After a few pesky weeks in Texas and Florida, I'm finally back in my luxurious office in California--where I can sit back, listen to the week's finest music offerings, and then write about 10 other new releases just because it feels right!
But you can bet your boots that the 10 releases below merit your attention and more!
With new albums by Usher, Erykah Badu and Alan Jackson falling in our laps in just one week alone, how could music--and, indeed, our lives--be any better?
Let's all buy them simultaneously!
Usher: Raymond v. Raymond (Jive) Though some call him the new Chris Brown, word is that Usher is actually older than the famed pop singer, and thus has probably been making records even longer! But old age is no problem here, as the dashing vocalist appears with many contemporary faves--including the ridiculously talented Nicki Minaj--and with the help of T.I., will.i.am and Ludacris, the man fashions an album that, as its product description details, "is sure to paint a vivid portrait of growth, triumph, defeat and happiness." Sounds pretty good! But riddle me this: If the album actually painted a vivid portrait of happiness, growth, triumph, and defeat--in that order--wouldn't it be an even cooler listen? I'm thinking that's really the way to capture the public's attention in these changing times! Nice beats, though! Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Part II: Return Of The Ankh (Universal Motown) I owe Erykah Badu a big apology! Though she's been one of my favorite R&B singers for the past decade, back when she released her last album-- New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War--I foolishly wrote the following: "Let's be frankish: Ms. Badu is one classy lady, a warm and very convincing singer who garnered boatloads of attention a few years back not just for her voice but for intriguing headgear ensembles--and she'll never release a Pt. 2 of this thing for all eternity!" Well, obviously, she has--which may in fact mean that nearly everything I write has no earthly value whatsoever! Or not! Let your decision rest on the following opinion: I think this is a great record! OK, haters, how you like me now? Alan Jackson: Freight Train (Sony Music Nashville) Speaking of artists' previous albums, last time we encountered country superstar Jackson, he was comfortably sitting in the front seat of an automobile for the cover of his Good Time album! This time out? Check it out! The man is holding his guitar and resting against the front of a freight train! Guess after 18 albums, the man's looking for a theme that will carry him through the next decade! And who can blame him? I'm voting for sequels featuring a trolley car, a Greyhound bus, a 747 and finally--inevitably--a UFO wearing a cowboy hat! Featuring "It's Just That Way" and "Till The End," a Vern Gosdin tribute with Lee Ann Womack, and other tunes as well! Dusty Springfield and the Small Faces over the "lesser" Gerry & the Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits--though the latter pair had many more Stateside hits than the former--the combined impression is that all of these artists really offered something special, and the high-quality of the respective productions here, of the performance clips and interviews, drives that point home commendably. Highly recommended. Joan Armatrading: This Charming Life (429) No, not a Smiths tribute but a welcome return to the spotlight from UK-based singer Armatrading--a pioneering singer-songwriter who thanks to the alphabet tended to be the first entry in most "Woman In Rock" pieces that ran in newspapers and magazines back when she first emerged in the early '70s. Sometimes overlooked at the time by those writers who'd only heard her records, Armatrading was--and still is--a vibrant, fascinating live performer, and this new album, apparently her 20th, sounds as strong and vital as most of her earlier work. Very happy to see her out there still doing her thing, and if she ever hits these shores, I recommend you check her out Slow Club: Yeah, So (Moshi Moshi) Just saw this UK duo in Austin a week or so ago was oddly knocked out, maybe because of their unique harmony/unison singing style--which recalls some bizarre merging of Lee & Nancy, Leonard Cohen & Ronee Blakley, Sheffield, England, and significant quantities of alcohol! Kind of cute--check out their YouTube videos--and going by the professional names of Charles and Rebecca, the duo really don't sound like much of anything else going on right now--and could well strike your fancy! Check out "When I Go" for easy access! Free: Forever DVD (Eagle Rock) Missed mentioning this last week, which I regret, because the US release of this DVD set is top-notch. Though their career was brief--just a trickle of album in the late '60s-early '70s--Free was one of the best rock 'n' roll bands there ever was. This 2-disc set collects just about every filmed performance that exists of the group, and while that means there may be a surplus of renditions of "All Right Now" and "Mr. Big," it makes no difference whatsoever--as every performance by the British quartet was unique. Essentially a soulful power trio fronted by an incredible frontman--guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser, drummer Simon Kirke and singer Paul Rodgers--Free played stripped-down bluesy rock literally like no one else, which is one reason their music hasn't dated in the least. If this band were brand new and booked to open a joint Black Crowes/Kings Of Leon tour, there's a trek that would last all of one gig. Incendiary stuff. Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon, and Meth Ghost and Rae: Wu-Massacre (Def Jam) Legendary Wu-Tang Clan rap figures are back not only to tell it like it is, not only to provide a respectable paycheck to comic book illustrators, but to record a track that bears a title alone that will guarantee it a certain immortality--and that title, of course, is "Pimpin' Chipp"! Fans of My Three Sons? We'll never know! Come to think of it, any album bearing a production credit to "Mathematics" is already better than anything anyway! Next up: Guest appearances by Casper, Spooky and Baby Huey! The Bird And The Bee who've been captivated by the vocals of Inara George are likely to enjoy her appearance here alongside Eleni Mandell and Becky Stark--for indeed while this trio is living, it is not comprised of actual sisters, but instead excellent musicians who have done quite well on their own. This new project is fun, sunshiny, deliberately retro, and the sort of thing that might be fun to play at a party immediately after, say, dropping the needle on Wu Massacre, detailed above. Talk about provocative! Barenaked Ladies: All In Good Time (Raisin') Releasing this album cover the day after Ricky Martin has proclaimed he's gay certainly gives one pause!
- Erykah Badu
- Alan Jackson