Hynde gets to the roots
Break Up the Concrete (Shangri-La Music)
ESSENTIAL "Boots of Chinese Plastic"
She always threatened to do it, of course. Even as she stared out from behind a barricade of black bangs and punk rock, both guitar and chip firmly on shoulder, Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde hinted at a softer side. Her ninth studio album, recorded in just two weeks with an entirely new crew of Pretenders, just might be her most congenial, and certainly rootsiest, collection yet. "Rootsy" isn't a term often used to describe Hynde's switchblade-with-a-pearl-handle voice or the Pretenders' double-edged sword of beauty and braggadocio. But then, Hynde's never before enlisted alt-country stalwarts like Son Volt/Jayhawks pedal steel player Eric Heywood, or Pernice Brothers sideman James Walbourne (guitar), or drumming legend Jim Keltner. A blustery "Boots of Chinese Plastic" opens the disc in classically sassy, sexy Pretenders mode, but it's an anomaly amid an album spangled with sweet-tempered folk-rock ("The Nothing Maker"), bluesy neo-soul ("Don't Lose Faith in Me"), and tender tributes ("You Didn't Have To"). Like most recent Pretenders albums, there are a few throwaways. Here the silliest is the title track, which begs the musical question: Can we have a moratorium on the Bo Diddley beat, please? [Jonathan Perry]