CD reviews: Black Sabbath, Jason Isbell, Sigur Ros

Black Sabbath

It has happened countless times in rock ’n’ roll history: A long-dormant rock act decides to resurrect itself and record an album of new material years or even decades after its heyday.

The results are rarely great, usually just good, if even that.

More often than not, the act simply reunites for a quick money grab.

After hearing the new album, all but the most hardcore fans remember why said band isn’t playing together anymore. This is easily what could have happened with Black Sabbath when founding members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler decided to record new material. In doing so, though, the band took a few precautions to try to stave off the expected attitude by fans as to what they thought they were doing.

First, original drummer Bill Ward declined to participate and was replaced by Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine.

Next, the band enlisted Rick Rubin as the album’s producer. Rubin, an avid metal fan, did a stellar job guiding the classic metal band through its paces.

Part of the reason the new album, “13,” works so well is because none of the members of Black Sabbath ever tried to be anything more than what they were; the premiere heavy metal band of the ’70s.

The music on “13” would sound right at home anywhere in that decade. The combination of Osbourne’s lyrics and Iommi’s guitar sound as good here as they did on albums such as “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality.”

Standout tracks include “End of the Beginning,” “Loner” and “Live Forever.” Osbourne’s vocals sound more coherent than ever, and Iommi’s guitar work is flawless (the guy is 65).

Not every track is a home run, but the album is definitely above-average. It could have all gone so wrong, but thanks to some good planning and a great producer, Sabbath is back sounding like themselves and not some unfunny Spinal Tap punch line. (B)

Key Tracks: “End of the Beginning,” “Loner,” “Live Forever”

Among the new generation of rock and Americana songwriters from the South, few hit the nail on the head as consistently as Jason Isbell.

Going back to his ambitious beginnings with Drive-By Truckers, and continuing on to his solo jaunts with his band The 400 Unit, Isbell is quickly becoming one of the South’s premiere musical voices.

The eighth-generation Alabamian (his ancestors settled in Alabama before it was even a state) has a songwriting strength that eludes many of his fellow Southern songwriters, in that Isbell can write a Southern rock song without feeling the need to make it sound overtly Southern. Only North Carolina’s Ryan Adams and a handful of other artists from south of the Mason-Dixon Line are able to pull off that feat.

On “Southeastern,” Isbell’s new solo effort, the artist once again turns in a satisfying collection of heartfelt songs.

Among the standout tracks are the haunting opener “Cover Me Up,” the gorgeous “Live Oak” and “Super 8,” which finds Isbell reaching back to his days with Drive-By Truckers.

The album’s best track, though, is “Traveling Alone,” which is reminiscent of the work of Ryan Adams and features backing vocals and fiddle playing by Amanda Shires. That song’s lyrics, “I’ve grown tired of traveling alone, won’t you ride with me,” take on new meaning once you know that Isbell married Shires earlier this year.

“Southeastern” marks yet another great addition to the catalog of one of the South’s best young songwriters. (A)

Key Tracks: “Cover Me Up,” “Traveling Alone,” “Live Oak”

To the casual music listener, the notion that Iceland might be a hotbed of alternative and abstract rock might seem far-fetched.

Iceland has turned out some pretty significant music acts over the last quarter century, though, most notably Bjork, who got her start with the Icelandic outfit The Sugarcubes.

Sigur Ros is another internationally known Icelandic band.

Known for its abstract, dream-like style of music, Sigur Ros has released six well-received albums, much of which sounds like the soundtrack to some amazing sci-fi film.

When it was announced earlier this year that longtime member Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson had left the band, many wondered how that defection would affect the Sigur Ros sound.

On the band’s seventh release, “Kveikur,” many of the songs exhibit a harder edge. A prime example is the album’s opening track, “Brennisteinn,” which is noticeably harder than anything the band has previously released.

The remaining members of Sigur Ros, singer and guitarist Jon “Jonsi” Thor Birgisson, bassist Georg “Goggi” Holm and drummer Orri Pall Dyrason, have definitely gone for something different sounding this time out. But any longtime Sigur Ros fans worried about being alienated should rest easy because even harder material such as “Isjaki” and the album’s title track still have that dreamlike quality to them.

There are also tracks, including “Rafstraumur,” that sound like older Sigur Ros and demonstrate that the band continues to grow musically.

Check the band out for yourself Sept. 25 at the North Charleston Coliseum. (A-)

Key Tracks: “Brennisteinn,” “Isjaki,” “Rafstraumur”

By Devin Grant