Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor

Ben & Ellen Harper

Childhood Home

(Prestige Folklore ***)

nolead ends A mother-and-son album that waxes nostalgic for the good old days, released in time for Mother's Day: What could possibly be more sentimental, right?

Well, not exactly. This teaming of folk-soul string wizard and ace collaborator Ben Harper (who won a Grammy this year for Get Up!, his album with blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite) and his musician mother Ellen does in fact feature sweet harmony singing and odes to the pleasures of the hearth. But this set of acoustic originals - six by the younger Harper, four by the elder - is not merely pretty. "Farmer's Daughter" gives factory farming an effective punch to the gut. "Break Your Heart" reveals nasty non-romantic intentions. And "Heavy Hearted World" is a holiday song that's anything but warm and fuzzy. The Harpers make particularly pleasant music together, but it's satisfyingly prickly beneath the placid surface.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins

Owen Pallett

nolead ends nolead begins In Conflict
nolead ends nolead begins (Domino ***)

nolead ends Owen Pallett has been Arcade Fire's violinist and string arranger, and he's a go-to collaborator for many Canadian indie-rock bands. He used to release his solo work under the name Final Fantasy before shifting to his own name to avoid confusion with the video game. In Conflict is, then, the second Owen Pallett album, following 2010's excellent Heartland. It's an ambitious, artful work that blends electronic programming with a live rhythm section, orchestral synthesizers with a real orchestra (the Czech FILMharmonic), and a theatrical sense of melody with a dramatic flair for mood swings.

The album ranges from the dense, insistent fanfare of "The Riverbed" (one of several tracks with Brian Eno) to the swirling electro-rock of "Infernal Fantasy" to the sweet, gradually accelerating title track. Pallett, in his often-soaring tenor, sings of characters in turmoil, conflicted about their desires and their behavior, but ultimately the album is more about synthesis than conflict.

- Steve Klinge

Hunter Hayes


(Atlantic Nashville ***)

Unless you had tickets in advance, you didn't catch Hunter Hayes' quickly sold-out tour-ending show at the Trocadero on Saturday night. Too bad. Hayes in a live setting is an awesome thing. Luckily, a new album from the Louisiana-born multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer (for both himself and Rascal Flatts) is now here, and it's a thought-provoking humdinger.

While Hunter's anti-bullying anthem "Invisible" is heavy-handed, the rest of Storyline is a study in vocal subtlety (his expressive voice has the tone of a mature but still youthful Luke Bryan), lyrical shading, and feathery melody.

Hayes may traffic in recognizable totems on songs like the title track, with its "fast car," "James Dean spirit," and "Norma Jean heart." Still, the wealth of emotions this 23-year-old conjures feels somehow fresh. The same goes for the unpredictable mysteries Hayes finds in a kiss during the bracing slap of "Wild Card": "It's funny when you tell me you don't think you're all that interesting / I beg to differ / With you I'm out here on the edge of my seat."

- A.D. Amorosi

Top Albums in the Region

This Week Last Week

Locally   Nationally   Locally

1   1    Various Artists Frozen   1

2   5    Iggy Azalea New Classic   2

3   2    Lindsey Stirling Shatter Me   -

4   3    Ray Lamontagne Supernova   -

5   6    Pharrell Williams G I R L   5

6   8    Timeflies After Hours   -

7   17    The Grateful Dead   Dave's Picks, Vol. 10  -

8   21    Miss May I Rise of the Lion   -

9   18    August Alsina Testimony   4

10   7    Future Honest   3

SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 5/17/14 © 2014

In Stores Tuesday

Black Keys, Turn Blue;  

Michael Jackson, Xscape;

Coldplay, Ghost Stories;  

Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines