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Album Review: John Mayer's 'Born and Raised' rears its graceful head
Credit: Columbia Records

Album Review: John Mayer's 'Born and Raised' rears its graceful head

New set shows not only growth, but that he's growing up

That sound you hear on John Mayer’s “Born and Raised” is an artist entering a new phase of his career, and, more importantly, his life.

The highly personal set, out Tuesday, May 22, is a stripped-down collection of tunes, mainly recorded as a four-piece, that has plenty to say, but is in absolutely no rush to make its point.

Whether it’s that life slapped Mayer around a bit lately after opening his mouth a few too many times about his love life, his having to deal with ongoing vocal issues, or producer Don Was’s relaxed approach —most likely a combo of all three — the multiple Grammy winner sounds more inviting than he has in years.

Gone is the condescension of “Daughters” or the lofty idealism of “Waiting on the World To Change.” They’ve been replaced with a much more appealing seeker who has way more questions than answers these days. Even his guitar playing, as elegant and nuanced as always, never veers into the showy. He has a certain Eric Clapton/George Harrison-esque ease on confessional first single, “Shadow Days.”

The tracks are all mid-tempo (which is the album’s one weakness: too many songs of the same speed), but each one has its own personality. On the lovely “A Face To Call Home,” on which he’s aided by Sara Watkins, he yearns to jump ahead and start a life with someone that he’s still in the “getting-to-know-you” stage: “I am an architect of days that haven’t happened yet/I can’t believe a month is all it’s been.”  That first line is a killer: who hasn’t let their thoughts jump way ahead? "Something Like Olivia" has a sweet wistfulness as he longs for his buddy's girl.

Watkins is not the only well-placed guest: most fitting are David Crosby and Graham Nash who wrap their vocals around the title track; a tune the sounds straight out of an album from The Band with its country leanings and Greg Leisz on lap steel. Trumpeter Chris Botti adds a tasty flourish to the opening of the fantastical (and intriguingly titled) “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, Jan. 1967”

The set closes with the bluesy, fun “Fool To Love You,” which has the same shambolic feel of “Who Says” from  2009’s “Battle Studies’,” although the subject matter is different. As he heads into a doomed relationship, you can hear the rueful smile on his face as he sings, “I’ll be as happy as a broken man can be.”

There are no signs of any of the vocal issues that have plagued Mayer, causing him to temporarily halt work on this album and then, later, to cancel his tour when the vocal granuloma returned. He has always had an instantly recognizable raspy voice and any weary, weathered vocals evident on these tracks is no doubt intentional rather than from any voice problems. 

If the world came a little too easily for Mayer in his 20s, as he closes in on 35, he’s realized that life has a way of coming back around to slap the stuffing out of you at some point and that’s when the true tests begin.

“Born and Raised” is John Mayer with a side of humility and it suits him well.

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<p>Michael Haneke and the cast of &quot;Amour&quot; arrive for the film's Cannes premiere.</p>

Michael Haneke and the cast of "Amour" arrive for the film's Cannes premiere.

Credit: AP Photo/Francois Mori

Queuin' in the rain: Cannes 2012 hits the halfway mark

13 out of 22 Competition films have already been unveiled

It's generally a sign of a lukewarm film festival when the principal point of conversation across the Croisette is not which A-list auteur just set the Competition afire, which out-of-competition sleeper is one to watch for future months, or even the surreal sight of ill-fated US "X Factor" judge Cheryl Cole walking the red carpet for, of all things, the new Michael Haneke movie, but the rather more mundane topic of the weather.

Admittedly, it's quite some weather: where festivalgoers can usually count on catching a bit of a tan as they queue up in balmy Mediterranean conditions for the day's hot ticket, this year we'll merely settle for staying dry. It is, according to those in the know, the wettest Cannes on record -- which makes the prospect of sitting in a dark room watching even the most gruelling festival fare a more appealing prospect than usual. If you can get into the room in the first place, that is. Whether it's down to increased accreditation numbers or this year's Hollywood-heavy lineup, the festival feels more crowded this year than in either of the previous years I've attended -- a reality that hit yesterday as I was turned away from three consecutive screenings, as the white- and pink-badged elite filled the theaters before the lowlier classes could get a look-in. 

