Iron Maiden: Senjutsu: Super Deluxe Box Set (Parlophone/BMG, 2 CDs, 81 min., + Blu-ray). Recorded in Paris in 2019 with longstanding producer Kevin Shirley and co-produced by band bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris, “Senjutsu” is Iron Maiden’s 17th studio album and their first in six years. The rejuvenated Maiden has been on a high roll since guitarist Adrian Smith (previously with the band from 1980 to 1990) and singer Bruce Dickinson (previously 1981-1993) rejoined the band in 1999. The new 2-disc album continues to broaden the band’s sonic palette with ever more complex music and the often-thundering three-guitar attack.

For “Senjutsu,” loosely translated as “tactics and strategy,” the band again enlisted the services of Mark Wilkinson to create the Samurai themed cover artwork, based on an idea by Harris. The Super Deluxe version comes in a stunningly-decorated, laminated box, with another version of longstanding character Eddie as the Samurai’s face. Inside is tray depicting Samurai Eddie on a battlefield full of destruction. There also is a scroll movie-style poster, three art cards and a 3-dimensional lenticular of a menacing Samurai Eddie, a printed origami sheet with which to make Eddie’s helmet and the Blu-ray of the “The Writing on the Wall” animated music video and its 20-page booklet (more about the video below). Like their previous record, “The Book of Souls,” it is a double CD and triple vinyl release.

According to Harris, the band “chose to record at Guillaume Tell Studio in France again as the place has such a relaxed vibe. The setup there is perfect for our needs; the building used to be a cinema and has a really high ceiling so there’s a great acoustic sound. We recorded this album in the same way we did ‘The Book of Souls’ in that we’d write a song, rehearse it and then put it down together straight away while it was all fresh in our minds. There’s some very complex songs on this album which took a lot of hard work to get them exactly as we wanted them to sound, so the process was at times very challenging, but Kevin is great at capturing the essence of the band and I think it was worth the effort.”

A couple of the tracks present a very different sound from the band. “Lost in a Lost World” (9:31, by Harris) bookends an anthemic middle section with a pair of extended acoustic reveries. Harris is a well-known Jethro Tull fan. The lead single, “The Writing on the Wall” (6:13, by Smith and Dickinson) feels new as it borrows from country and blues. The latter also is a rare moment of lightness – even as it talks about destruction, mixing in the Biblical stories of King Belshazzar of Babylon and Adam and Eve, amidst nuclear destruction and a post-apocalyptic landscape – as the rest of the album is the darkest, heaviest Maiden record since “A Matter of Life and Death” (2006).

The album lifts off with a martial drum pattern and thunderous riffs of the title track (8:20, by Smith and Harris), which ranges from brooding to elegiac to bellicose. In some ways, the album’s darkness mirrors Dickinson’s recent life journey, which included being diagnosed with throat cancer, tearing his Achilles tendon and learning he needed a hip replacement. His once soaring tenor is lower now, befitting the gloomier tone of the songs.

The shorter “Stratego” (4:39, by guitarist Janick Gers and Harris) is a pure rocker. Also short is Smith-Dickinson’s “Days of Future Past” (4:03), featuring a towering vocal. “The Time Machine” (7:09, by Gers and Harris) is another track with an acoustic beginning and end. In between is some nice, complex guitar playing. The song closes the first disc.

Disc two consists of four extended tracks, demonstrating the more progressive nature of the current Maiden. First is “Darkest Hour” (7:20, by Smith and Dickinson), which opens with wave and bird sounds. The next three are all by Harris, starting with “Death of the Celts” (10:20), an historical epic that is mostly acoustic, with the instrumental portion the nicest. “The Parchment” (12:39), after a soft opening, has the three guitarists – Smith, Dave Murray and Gers – trade solos for five minutes, reaching a frenzied pitch. It all ends with “Hell on Earth” (11:19), which again starts soft, but has strong guitar melodies. Basically, all three Harris songs have the same template, but very different outcomes.

The animated video for “The Writing on the Wall” was made by London-based BlinkInk animation studio, based on a concept by Bruce Dickinson and two former Pixar executives, long-standing Maiden fans Mark Andrews and Andrew Gordon. In BlinkInk director Nicos Livesey, another long-time Maiden fan, they found a man who shared the collective vision for the video, which features a new incarnation of Eddie in 3D form. Work on the video was conducted via weekly Zoom meetings. Overall, more than 60 people in 13 countries, from Brazil to France to Romania to the United States, worked on the project.

