-Stop”

imageThe Erasure vocalist’s sophomore solo album is definitely the sequel to 2005’s fabulous “Electric Blue.” Bell packs each track with as much electronic pop and pizzazz as he can, while managing to keep passion and pathos in this voice.

The first two singles, “Running Out” (briefly available on iTunes under the alias “Mimo”) and “Will You Be There” are just as fantastic and imaginative as “Call on Me,” the most recent single. Bell brings his clear, adventurous falsetto to this album just like he does for his work with long-time recording partner Vince Clark as the uber-gay Britpop duo Erasure.

As if an album of dance music by Bell were not gay enough, the last two tracks really put things over the top: the campy anthem “DHDQ” is a tribute to “Debbie Harry Drag Queen,” and the album closes with “Honey If You Love Him (That’s All that Matters),” which you should keep handy for your next “Should I take him back?” moment. iTunes features the quirky bonus track “Cosmic Climb.”

Dierks Bentley
“Up on the Ridge”

imageThis sexy country star possesses a strong artistic direction, which leads him right to the mountains for this bluegrass-inspired country album. Bentley credits bluegrass and acoustic music for getting him into the music business to begin with, so this album is a chance to pay tribute to a musical style that means so much to him.

But Bentley does not follow the conventional bluegrass route, no sir. Along with original songs like the story-telling title track and the down-home “Roamin’ Gambler,” he includes his unique spin on Bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)” and U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

Longtime fans of Bentley will enjoy this latest effort, and open-minded bluegrass enthusiasts might find a couple of tracks they can play at their next hoedown.

“Glee” Cast
“Glee: The Music, Journey to Regionals – EP”

imageThe whole first season of the cultural behemoth lead up to McKinley High’s New Directions taking the stage at Regionals. To commemorate the occasion, they take us back to the beginning with some kick-ass selections from Journey – “Faithfully,” “Any Way You Want It/Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” and a new version of the electrifying “Don’t Stop Believing” from the series premiere that is just as good as the original.

Rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline brings the heat with their rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with hottie Jonathan Groff singing lead vocals. For those who haven’t yet caught up with the season finale on their DVR, I won’t spoil the ending of the episode, but cast versions of Lulu’s biggest stateside hit “To Sir With Love” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” are also included.

Thanks for a wonderful season of television and for some great music, “Glee.” We faithful Gleeks are panting with anticipation for the second season!

Jewel
“Sweet and Wild”

imageThe Alaskan singer/songwriter clearly enjoyed her foray into Nashville with 2008’s “Perfectly Clear,” because she’s back to country music on this latest album. The resulting songs are well-written with lyrics that spin yarns, hooks that grab and pull you in, and Jewel’s clear vocals.

Lead single “Stay Here Forever” finds Jewel channeling Martina McBride on an upbeat country-pop track, which reflects the pop overtones on the most of the songs on the rest of the album. A deluxe version is available with a bonus disc featuring acoustic versions of all 11 tracks.

“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Soundtrack”
Various artists

imageIt might seem chic to publicly poo-poo the whole “Twilight” phenomenon while secretly being interested, but I say just give in and have a guilty pleasure, damn it. The soundtrack for the third film is a great collection of music reflecting a wide arc of moods, unlike the more somber and dreary soundtrack to “New Moon.”

Fresh from his “True Blood” soundtrack work, Beck teams up with Bat for Lashes on the sexy and ethereal “Let’s Get Lost,” and Muse pines away for true love on the Killers-esque “Neutron Star Collison (Love is Forever).” Cee Lo Green’s “What Part of Forever,” Sia’s “My Love,” Vampire Weekend’s “Jonathan Low,” and Metric’s “Eclipse (All Yours)” are just a few of the other outstanding tracks on the album.

iTunes offers a deluxe edition with two bonus tracks and two bonus remixes, so fans might find it worth your while to drop the extra few dollars.

imageProfessional university administrator by day and roving entertainment reporter by night, Buck Cooke moved to Atlanta in 2000. Armed with a passion for pop culture and rabid appetite for music, Buck scours the entertainment landscape for treasures in music, TV and cinema.

Of course, supporting your local gay retailers with your hard-copy music purchases is always encouraged. Remember Brushstrokes and Outwrite when you’re out shopping for CDs, DVDs and other gay sundries. Both places are great about orders for out-of-stock items, too.

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