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<p>Reggie Watts in Hot Chip's &quot;Night and Day&quot;</p>

Reggie Watts in Hot Chip's "Night and Day"

Watch: Hot Chip, Peter Serafinowicz and Reggie Watts combine for 'Night and Day'

So a supermodel, a comedian and a dance band walk into the galaxy...

If the Hot Chip video for banger "Night and Day" were a movie, I'd watch the hell out of it.

The clip was directed by actor Peter Serafinowicz and utilizes polar-opposite recruits Reggie Watts and supermodel Lara Stone to man the spaceship. Their combination is well til it ends well. (Read my obsessive interview with comedian/musican Watts here.)

And precisely occurs on this ship? What is their mission? I don't know, but now my mission is to abduct the choreographer, in order to learn step-by-step Gaga style. What genius it took to make hooded robes out of actual hoodies and for a sexy ritual dance for a half-man-sized egg god, the eye of the yin and yang...divine, intergalactic styling.

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<p>From Sigur Ros' &quot;Eg anda&quot;</p>

From Sigur Ros' "Eg anda"

Watch: Sigur Rós new track 'Ég anda' shows you what to do if you choke

One of eight music videos commissioned for the new album 'Valtari'

Sigur Rós don't want you to choke and die. They have a video to help you through such a problem, were it to occur.

The music video  to "Ég anda," directed by Ragnar Kjartansson, is the first of eight commissioned clips to accompany each of the songs off of Sigur Ros' new album "Valtari." Kjartansson recruited some real characters for this, who waver between Wes Andersonian deadpan to cartoonish ecstasy in this step-by-step instructional vid.

The band ask from each of their filmmakers/artists to create a video of whatever comes to mind when the creators hear their songs. This one apparently made Kjartansson gag (ba-dum-bum-bum).

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master' appears to be just one of the things worth being excited about in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, one of three previewed tonight by The Weinstein Company.</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master' appears to be just one of the things worth being excited about in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, one of three previewed tonight by The Weinstein Company.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

The Weinsteins unveil early peeks at 'Django,' 'The Master,' and 'Silver Linings' at Cannes

The rest of the year should be nothing but roses for The Weinstein Company

CANNES - The invitation arrived yesterday afternoon, and it immediately got my attention since the giant banner on the front of the Majestic Hotel has been driving me crazy all week long.  It's very simple, just the Saul Bass-style chain design and the title "Django Unchained," but that's enough at this point.  I'm always excited by a new Quentin Tarantino film, but this one in particular tackles subject matter that I find intriguing, and I'm dying to see how it actually plays onscreen.

It was an easy decision to make.  Instead of seeing a new film tonight, I put on a suit and headed over to the Majestic, where The Weinstein Company threw a cocktail reception designed to showcase footage from three of the films they are releasing later this year.  Each of them is from an exciting filmmaker, and two of them are among the most highly-anticipated properties in production at the moment.  Earlier this afternoon, the first clip from Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" arrived online, and I posted a short reaction to that.  I was curious to see if they would show us anything different, and after about a half-hour of drinks and finger food, they ushered us into an adjoining room, where they had set up chairs and a large screen.

Harvey Weinstein walked to the front of the room and, without any preamble, just began speaking.  "Hi, everyone.  When I was 13 years old, I had a bar mitzvah, and a film was shot, but only two minutes were shown.  Marty Scorsese found it, and I got you here under false pretenses. We're going to watch the one-hour version which was lovingly restored by all the directors I've ever argued with over the years. There are no scenes of me in any of it."

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<p>Whitney Houston in &quot;Sparkle&quot;</p>

Whitney Houston in "Sparkle"

Listen: Whitney Houston's final song, 'Celebrate' from 'Sparkle'

Houston and 'American Idol's' Jordin Sparks swirl around R. Kelly production

“Celebrate,” the last song Whitney Houston recorded before her death in February, surfaced today on Ryan Seacrest's morning radio show. The tune, produced by R. Kelly for the movie “Sparkle,”  features Houston singing with Jordin Sparks, who plays her daughter in the remake of the 1976 film.