The Blu-ray includes the music video (7:26), which is excellent and includes a lot of Easter eggs; a SFX version of the music video (7:26) and an entertaining making-of documentary (43:40). There also is a 20-page booklet on the making of the video, including storyboards. (Note: My box set came with two copies of the making-of booklet and was without the listed 28-page CD booklet that, according to the accompanying image, includes lyrics. Without that booklet, my box set has no mention of the song titles at all!). In addition to the deluxe box set, the album is available as a standard 2CD Digipak, a deluxe 2CD book format, deluxe heavyweight 180G triple black vinyl, special edition triple silver and black marble vinyl, and digital album via streaming and download. Grade: A

James Lee Stanley & Dan Navarro: All Wood and Led (Beachwood Recordings, CD). This wonderful disc sees Stanley and Navarro re-imagine 12 classic Led Zeppelin tracks in an acoustic vein. Stanley said in a press release that they wanted to “bring our own sensibilities to these songs. Imagine if Led Zeppelin lived in Laurel Canyon back in 1967 and you will see what we are presenting here.” The approach works very well.

Stanley is a singer and songwriter, whom Monkees fans know for his work with Peter Tork (“Once Again,” “Two Man Band” and “Live/Backstage at The Coffee Gallery”). Back in 2004, Stanley teamed up with John Batdorf for “All Wood and Stones,” an acoustic tribute to the Rolling Stones. In 2011, he teamed up with Cliff Eberhardt for “All Wood and Doors,” an acoustic album of Doors songs. In each, Stanley and his collaborators delivered their own personal takes on the familiar songs. Now he is similarly tackling the music of Led Zeppelin, teaming up with Navarro. Navarro might still be best known as a songwriter. With Eric Lowen, he wrote “We Belong,” which was a hit for Pat Benatar. He also co-wrote The Bangles’ “I’ll Set You Free” with Lowen and Susanna Hoffs. He and Lowen performed as Lowen & Navarro up until 2009, when Lowen retired after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Here, both Stanley and Navarro sing and play guitar. They are joined by Chad Watson on bass and Washington Tahr on percussion, as well as The Phantom Airman on cello.

“House of the Holy” sounds like a folk song, while their vocals shine on “Good Times Bad Times.” Their version of “Rock and Roll” is very slowed down, emphasizing the loneliness in the lyrics. “D’jer Mak’er” (instead of “D’yer Mak’er”) retains a bit of the reggae groove. The vocals are wonderful again on the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired “The Battle of Evermore.” Probably the closest to the original is a shortened version of “Stairway to Heaven,” with nice guitar on the instrumental part. On the other hand, for “Whole Lotta love,” they change the rhythm, making it sound cooler, somewhat like a samba. “Over the Hills and Far Away” is another in a folk vein, while “Hey Hey What Can I Do” (the B-side of the “Immigrant Song” single) features a rougher vocal and pretty guitar. There are more good vocals on “Fool in the Rain” and “Ramble On” turns a bit bluesy. Grade: A

Sheena Easton: The Definitive Singles 1980-1987 (Cherry Pop, 3 CDs). This 51-track compilation includes all of Easton’s U.K. and U.S. single A-sides, plus rare 12-inch and dub versions. The set includes eight previously unreleased tracks, including the “lost” singles, “Anything Can Happen” and “Sweet Talker.” It comes with a 24-page booklet that has an introduction by Easton. All the recordings were made while she was with EMI Records.

The first disc contains 22 of the Scottish singer’s 7-inch singles, staring with the early hit “Modern Girl,” the U.S. chart-topper “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” and the James Bond film theme “For Your Eyes Only,” which reached No. 4 on the charts and was nominated for an Oscar. Easton, by the way, is the only artist in U.S. history to have had a top 3 hit in each of Billboard’s key charts: Adult Contemporary, Country, Dance, Pop and R&B. The country chart-topper came via her duet with Kenny Rogers on their cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.” Easton also won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

Other hits on the first disc include “You Could Have Been with Me,” the New Wave-ish “Machinery,” which shows more of her vocal range, and the Grammy-nominated, upbeat “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair).” Overall, Easton has been nominated for six Grammy Awards, winning twice. Other highlights are the bouncy “Are You Man Enough” and “Take My Time,” the power ballad “Almost Over You,” the funk-pop of “Strut,” with its mechanical percussion, the hard-rocking “Swear” and her cover of the R&B classic “Jimmy Mack,” with jaunty horns.

There also is her No. 1 dance hit, “Sugar Walls,” which was written for her by Prince, under a pseudonym, and which made Tipper Gore’s “Filthy Fifteen” list in 1985. Prince also wrote “Eternity” for her, which is on disc two. Disc one concludes with “Magic of Love,” written by Nile Rodgers.

