David Bowie, "The Next Day," Columbia, 3 1/2 stars
When David Bowie announces "Here I am, not quite dying" at the start of his first album in a decade, he means it. At a point when we didn't expect to hear from the veteran, chameleon-like rock auteur at all, we get one of the best albums of his career, an energized, wide-ranging ride that stirs together familiar touchstones -- including personnel such as co-producer Tony Visconti and long-term band members -- and comes out sounding fresh and perhaps all the better for the time spent out of sight. "The Next Day" doesn't reinvent Bowie, nor does it find him adopting a specific character as he has on many of his classics; rather, it recasts and combines many of the things we've heard him do in the past -- the urgency of "China Girl" in "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," his glam-rock roots in "Valentine's Day," the late '70s Robert Fripp collaborations in "If You Can See Me." There are a few sobering reflections on days gone by and ultimate mortality -- including the first single, "Where Are We Now?" and the album-closing couplet of "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" and "Heat" -- and "I'd Rather Be High" turns one soldier's thoughts into an anti-war paean. But the majority of "The Next Day" finds Bowie and company in top gear, blazing through the title track, the prog-flavored "Love Is Lost," the grooving "Boss of Me," the buoyant "Dancing Out in Space" and "How Does the Grass Grow?" while the heavy-hitting "(You Will) Set the World on Fire" ironically celebrates the much quieter early '60s folks scene in New York's Greenwich Village. There's no shortage of edgy sonics and textural twists on all 14 tracks here, but those enhance more than they challenge. It took a while for this "Day" to come; here's hoping what's next will arrive sooner than that.
Bon Jovi, "What About Now" (Island): 2 1/2 stars
The normally ebullient New Jersey group doesn't exactly give love a bad name on its first new album in more than three years, but there's a surprisingly sober tone to its 12th studio album. Middle-age malaise ("Because We Can") and economic hardships ("What's Left of Me") have not escaped the group's worldview, but its trademark optimism continues to win the day, particularly on anthems such as "Beautiful World" and the U2-like "What About Now" and the quieter ruminations of "Amen" and "The Fighter." There is, after all, nothing quite like a soaring Bon Jovi chorus to make the world feel like a better place.
New & Noteworthy:
Adrenaline Mob, "Coverta" (Caroline): The hard-rocking all-star group covers songs by Van Halen, Heart, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and others on this eight-song mini album.
Audio Adrenaline, "Kings & Queens" (Fair Trade): The Christian rock group's ninth studio album is its first with new singer Kevin Max.
Devendra Banhart, "Mala" (Nonesuch): The Venezualan-American singer-songwriter moves to a major label for his eighth studio album, which he recorded in a Los Angeles home studio with a pawn shop recorder.
Capital Kings, "Capital Kings" (Gotee): The full-length debut by the Christian pop group from Washington, D.C., features guests such as tobyMac, Royal Tailor and Britt Nicole.
Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, "Unplugged" (335): The two guitar masters show off their acoustic chops on this live CD and DVD release.
Eric Clapton, "Old Sock" (Bushbranch): The ultimate guitar hero covers standards ("Goodnight Irene") and some of his favorite writers with help from pals such as Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood and Chaka Khan.
Larry Coryell, "Lift" (Wild Hive): The guitar virtuoso returns to a trio format for this rock-blues-jazz fusion set.
Spencer Day, "The Mystery of You" (Concord Jazz): The jazz singer and onetime "Star Search" contestant recorded his latest album at studios in New York and Los Angeles.
Family Force 5, "The Third" (Tooth & Nail): The Atlanta Christian crunk rock crew blends tracks from its 2011 release "III" with some new material and bonus music videos.
Gandalf, "Dreamweaver" (Real Music): A typically, well, dreamy release from the Austrian New Age veteran, still going strong at 60.
Megan Hilty, "It Happens All the Time" (Sony/Masterworks): The Broadway and "Smash" co-star takes a pop turn here, handling songs by Amiee Mann and Damien Rice, among others.
Shooter Jennings, "The Other Life" (Black Country Rock/Rocket Science): The companion album to the film of the same name finds Waylon's son working with Patty Griffin, Scott H. Biram and Black Oak Arkansas' Jim "Dandy" Mangrum.
Doug MacLeod, "There's a Time" (Reference): The bluesy roots artist and onetime sideman for Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner and others recorded his latest album at George Lucas' Skywalker Sound in California.
Mindless Behavior, "Around the World" (Streamline/Interscope): The sophomore release by the Los Angeles boy band features collaborations with Soulja Boy, Jacob Latimore and Li' Twist.
Orianthi, "Heaven in This Hell" (Robo): The third studio album from the Australian guitarist who's worked with Michael Jackson and is now part of Alice Cooper's band.
Phil Perry, "Say Yes" (Shanachie): The 11th solo album by the R&B singer and former Montclairs member.
Alexis Spright, "L.O.L. (Live Out Loud)" (Music World): The debut outing from the 19-year-old runner-up on BET "Sunday's Best" gospel singing competition.
Various Artists, "The Bible: Music Inspired by the Epic Mini Series" (Word): Christian artists such as Jason Castro, By Point of Grace and others contribute material to this companion album, which also features a duet between Kenny Rogers and Wynonna.
Various Artists, "Passion: Let the Future Begin" (sixstep/Sparrow): Christian artists Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill and others team on this recording from the Passion 2013 Conference in Atlanta.
Various Artists, "Sound City: Real to Reel" (Roswell/RCA): The companion to Dave Grohl's documentary about the legendary studio features new songs recorded with Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield and more, as well as the surviving Nirvana members' reunion backing Paul McCartney.
Wild Belle, "Isles" (Columbia): The Chicago-based sibling duo recorded their eclectic debut album at Benton Harbor's Keyclub Recordings studio.
From The Vaults: Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 25" (Deadnet/Rhino).
New Music DVDs: Amos Lee, "Live From the Artists Den" (Artist Den); Rammstein, "Videos 1995-2012" (Workhorse Music); Queen, Live at Wembley" (Eagle Rock); "Sound City: Real to Reel" (Roswell/RCA).