Richard Thompson

New West Records
On “Electric,” Richard Thompson plugs in and delivers his most generous helping of guitar solos in many years, perhaps ever. The fretwork is marvelous even by his lofty standards, and some credit for inspiration probably goes to producer Buddy Miller, a fair picker himself.

While Thompson's notes come in a flurry, he has always been prolific as a composer, too, and here he serves up another solid batch of songs. He might get flagged for a late hit on Sarah Palin with “Sally B,” but it rocks, as does “Stony Ground,” where unrequited love turns bloody. Otherwise, the body count's lower than on most Thompson albums.

He's ably accompanied by his touring mates, drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and the arrangements give the guitarist plenty of room to do his thing. Each time Thompson launches into one of his eclectic breaks, “Electric” becomes electrifying.
— Steven Wine, The Associated Press

Frightened Rabbit

“Pedestrian Verse”
Atlantic Records
Over their first three records, Frightened Rabbit has made some big changes. We've all but forgotten about the angular, taut rock of “Sing the Greys,” since it was followed by the excellent songwriting and acoustic-driven, jangle-pop bent of “The Midnight Organ Fight.”

But “Winter of Mixed Drinks” didn't expand that so much as crushed it under the foot of some serious maximalist rock moves. That's not to say it didn't work, but old, old-fashioned warmth of “Midnight Organ Fight” became something larger as, well, the band's shows also became something larger.

So now they're a big honking rock band, with a major-label deal to boot, but “Pedestrian Verse” does not, smartly, continue to stretch those limits.
— Matthew Fiander,

Jim James

“Regions of Light and Sound of God”
ATO Records
My Morning Jacket singer Jim James has dabbled outside the band before with Monsters of Folk and other projects, but this is his first proper solo album. Begun after he was injured in a fall from the stage in 2008, and partially inspired by Lynd Ward's 1929 wordless woodcut novel “God's Man,” the present album is a loose song cycle largely concerning one man's crisis of faith and rebirth.

With James playing almost all of the instruments himself, the album moves around stylistically, as you might expect of a restless artist of James' catholic tastes.

It's more spare, however, than a typically jammy MMJ record, taking advantage of James' clear, soaring, spiritually yearning voice, particularly on the opening “State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U),” in which layers of sound are built up from a simple repeated piano figure, and the sweetly optimistic love song at the core of the album, “A New Life.”
— Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia INquirer

Josh Groban

“All That Echoes”
Reprise Records
It's a strange twist of Josh Groban's artistic fate that he is now seen as far more charming and adventurous in his extracurricular activities — fill-in talk-show host, quirky brother on “The Office,” comedian on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” — than in his music.

With “All That Echoes,” he hopes to change that. Groban teamed with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo for the new album, and there certainly are new rock-ish trappings here, starting with the Coldplayesque first single, “Brave.” The move toward pop and rock seems to be a response to the sales slide of Groban's 2010 album, “Illuminations,” his first not to go multiplatinum.

It's a good idea on paper, but in practice, Groban doesn't quite fit in with his new surroundings. On “Brave,” his classically trained, powerful vocals compete with the extra drama of the orchestral arrangements. His booming take on Stevie Wonder's “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” feels a little forced, though he fares much better on his version of “Falling Slowly,” the ballad from the movie and Broadway musical “Once,” where his strong voice is the sole focus.

And Groban still does his trademark mix of classical and pop well, especially in the gorgeous “E Ti Prometterò” and the stunningly simple “Sincera.” “All That Echoes” may not be the major shift that Groban was hoping for, but it is an interesting first step into styles he can try to master as much as the “popera” that launched him.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

The Wayne Shorter Quartet

“Without a Net”
Blue Note Records
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter ranks among jazz's greatest composers, but when his quartet performs live — as on this album — his compositions are mere frameworks for daring improvisations that take off in unexpected directions without a safety net. His acoustic quartet includes three leaders in their own right — pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade — who've developed an almost telepathic interplay after 12 years together.

On “Without a Net,” his first Blue Note recording in 43 years, the 79-year-old Shorter remakes two earlier compositions, “Orbits,” written for the Miles Davis Quintet, and “Plaza Real,” created for his jazz-fusion band Weather Report. “Flying Down to Rio,” from the 1933 film that first paired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is transformed into a harmonically complex, other worldly exploration.

There are six new Shorter compositions, ranging from the hypnotically melodic “Starry Night” to the 23-minute chamber jazz, tone poem, “Pegasus,” performed with The Imani Winds quintet that walks a tightrope between written and improvised music.
— Charles J. Gans, The Associated Press