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Rock/blues

Eric Clapton Guitar Festival

Crossroads: Live at Madison Square Garden

[Rhino/Reprise]

ΩΩΩ½

Some of the guitars on this incredible two-disc set of live performances from Madison Square Garden in April do indeed gently weep, as the late, great George Harrison might have put it. But some also wail, scream, yelp, strum, stutter, thunder and party down. Some are electric, some acoustic, some pedal steel. They’re played by great rock guitarists, great blues guitarists, great jazz guitarists, great folk guitarists, great country guitarists and just about any other kind of guitarist Eric Clapton might get turned on by.

The discs are a record of Clapton’s two-day event to benefit the Crossroads Center in Antigua, a center for the treatment of alcoholism and addiction, which he founded in 1998. With Clapton issuing the invitations, the roster is as mind-boggling as you would imagine it to be: Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Keith Urban, John Mayer, Vince Gill, Earl Klugh, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Steve Cropper, Doyle Bramhall II, Gary Clark, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, Taj Mahal, Albert Lee, Los Lobos and the Allman Brothers.

The music, obviously, is about as wildly eclectic a set of sublime guitar noise as you’re likely to find. The news there is that obviously some of it is much better than others. But you won’t find a second where you can’t discern the pleasure that these guitarists had in playing for and with their crazily gifted peers.

You could make a good argument that there is no other instrument whose players are as much a brother- and sisterhood as the guitar. It’s the proposition proven all throughout this.

A DVD of the event is available, too.

– Jeff Simon

Pop

Beyoncé

Beyoncé

[Parkwood/Columbia]

ΩΩΩ

Beyoncé gets plenty of credit – OK, way more than plenty – as a singer, a dancer, a businesswoman, a mom. But she’s also a master of the humblebrag, that strategic assertion of modesty that actually demonstrates one’s fabulousness.

She unloads a great one near the end of her just-released, self-titled album, which appeared last week on iTunes free of any advance warning.

First we hear Ed McMahon on “Star Search” introducing an early version of Beyoncé’s group, Destiny’s Child. Then the talent show host reveals that the outfit has been defeated by a band called Skeleton Crew. “Star Search” branded her a loser, the clip is telling us, but Beyoncé somehow mustered the resolve to carry on.

“Beyoncé” is a kind of humblebrag, reminding us that only she can afford to drop product into a crowded marketplace without mounting the type of elaborate promotional campaign we’ve seen lately from the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake.

What’s exciting about the record, beyond its means of delivery, is how the music similarly blends the intimate and the extravagant.

Made up of 14 new songs accompanied by 17 new music videos, “Beyoncé” is by far the most sexually minded album from a singer who’s often projected a virtuousness at odds with peers such as Rihanna and Lady Gaga. In “Jealous” she memorably describes an evening at home – “I’m in my penthouse half-naked/I cook this meal for you naked” – and in “Drunk in Love” trades terrifically raunchy come-ons with Jay Z; it’s like an NC-17 sequel to their 2003 smash “Crazy in Love.”

Yet rather than dramatize these moments with in-your-face production a la Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé underplays many of them, often murmuring her most explicit lyrics in a breathy purr that forces you to lean in and listen – another sly application of her power.

She does the opposite in a handful of bigger-sounding production numbers, making razzle-dazzle pop out of small-scale sentiments that might have seemed on paper like fodder for hushed ballads. “XO,” for instance, begs a lover for a kiss amid firework synths and a marching-drum beat, while the anthemic “Pretty Hurts” makes a considered case against our obsession with physical perfection.

In spite of the misgivings she airs in “Haunted,” she’ll make money off this – loads of it, no doubt. But, perhaps more important, she’ll also keep hold of our attention long enough to surprise us again.

– Mikael Wood,

Los Angeles Times

World

Kevin Seddiki and Bijan Chemirani

Imaginarium

[World Village]

ΩΩΩ½

It may be the most basic – and one of the most ancient – musical ensembles in the world: a duet of musicians composed of one player of a plucked, picked or strummed string instrument and one percussionist. Add an instrumental drone, and you’ve got the basic trio ensemble of Indian classical raga.

Surround the two extraordinary musicians here with guitars, various Persian drums and other percussion instruments, and you have a disc of no small magic.

Omni-guitarist Kevin Seddiki has played with Al Di Meola since 2009 but has also played with Argentine bandeonists, Greek musicians, accordionists from Madagascar and singers from Italy, France and Lebanon, among many others. Persian percussionist Bijan Chemirani has been heard with world musicians as well as jazz guitarist Sylvain Luc and, yes, Sting.

The music they improvise together is magical. It is more lyrical, less ecstatic and more aphoristic than Indian raga, but it has some of the same primal magic of a guitarist/lutenist (rather than sitarist) and percussionist playing enormously complex rhythms.

The two musicians spend most of their year living in France. What they do together is to imagine music of extraordinary charm and beauty on top of that ensemble so primal everywhere in the world.

It is, as so much of the best improvised modal music from world traditions is, resistant to all easy classification or genre identity. It’s the rudimentary idea behind so much of the world’s music but taking whatever it wants for wherever it chooses. Go in one direction and you’ve got raga. In another, you’ve a string version of Egberto Gismonti or Ralph Towner or the late Collin Walcott.

Stay in their “Imaginarium,” and it’s magical.

– J.S.

Pop

Justin Bieber

Journals

[Island Def Jam]

ΩΩ½

Justin Bieber is developing a habit of pushing things just a little too far.

Whether it’s his confrontations with the paparazzi or his dissing of presidents, Bieber has been going one step (or more) beyond what would normally be acceptable positions. His new album, “Journals,” is just the latest example of the problem.

Bieber has collected all the songs he’s released in the past 10 weeks on his “Music Mondays” and thrown in a few more songs and the trailer to his upcoming movie and call it a new album. The “Music Mondays” was a cool thing, getting new music to his fans quickly. But a lot of these songs don’t sound formally finished, and he travels a lot of the same ground in several of them – broken relationships set to Justin Timberlake soul. Is there much difference between “All Bad” and “Bad Day”? No.

But there is a huge difference between “Bad Day” and his new single, “Confident,” which shows Biebs moving into hip-hop with a catchy, memorable groove and first-rate help from Chance the Rapper. It’s a sign that Bieber will move through his current struggles into even greater success. The throwback groove of “Rollercoaster” backs that up, as does his tender pop “Heartbreaker.”

So why further confuse Bieber’s status with songs that probably wouldn’t make the cut on a regular album? Someone needs to explain to him that he can take a break and have his career survive. In fact, a break probably would help his career.

– Glenn Gamboa,

Newsday