Do you know what’s on your teenager’s iPod? Do you remember what was in your high-school album collection? Do you remember struggling to grow up? Have you gotten there yet?

When I answer these questions, I come up with “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes,” and “No, but I’m closer in some ways, and in other ways I still don’t want to.”

Three CDs came out this month that could be the definitive sounds for different stages of life. “Thank You Happy Birthday,” by Cage the Elephant, released on Jive Records, starts you out with the spasmodic pangs of adolescence. Cake’s new CD, “Showroom of Compassion,” released by Upbeat Records, tones down the volume but ramps up the satire with the social self-righteousness of early adulthood.

And then there’s the ultimate been-there-done-that guy — Gregg Allman — who proves with his latest work, “Low Country Blues,” produced by T Bone Burnett on Rounder Records, that you can still be cool at age 63, especially when you don’t HAVE to prove anything to anyone.

More than that, Allman comes back home to the music that started us all rockin’ and rollin’.

‘Thank You Happy Birthday,’ by Cage the Elephant

Let’s start with Cage the Elephant.

The band has been around for about five years and just released its second album, “Thank You Happy Birthday.” If you’re not aware of this band, then you’re probably over 25 and don’t realize that you’ve heard their song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” from their first self-titled album, about a million times. The song and first album enjoyed commercial appeal because it sounded daring, original and anti-pop without being too harsh or extreme. The music was just risky enough for you to peek over the edge, but still within the safe boundaries of mainstream music, even if you call it alternative.

But in keeping with young male angst, Cage The Elephant has loudly rebelled in creating its second album. “Thank You Happy Birthday” has you actually teetering on the edge and wondering if someone is going to push you or if you’re going to jump. The new CD even rails against the band’s own success.

Don’t worry, though, there’s still a glimmer of innocent hope entangled in the pandemonium of discordant lyrics and music that says even though everyone in the world is completely fake, some day they won’t be. (I wonder if founding band members Matt Shultz, Brad Shultz and Jared Champion ever read “Catcher in the Rye.”)

“Thank You Happy Birthday” starts with a sinister track called “Always Something” that brings back memories of Ozzie Osbourne. Then there’s the Nirvana-ish stomped-on-my-heart breakup song “Aberdeen,” reminding us that there is no way a sappy song could possibly make you care about anyone or anything ever again.

Three of the album’s songs, “Indy Kidz,” “Shake Me Down” and “Sell Yourself” spew against the hypocrisies of the music industry and adults in general. “Shake Me Down” turns down the volume slightly, and a gentle lilting melody surfaces. But “Sell Yourself” and “Indy Kidz” crank the decibels and evoke the spirit of Sid Vicious.

‘Showroom of Compassion,’ by Cake

Now let’s go to the thirty-something crowd.

Cake, which used to be with Columbia Records, broke away after refusing to put out a best-of album, built its own solar-powered studio and started Upbeat Records. Formed in the early 1990s, Cake has always made barbed statements against commercialism, government(s), and society in general. Far from being pop pablum, Cake’s work combines intelligent and sometimes offensive wit with impressive musicianship. But they’re not angry musicians, just sarcastic ones.

Cake’s latest release, “Showroom of Compassion,” illustrates the inevitability and the advantages of maturing. The tones are clearer. There isn’t any swearing. There’s a new-age Beatles sound, particularly in “Long Time” and “Italian Guy,” that makes it possible to listen to anti-establishment rock without banging your head out of alignment.

Vince DiFiore still makes his exquisite trumpet presence heard (especially on the track “Mustache Man”) and lead vocalist and guitarist John McCrea brags in a self-deprecating way that he plays the piano on this album. But the band’s world view still comes across as smugly condescending in songs like “Federal Funding” and “Sick of You,” if you happen to disagree with their solutions to save the world.

The album’s only instrumental track, “Teenage Pregnancy,” cleverly and eerily introduces a classical piano phrase and a melancholy trumpet line, then intersperses them with metal guitar riffs and pounding drums and guttural outbursts in the background. Without a sung word, you get the message.

‘Low Country blues,’ by Gregg Allman

And now we come to Gregg Allman.

If you know this name, there’s not much I can add. (Folks up here may be interested to know that in the South, The Allman Brothers fans were the equivalent of Grateful Dead heads. Same crowd, different accent.)

For the first time in 14 years, Allman has released a solo album of new music that respectfully brings everything full circle. Age has a way of doing that I guess. “Low Country Blues” goes back to the blues roots planted deep by Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Otis Rush.

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, “Low Country Blues” brings together extraordinary musicians to showcase Allman’s still powerful and even more soulful vocals. Allman plays the B-3 Hammond organ on most of the tracts while Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, plays piano.

The great thing about the blues is that no matter how old the song is, no matter how many people have performed it, each artist makes the song unique because of the life experiences expressed in it. With an artist like Allman, there’s a depth to his music now that can only come from a lot of living – and surviving.

I saw Allman perform at the State Theater in Portland in the late 1990s not too long after he had sobered up from decades of alcohol and substance abuse. He looked rough, but could still play the keyboard and wail out a song that came from a lifetime of mistakes and glory. This past summer, he underwent a liver transplant.

While most of the album is a humble tribute to the blues masters of old, “Low Country Blues” includes a quintessential Gregg Allman song. Along with Warren Haynes, Allman wrote “Just Another Rider,” a classic Southern blues-rock anthem that acknowledges the long road he’s traveled so far, but promises he’s not through yet.

Lines from the first verse say it all: “Daylight again – memories fall like rain / Reminds you – take it slow / Oh, one step at a time, baby / Find your way back to the big show / Places you’ve been – things you’ve done but / Somehow, you’re still on the run.”

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

Go and do

WHO: Cake

WHAT: Concert

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23

WHERE: State Theatre in Portland

TICKETS: $35 at Cumberland County Civic Center box office or www.statetheatreportland.com; or call 800-745-3000


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