Now Hear This 

Reviews of recent releases by Patterson Hood, Sonic Youth, Naomi Shelton and more.

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Patterson Hood, “Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)” (Ruth St.)
That parenthetical subtitle isn't just a forlorn irony: Indeed, these are all love songs in some way or another, but in Patterson Hood's world, love can end in murder just as easily as it can lead to happiness. On the title track, murdering Oscar is a redemptive act, and the dozen other songs examine other facets of that theme.

Unlike his debut, the largely acoustic “Killers and Stars,” “Murdering Oscar” is a solo album in name only: It features most of Hood's band, the Drive-By Truckers, members of Centro-Matic and the Glands, and Hood's father, famed Muscle Shoals bass player David Hood. These musicians lend the album its scope, which ranges from AM country gold to dirty swamp funk to stripped-down soul, and which makes a dynamic backdrop for Hood's musings on hard-luck characters and family bliss. Oscar may think differently, but like most of the Truckers' albums, this collection portrays Hood as one of the most thoughtful, imaginative and generous American songwriters working today.  HHHHH  — Stephen M. Deusner

On Friday, June 26, at 1 p.m., Patterson Hood signs his new album at Deep Groove Records, 317 N. Robinson St. Richmond artist Wes Freed, who's created the album covers for the last five Truckers albums as well as Hood's solo album, also will be on hand to sign.

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, “What Have You Done, My Brother” (Daptone Records)

Leave it to old school connoisseur Gabriel Roth, producer and bassist with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, to pluck another undiscovered jewel from the soul-club fray.

Raised in Alabama, Naomi Shelton, 66, has lived in Brooklyn and performed her sultry hybrid of gospel and soul for three decades now, her muscular vocals strutting alongside the likes of Ruth Brown, Wilson Pickett (briefly) and others.

Now with veteran musical partner, Cliff Driver, a blind organist and bandleader who paints in broad, unself-conscious strokes, Shelton steps into the limelight. The result is one of the bluesiest bursts of gospel-tinged soul in years.

Backed by core members of the Dap-Kings — including Sharon Jones on some backing vocals — Shelton teases out the blues, whether it's the more upbeat, classic soul tracks, such as the moody title number, or the rootsy gospel material, such as “Jordan River.” The music can sound like an oldies flashback, but the lyrics have been updated, such as on “Am I Asking Too Much?” when Shelton sings: “If they take my son and ship him to Iraq/am I asking too much to know when he's coming back?”

Other highlights include the closer, a stirring cover of Sam Cooke's legendary civil rights song, “A Change Is Gonna Come” which captures its gravitas while still sounding like a triumphant, personal statement of faith and resolve from the no-nonsense Shelton. HHHHI  — Brent Baldwin

Sonic Youth, “The Eternal” (Matador)
It seems impossible that Sonic Youth could last nearly 20 years on a major label, but its Geffen debut, “Goo,” came out in 1990, and it signed with Matador just last year. The band's first indie album in decades shows it's even further refined its noisy rock, with little curlicues of distortion accentuating songs such as “Antenna” and the surfy “Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn.” Few bands young or old can deconstruct a melody so artfully, which perhaps says more about perpetually in-the-pocket drummer Steve Shelley than the sounds Thurston Moore coaxes from his guitar. “Anti-Orgasm” builds to a screeching crescendo, then without missing a beat devolves into a warped spaghetti western that slides gracefully into “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso).” John Agnello's production makes the band's signature dissonance sound a little too slick on the classic-rocking “No Way” and the fatally mellow “Walkin' Blues.” It may have mellowed a bit, but Sonic Youth is treating middle age like just another teenage riot. HHHII — Stephen M. Deusner

Sonic Youth performs with the Entrance Band at the National on Wednesday, July 8, at 8 p.m. 612.1900, www.thenationalva.com.

DVD:  Scott Walker, “30 Century Man” (OscilloScope)
Ohio native Scott Walker became a British pop star in the '60s by showcasing his polished baritone with the Walker Brothers, later venturing into a solo career that has been influential, if hardly lucrative. But unless you prefer your old-school Parisian-style crooning with surreal lyrics involving gonorrhea, whores and death, you probably haven't heard it. Walker slipped into obscurity during the last three decades, releasing increasingly dark and experimental work that blends elements of orchestral and electronic music with pop, heavily influencing stars from David Bowie and Brian Eno to Radiohead, the Smiths and others interested in avant-garde Brit-pop.

Director Stephen Kijak paints a vivid portrait of Walker's independent career as an unhurried perfectionist more interested in expressing his abstract art than his commercial appeal (with his good looks and dramatic vocals, there's the assumption that he could've been a mainstream hit). In interviews, Walker comes off as open, charming and intelligent; there are also comments from Sting (“he reminds you of the darkness behind romanticism”) as well as Bowie and Eno gushing about Walker's importance to pop's cutting edge. As Eno self-referentially says, “I keep hearing all these bands that sound like Talking Heads and Roxy Music. … We haven't really gotten any further than this. It's a disgrace, really.”

Released by the Beastie Boys' distribution company, the DVD features a few average extras such as interviews and more recent studio recording footage. HHHII — Brent Baldwin



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