Arctic Monkeys, "Suck It and See" () -- It's already a year for bands side-stepping, if not quite backing away from, experimental steps forward, as Britain's super-hyped Arctic Monkeys do on this fourth album. Letting go of most, but not all, of the trippy sounds they explored on "Humbug" two years ago, the band instead plugs into a late-'70s riff-rock mode that feels much more natural, even if Alex Turner, 25, stretches to sing about "kung fu fighting on your roller skates." You can almost hear the roar of the Trans Am engine and the T-top breeze in your hair through many of these tracks, heavy with deep grooves but brightened by light, chiming choruses, such as lead single "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I Moved Your Chair." It's like a war between brothers -- one who likes Thin Lizzy and one who likes Big Star. The title track is gorgeous and appropriately leering ("That's not a skirt, girl, that's a sawn-off shotgun / and I can only hope you've got it aimed at me"), and "Library Pictures" is a smooth suite that shows how this band has matured.
Dawes, "Nothing Is Wrong" () -- Dawes opens its sophomore album again in the mindset of the band's Laurel Canyon heyday heroes (Jackson Browne, the Eagles, CSN, etc.), explicitly celebrating "that special kind of sadness" one acquires after some "Time Spent in Los Angeles." While Taylor Goldsmith celebrates anything that "makes the days move easy" ("If I Wanted Someone"), he also plumbs the depths of loneliness in some finely crafted modern country-rock songs. "My Way Back Home" turns the desolation of touring into a six-minute epic (this is for all the lonely people...) and wrings out his emotions in a guitar workout, while on two other songs he turns soft and acoustic, unlike the band's confident debut, 2010's "North Hills." L.A.'s actual Laurel Canyon neighborhood is now little more than the subject of books and documentaries, but Dawes -- already a great live band, and recently hired as Robbie Robertson's backing band for some gigs this year -- keeps it alive as a sunny but melancholy destination in our collective cultural consciousness.
Are you still ready for the country? -- Neil Young this week releases "A Treasure," a live album recorded during a tour with the International Harvesters in 1984-85, leading up to his straight-up country album "Old Ways." This cobbled-together set isn't all country itself ("Grey Riders" is finally released, and rocks hard), but it reverberates with his old ways ("Comes a Time") and preverbs some later moves ("Harvest Moon").
Various Artists, "Chicago Blues: A Living History -- A (R)evolution Continues" -- Producer Larry Skoller once again assembles a crack band (Billy Boy Arnold, Lurrie Bell, guests Buddy Guy, James Cotton, many more) to pay tribute to our city's colossal blues heritage, which he did in 2009 with the original, Grammy-nominated "A Living History" album. For round two, the band hop-scotches through a curriculum of important musical moments from the '40s to the late '90s. The achievement of these sets is that they don't try to sum up Chicago's entire blues history in two discs, but they do present a smart and skillful conversation that's educational and entertaining. More info here.
Emily's Army, "Don't Be a Dick" -- If you haven't reached for the Geritol lately, try this: Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong produced this debut album by the band featuring his teenage son. Joey Armstrong and three pals tagged the quartet for a 5-year-old relative, Emily, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and the fund-raising organization they established in her name. With members ranging between 15 and 17 years old, this first set of pop-punk songs is expectedly brash, cheeky and funny -- pretty much like early Green Day.
Joe Jackson, "Live Music" () -- Post-punk pianist Joe Jackson has shifted between pop music and classical ambitions for more than three decades, and he still sometimes strips the gears. On his fifth, count 'em fifth, live album -- this one documenting some dates with his trio last year in Europe -- Jackson noodles around through several hits and album cuts (and covers, including a weary "Girl" but a bristling "Scary Monsters"). Little is shown off other than Jackson's pathological passion for rearranging his material. But just because you can turn "Sunday Papers" into a funky jazz ditty doesn't mean it attains new powers, and his croaking through the chorus of "Another World" is a point against his vehement pro-cigarette stance. It's slightly limp up against the trio's "Summer in the City" live album, but a jazzy Jackson is better than a symphonic or conceptual Jackson, even if live albums are now half his output (three live and three studio since 2000).
Chris Difford, "Cashmere If You Can" () -- The shy Squeeze lyricist continues emerging from his shell on his third solo outing, his boldest yet. That's not saying much for the calm and quiet Difford, whose debut ("I Didn't Get Where I Am," 2003) mastered sweet subtlety, but here he amps things up -- not to 11, but at least to about 5 or 6, opening with an almost rockabilly retrospective, "1975," and continuing the backwards glances on the countryish "Back in the Day" and the Squeeze-like pop of "Like I Did." Each song has a wildly different personality, but the through-line remains Difford's flair for lyrical detail, despite the unfortunate moralizing on "Who'd Ever Want to Be."
Chicago, "Live in '75" -- If you're old enough to remember when Chicago was a stadium act, as opposed to today's more modest gigs (though they return late this summer for two nights at Ravinia), you're the target audience for this new set, the band's fourth live collection. Recorded in June 1975, this double-disc captures the band at the peak of their popularity, and already waxing nostalgic. "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" is introduced with, "We're gonna keep being nostalgic because everybody digs that nowadays." Now more than ever. The concert includes covers of "I'm a Man" and "Got to Get You Into My Life."
Curiosity of the week: The Grascals, "Dance Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Ravelin': A Tribute to the Music of 'The Andy Griffith Show'" -- Nashville bluegrass band the Grascals go for the MeTV crowd with this EP featuring six songs heard in episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" ("Dooley," "Boil Them Cabbage Down," "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)," etc.) plus one original based on a line from the show ("Boy, Giraffes Are Selfish"). They walk it like they talk it: "We do have a real affinity for the show," says singer-guitarist Terry Eldredge. "I firmly believe that each of the episodes offers up a real moral code that we should all aspire to live by. [We] watch the show every night."