While the voice is definitely recognizable as Houston, her voice is a dusky shell of its former self, but it's still good to hear her. She leaves all the heavy lifting that used to come to her so effortlessly to Sparks, especially at the end when Sparks is cooing and soaring. (See our on-set interview with Sparks here).

[More after the jump...]

The mid-tempo song is a sweet throwback to the Supremes era (which makes sense given that the movie is about girl groups). It opens with Houston singing about how everybody is so uptight, but “finally things are looking up/the sun has chased all the rain away/no more obstacles in our way.” Sad that it wasn’t true in her real life, isn’t it.

In the choruses, she’s relatively muted playing second fiddle to Sparks or her voice is heavily doubled for the most part.

At the very end, Sparks adds, in an obvious postmortem tribute to Houston, “We love you Whitney.”

The movie, which also features Cee Lo Green, opens Aug. 17. 

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<p>The official teaser poster for Andrew Dominik's &quot;Killing Them&nbsp;Softly.&quot;</p>

The official teaser poster for Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly' poster is a provocative tease

If there was one movie to see at Cannes...

Over the past week I've been asked by a number of peers why I'm not at this year's 2012 Cannes Film Festival.  Besides the fact HitFix is being more than adequately covered by Drew McWeeny and Guy Lodge, there are a number of reasons from personal to professional. Moreover, when this year's field was announced I wasn't that disappointed in what I might be missing.  A number of films such as "On the Road" and "Lawless" look like they are favors to filmmakers (the former already confirming that after it's positive, but mediocre reviews). "Moonrise Kingdom" will soon screen in Los Angeles.  I'm a huge fan of Lee Daniels' "Precious," but "The Paperboy" looks like it could be a mess (fingers crossed it isn't).  The love by cinefiles for David Cronenberg is understandable, but I personally don't worship at the altar and "Cosmopolis" looks like a greatest hits package to me.  And as much as I appreciate Michael Haneke (back at Cannes with "Amour") and Jacques Audiard (following 'The Prophet" with "Rust & Bone"), their new films will likely screen at Telluride and/or Toronto just a few months from now.   That being said, there are two films I'm very curious about.

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<p>Tim McGraw</p>

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw signs with Big Machine, Taylor Swift's label

With two songs in the Top 11, no word on McGraw's new album

So maybe now Taylor Swift can sing with Tim McGraw instead of singing about him.

The two became label mates today, when Big Machine announced that McGraw would be joining its roster after 20 years on Curb. One of Swift’s first hits was “Tim McGraw.”

No word on when McGraw’s first album for Big Machine will come out. Up first will be his stadium tour with pal Kenny Chesney this summer. “The Brothers of the Sun” tour kicks off June 2 in Tampa.

McGraw, who Nielsen BDS named artist of the decade in 2010, is in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart right now with his last single from Curb, “Better Than I Used To Be,” which is bulleted at No. 7, and  with his and Chesney’s duet, “Feel Like A Rock Star,” which is bulleted at No. 11.

Big Machine Label Group has had luck signing artists who have left other labels to its various imprints, including Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride and Reba McEntire.

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<p>Justin Bieber's &quot;Belive&quot;</p>

Justin Bieber's "Belive"

Justin Bieber reveals 'Believe' track listing: What happened to Taylor Swift?

Looks like none of his songs with the country star made the final cut

As the endless drip of information about Justin Bieber’s new album “Believe” surfaces, today we get the track listing. Interestingly, his duet with Taylor Swift looks like it didn’t make the final cut. The two wrote a few songs together for the set, Bieber told UK’s CapitalFM last month. “We worked together on a couple of things so we're just figuring out what we can use," he told the British radio broadcaster.

There are three bonus tracks on the deluxe physical package, but none of them have Swift’s name attached. From the track listing below, the guests are Ludacris, Bieber’s former partner on breakthrough hit, “Baby”; Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, and Drake. The album comes out June 19.

