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Music Review: Gilbert O'Sullivan's 19th album even better than 1st

This cover image released by BMG shows the self-titled album for Gilbert O'Sullivan. (BMG via AP)

(AP) -- Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Gilbert O'Sullivan" (BMG)

    Gilbert O'Sullivan is still himself -- reflective, sensitive and witty -- on his 19th studio album, which often sounds like his 1971 debut, maybe even better.

    If you haven't noticed any of O'Sullivan's new music over the past, oh, 40 years or so, you may think this is a comeback of sorts. In truth, the Ireland-born, England-raised O'Sullivan has been releasing records at what now counts as a fairly regular pace (every three or four years) for decades, with blessedly few detours into synthesizers and electronic drums.

    Under the guidance of producer Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Laura Marling, Tom Jones), O'Sullivan achieves a sound here that's more straightforward but also richer, with Stephanie Jean's Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes, Paul Stacey's electric guitar, twin brother Jeremy Stacey's drums and Nick Pini's bass seamlessly enhancing his acoustic piano.

    There are plenty of highlights among the ballads, mid-tempo pop songs and even some faster-paced tunes, with most giving a clear idea of what they're about: "Love How You Leave Me," ''I'll Never Love Again," ''The Same The Whole World Over."

    "What Is It About My Girl" is a steady trot with a funky lead guitar while "This Riff" is pure Jerry Lee Lewis, with multiple pianos and Chas Hodges (from Chas & Dave) on harmony vocals. "No Head For Figures But Yours" continues O'Sullivan's knack for gentle rockers.

    The sprightly "The Mind Boggles," in a Monty Python vein, and "Dansette Dreams And 45's," with an elegant string arrangement, could be a crusty curmudgeon's manifestos about driverless cars, youngsters' cell phone dependency and the current U.S. leader. O'Sullivan makes them about all that, too, but they're tempered by his reliably sweet-but-not-saccharine melodies and his natural delivery.

    Like with his old hits "Alone Again (Naturally)," ''Get Down" or "What's In A Kiss," O'Sullivan is again back at the top of his game.

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