Disc two has seven more 7-inch singles and seven 12-inch versions, most of which are pretty cool extensions for the dance clubs. Of the singles, the best are the upbeat “So Far So Good” and unreleased “Anything Can Happen”; the ballad “It’s Christmas All Over the World,” recorded for the film “Santa Claus: The Movie”; “Eternity” by Prince; “No Sound But a Heart”; and the dance-funk of “Sweet Talker,” produced by Shep Pettibone.

There are six more 12-inch versions on disc three as well as nine dub mixes, which emphasize the instrumentals more. Grade: A

Tom Robinson & Crew: Live at Rockpalast 1984 (MIG Music, CD + DVD, 85 min.). In the late 1970s, the Tom Robinson Band had success with the songs “2-4-6-8 Motorway,” “Glad to be Gay” and Power in the Darkness” – all covered in this Nov. 9, 1984 live show at Zeche, Bochum, Germany for the “Rockpalast” TV music show. On a personal note, of all the musicians I have interviewed over the years, Robinson was one of the most genuine and the interview lasted the longest.

Robinson not only sings, but also plays piano and acoustic guitar. Backing him is his longtime collaborator, drummer Steve Laurie, and guitarist Clive Mulcahy and vocalist/pianist Frank Collins. Bassist Colin Baldry was relatively new to the band. Peter “Bimbo” Acock plays sax and keyboards and Alison Limerick is the other backing singer. Robinson does 12 song introductions in Germany, which he says he now regrets 36 years later in the new liner notes, and there is quite a bit of coordination in foot and hand movements with Robinson and the two backing singers. At one point, during the fine “Cabin Boy,” all the band members do a coordinated dance to a backing track and live sax and Robinson vocal. For “Law and Order,” Robinson dons a cowboy hat and pins a sheriff’s badge to his shirt.

The show also includes three songs released as singles, including “War Baby,” “Atmospherics: Listen to the Radio” and “Back in the Old Country” from the album “Hope and Glory” (1984). All six of the singles mentioned are performed very well, as is “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” an Elton John song he recorded in 1982. For “Murder at the End of the Day,” Robinson has a machine gun/rifle-shaped guitar brought out to play. He sings part of the song in German. The band is solid throughout the show, with Mulcahy performing some fine guitar solos, including two during “2-4-6-8 Motorway.” Grade: B+

John McCutcheon: Bucket List (Appalseed CD). Holed up in his cabin in the North Georgia mountains during the pandemic, McCutcheon wrote constantly and when he got to 100 songs, he decided to spread the songs over a few albums. He released “Cabin Fever: Songs from the Quarantine,” which featured McCutcheon alone on vocals and guitar or banjo, in June 2020. Here on “Bucket List,” he is joined by Stuart Duncan on fiddle, JT Brown on bass and Jon Carroll on piano, organ and percussion.

The 18 songs are gentle ruminations on the ways our lives intersect with others, the enduring lessons of love and the ways that looking back keeps us anchored in the present, both for good and bad. McCutcheon has a rich baritone voice and sings in a very welcoming style. In several songs, he draws on a deep emotional well to sing a paean to his mentors and to the moments that shaped him as a musician. For example, on “It’s Not,” he sings: “It’s each and all/That I recall/And hold here in my heart/What they’d share/Was rich and rare/I knew it from the start/All these women/All these men/I’m older now than they were then/But every day they live again/If I but do my part.”

The album closes with a tribute to Zilphia Horton, the first cultural director of the Highlander Folk School (now known as the Highlander Center), who believed that music could transform and inspire people. McCutcheon sings: “From the tobacco fields of Charleston/To the Cumberland Plateau/The Women brought their songs & stories/All those years ago/In 1947/The battle was begun/And Zilphia’s piano/First played ‘We Shall Overcome.’” Her piano was refurbished in 2020 and installed at the Highlander Center; McCutcheon wrote this song for the occasion.

Other good moments have McCutcheon mentioning Thomas Merton and Buddha as examples of how to “Be Still”; combating hate he was taught as a youth in “Atonement”; the benefits of a simpler life “Out Here”; and of “The Other” that you do not know, whether it was a classmate or someone else not noticed. “Moonshiner” talks of the lifestyle, accompanied by banjo picking, while the wonderful “Medicine Game” is about the origins of lacrosse as a Native American sport. The latter closes with some chanting. “Sins of the Father” mines similar territory as Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” as he recalls his rebelling attitude toward his father when he was younger and now being a father himself. There also is the humorous “The Hinge” about the noises a grandfather makes, complete with belches, farts and the like. Grade: A