Track Listing for deluxe version of "Believe"

1. “All Around The World” featuring Ludacris
2. “Boyfriend”
3. “As Long As You Love Me” featuring Big Sean
4. “Catching Feelings”
5. “Take You”
6. “Right Here” featuring Drake
7. “Fall”
8. “Die In Your Arms”
9. “Thought Of You”
10. “Beauty And A Beat” featuring Nicki Minaj
11. “One Love”
12. “Be Alright”
13. “Believe”

14. “Out Of Town Girl”
15.“She Don’t Like The Lights” 
16. “Maria.”


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<p>Bill Murray on the set of &quot;Moonrise&nbsp;Kingdom&quot;</p>

Bill Murray on the set of "Moonrise Kingdom"

Credit: Focus Features

Take a 'Moonrise Kingdom' tour with Bill Murray

"I had to work with a bunch of scouts and kids. No money can make that right, can it?"

A few days removed from seeing Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and the Cannes brouhaha that came with its opening night premiere last week, I have to say, I'm looking forward to seeing it again. It's just so charming in all the ways Anderson's previous films are meant to be, but, for me, aren't quite.

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is so far his most successful film financially and critically, but after giving it another look recently, I found I liked it even less than I did back in 2001 (which already wasn't much). I'd put "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" on that lower tier as well. Both films are just overwhelmingly affected and don't strike the balance his better works do.

I'm mostly okay with "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "The Darjeeling Limited." The former is a fun romp and the latter has a lot of soul. But "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket" have always been tops for me, because the emotion just feels much more authentic. "Moonrise Kingdom" can count itself in that territory, I feel.

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<p>What will Jesse and Walter's working relationship be like in &quot;Breaking Bad&quot;&nbsp;season 5?&nbsp;Tune in on July 15 to find out. </p>

What will Jesse and Walter's working relationship be like in "Breaking Bad" season 5? Tune in on July 15 to find out.

Credit: AMC

AMC announces 'Breaking Bad' season 5 premiere date

Final season will begin in July, with 8 episodes this summer, 8 in 2013

We've known for a while that the final season of "Breaking Bad" would be made up of 16 episodes, but we didn't know exactly when it would debut, or how AMC would arrange the episodes to maximize their remaining installments of the Emmy-winning drama.

Now we do, as the cable channel announced today that the final season will premiere on Sunday, July 15 at 10 p.m., and that the plan is to air 8 episodes this summer and then the remaining 8 episodes in the summer of 2013.

(As to why they don't just refer to this as two short seasons: it's a contractual issue. Same reason the final 21 episodes of "The Sopranos," which also aired over two years, are considered the show's sixth "season.")

AMC also announced the two shows that will be paired "Breaking Bad" this summer. Starting July 15 at 11 p.m. will be a new unscripted series, "Small Town Security," about a family-owned security company in a small town in Georgia. And starting August 12 at 9 p.m. will be season 2 of "Hell on Wheels." (Which reminds me I still have 2 or 3 episodes of that first season to catch up on.)

And in the meantime, here's Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on the set of the final season:

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<p>Haley Reinhart</p>

Haley Reinhart

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Haley Reinhart on Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse and more

'American Idol' contestant's new set, 'Listen Up,' streets Tuesday

American Idol” season 10 contestant Haley Reinhart thrilled fans with her jazzy, smoky vocals. On her new album, “Listen Up,” out Tuesday, May 22, she recalls sultry vocalists such as Amy Winehouse and Dusty Springfield, both of whom she considers major influences: “I come from a lot of ‘60s, ‘70s classic stuff and that’s definitely the sound I want to have,” she tells Hitfix in this video interview taped at her management company’s office in West Hollywood.

But it was another influence, Britney Spears,  that inspired the 21-year old's performance in her video for first single “Free,” during which she gets a boy all hot and bothered at a diner. “I grew up with my generation looking at people like Britney Spears. She oozed sex appeal so effortlessly.”

As the video shows, Reinhart has acting chops and she admits she has some aspirations in that area: “I’d love to make it a big part of my career...there’s already opportunities coming up.”

Reinhart talks about duetting with her season 10 pal, Casey Abrams, here.

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