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Third Eye doesn't miss beat

August 20, 2009|Mikael Wood; Randy Lewis

Third Eye Blind

"Ursa Major"

Mega Collider

* * *

This San Francisco alt-rock outfit hasn't released a new studio album since 2003, back when it was still riding on the fumes of "Semi-Charmed Life," its late-'90s radio smash. But just as Weezer's cult classic "Pinkerton" eventually came to influence a generation of young emo bands, Third Eye Blind's music has over the intervening years become an unexpected touchstone for groups like Panic! at the Disco and Boys Like Girls -- acts that didn't even exist the last time Third Eye Blind was an aboveground concern.

Perhaps it's that after-the-fact renown that's kept frontman Stephan Jenkins in fighting form, for rather than seeming like an aging has-been on "Ursa Major," Jenkins instead comes on like he never left the scene. In fact, with its pulsating rhythms and crisp guitar fuzz, the new record actually does a better job of extending the band's early work than did its lukewarm previous effort, "Out of the Vein."

The Third Eye Blind sound is still appealingly idiosyncratic: Though he's a fine melodist, Jenkins often sings with the percussive attack of a rapper, as in "Don't Believe a Word," where he takes part (invited or not) in the ongoing conversation regarding hip-hop's sociocultural obligation: "Rap stars brag about shooting each other / Whatever happened to, 'Brother, brother'?" he sings, invoking Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

And though founding guitarist Kevin Cadogan left the group following 1999's "Blue," Jenkins here expertly re-creates the hard-edged jangle that always distinguished Third Eye Blind from its blander radio-rock peers, such as Train and Matchbox Twenty.

-- Mikael Wood

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Reba's appeal is undeniably broad

Reba McEntire

"Keep on Loving You"

Valory/Starstruck

* * 1/2

Things are tough out there for women: working women, single women, married women, lonely women, abandoned women. But they've all got Reba, the Oprah of country music (and billed first-name only here), to turn to for a word of wisdom, comfort, advice or some down-home common sense.

The Oklahoma-born singer-turned-actress, 54, has an uncanny way of staying connected to longtime fans and bringing new ones aboard. It can't hurt that she's kept herself visible in recent years on television, on Broadway and on concert stages, while musically she reaches out on each album with songs for pretty much every one of those aforementioned constituencies.

Over the course of "Keep on Loving You," the messages get a bit mixed: In "Consider Me Gone," she sings of cutting losses and moving ahead quickly when the passion has left a relationship; then in "I Keep on Loving You," the recommendation is patience and forgiveness for a partner who missteps time after time; in the sinister "Maggie Creek Road," it's serious payback time for one pistol-packin' mama who's scarred but not scared.

McEntire spends most of the time in the country-pop-rock end of the musical spectrum she helped map out in the '80s. It is, however, a delight to hear her return to her Western swing roots in the closing track, "I'll Have What She's Having," because she has the requisite rhythmic spring down to her marrow.

-- Randy Lewis

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