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Mraz celebrates love on 4th album

Jason Mraz

``Love is a Four Letter Word”


Jason Mraz is true to the title of his new album, singing about all kinds of love on ``Love is a Four Letter Word.”

The 33-year-old singer-songwriter explores romantic notions, familial bonds and big, universal love on his fourth studio release. He also expands his folk-pop sensibilities to include reggae and jazz rhythms layered with horns and vocal harmonies.

Mraz is at his best with his guitar and silky, lilting voice front and center, as on the soaring ``93 Million Miles,” where he sings reassuringly, ``Just know you’re never alone; you can always come back home.”

He continues that theme of connection on the happy sing-along ``Everything is Sound,” the single ``I Won’t Give Up” and the upbeat ``Living in the Moment,” singing, ``Wherever I’m going, I’m already home.”

Mraz gets jazzy as he pleads for truth on ``Be Honest” and sings about the joy of music on the reggae-flavored album opener, ``The Freedom Song.” He offers an admiring tribute to his grandfather on ``Frank D. Fixer,” which closes with a rollicking harmonica solo.

The songs about heartache don’t detract from the optimistic vibe of this 12-song collection, which Mraz has described as ``personal, melodic and mellow.”


Neon Trees value punch over purpose

``Picture Show”

Neon Trees


The band Neon Trees has decided to double down with the brash synth-rock sound on ``Picture Show,” its sophomore release. The all-Mormon foursome from Provo, Utah packs a decent pop punch, but the arrangements meander from cautious to, unfortunately, contrived.

The band is fronted by Tyler Glenn, a talented vocalist full of tricks who is not afraid to use them all. The opening vocals on ``Moving in the Dark” have tinges of Axl Rose’s soaring ``Appetite”-era scream. And he’s just getting started.

Songs such as ``Teenage Sounds” and ``Hooray for Hollywood” supply plenty of pace, while lacking ingenuity. Drummer Elaine Bradley has the speed to drive a fast song faster, but her by-the-book turns and fills lack imagination.

Musically, it all circles back to Glenn’s vocals. If you like a raucous and occasionally whiny delivery, he’s your guy. Not to diminish his skill set, but his voice can go from good to grating in a heartbeat. Still, he’s the straw that stirs the drink.

All in all, ``Picture Show” is a scattershot approach to being a well-backed rock band. Perhaps there’s a nice car commercial track here, and movie soundtrack song there and hopefully a hit along the way. Yet, the album feels artistically rudderless.


Album that will resonate with all

“Older Than My Old Man Now” 

Loudon Wainwright III 

(2nd Story Sound)

Few make the personal universal better than Loudon Wainwright III, and on “Older Than My Old Man Now,” he sings for us all on the topics of decline, death and family dysfunction.

These have been recurring subjects in the Wainwright oeuvre, but now that he’s 65 ― and well aware his dad passed away at 63 ― nearly every song touches on death. Even the novelty tunes fit with the album’s theme ― “Date Line” looks at the passage of time from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the hilarious “My Meds” is a druggy tune for the senior crowd.

Inventive musical arrangements keep things from becoming too grim, and a large supporting cast helps, too. Among those contributing are all four of Wainwright’s children and even his late father, who was a columnist for Life magazine. Loudon reads two eloquent essays by his dad that fit beautifully.

Also included is the only song co-written by Wainwright and his late first wife, Kate McGarrigle, a tune from 1975 called “Over the Hill.” Some 37 years later, Wainwright finds the clock still running out.

The album closes with “Something’s Out to Get Me,” a ballad full of foreboding but also life-affirming. As the closing lyric notes, we’re all in this together. (AP)