David Bowie, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Crime & the City Solution 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge The Next Day CD

David Bowie

The Next Day

Columbia Records

File next to: Peter Gabriel, Scott Walker

Return to form or overhyped letdown? David Bowie's first album in a decade has met with both responses, but deserves neither. Despite conventional wisdom, The Next Day is not the long-overdue successor to his revered '70s "Berlin Trilogy." That already happened with 2002's Heathen, a triumphant reunion with producer Tony Visconti released at a point when all but the most loyal fans had lapsed into "how can we miss you if you won't go away" apathy. But Bowie's post-heart-attack absence has changed all that. With Visconti still onboard, The Next Day includes some fairly stunning tracks ("I'd Rather Be High," "Valentine's Day," "Where Are We Now?") and solid lyrics ("I'd rather be dead or out of my head / Than training these guns on those men in the sand"). But too much here feels musically unadventurous, delivered in an atypical monotone with no ambient or dissonant soundscapes to justify it. Bowie is clearly still capable of great albums, but this isn't one of them. — Bill Forman

click to enlarge Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer CD

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer

Child Ballads

Wilderland Records

File next to: Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Sandy Denny

Anais Mitchell knows how to keep fans guessing. The Vermont singer-songwriter, who will be performing at this year's MeadowGrass Music Festival, followed up a straightforward folk album (The Brightness) with an operatic retelling of the Orpheus myth (Hadestown), which in turn led to last year's genre-hopping Young Man in America, a concept album about her father. When Mitchell brought her opera to Denver in 2011, she opened the show by playing a couple of Old English ballads with collaborator Jefferson Hamer, which is now the focus of Child Ballads. While the title may suggest a kids' production, it's actually a reference to 19th-century folk-music curator Francis Child. The seven songs here are long and tortuous murder ballads and tales of lost love (try "Sir Patrick Spens"), all but one clocking in at over six minutes. If you like the Joan Baez or Sandy Denny style of heart-wrenching folk tune, you'll want to pick up this eclectic but beautiful collection. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge American Twilight CD

Crime & the City Solution

American Twilight

Mute Records

File next to: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Ennio Morricone

Australian post-punk outfit Crime & the City Solution's last LP was released in 1990, but the band has roared back to life with an expanded lineup on American Twilight. Though the group is now based in Detroit, the music here is often fit for a hallucinogenic western film, buzzing with thunderous, twangy guitars (courtesy of longtime member Alexander Hacke and Colorado's own David Eugene Edwards) and a galloping rhythm section, all led by the ominous voice and obtusely poetic lyrics of frontman Simon Bonney. It's perhaps obvious for an album titled American Twilight to be described as apocalyptic, but there is a palpable sense of unease and grandeur that runs throughout. You can feel it in jagged rave-ups like the title track and "Riven Man," the mariachi trumpets on "My Love Takes Me There," and the silky violin and backing vocals of Bronwyn Adams on "Domina." American Twilight is a sweeping, glorious "second coming" from a frequently overlooked band. — Collin Estes

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