Country's top dog releases new album

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 12:00am

Brad Paisley
American Saturday Night

Expectations are much higher now that Brad Paisley has emerged as top dog among male contemporary country artists. His new release covers the usual territory, but does so in a fresh, vivid manner.

“American Saturday Night” frames country within a universal vision of celebration and tradition, while “Welcome to the Future,” “Everybody’s Here” and “Oh Yeah, You’re Gone” feature Paisley in philosophical mode. “The Pants” and “She’s Her Own Woman” pay heartfelt homage to his love for his wife, home and family.

The set also includes comedic and catchphrase works like “You Do the Math” and “Catch All the Fish,” which nicely balance the mood and reveal another aspect of the multi-faceted, skilled personality who’s become arguably country’s biggest star.

A Man’s Thoughts
(Notifi/Asylum/Warner Bros).

After 14 years in the business, Ginuwine is no longer a charming, innocent youngster doing sweet or naughty love tunes.

His sixth studio disc is clearly an adult venture, and it chronicles the continuing struggle many single men have distinguishing between love and lust. Songs like “Show Off” or “Touch Me” emphasize the physical approach, while “Lying to Each Other,” “Used to Be the One’ and “Last Chance” discuss emotional pitfalls and the difficulties involved in maintaining genuine relationships.

The single “Get Involved” marks a professional reunion with Timbaland following a five-year dispute, and contains some spicy comments from Missy Elliott. Additional guests Bun B (“Trouble”) and Brandy (“Bridge to Love”) help provide the final touches on a solid effort from a still evolving artist.

The Album

Jeff Tweedy’s vocals on Wilco’s seventh studio disc alternate between bittersweet, embittered and wry. They are fortified by swirling, distorted guitar voicings from Niels Cline and Mikal Jorgenson.

This is perhaps their most sophisticated production, with several songs featuring elaborately tracked backing arrangements and textures that would be difficult, if not impossible, to recreate in a live concert setting.

But the musical pluses range from the terse, moving duet between Tweedy and Leslie Feist (better known simply as Feist) on “You and I” (the first duet Wilco’s ever included on a recording) to the somber narratives on “One Wing,” “You Never Know” and “Deeper Down.”

There’s also the defiance expressed on “I’ll Fight” and contrasting upbeat qualities in concluding works “Sonny Feeling” and “Everlasting Everything.”

Mos Def
The Ecstatic

Greatness has been predicted for Mos Def since the sensational Black on Both Sides release with Talib Kweli over a decade ago.

But he’s never enjoyed sustained success, and recently his acting roles have surpassed the rap output. But Def is back in the game with The Ecstatic, a leading candidate for hip-hop disc of the year.

Def can be prophetic, inspiring, jovial, angry or satiric, and such songs as “Revelations,” “History” (which reunites him with Kweli) and “Wahid” are informative and edgy without becoming preachy.

He delves into other areas on songs like “Life in Marvelous Times,” “Casa Bey,” “Pretty Dangers,” and “Workers Comp.” He inserts quick rhymes, witty interplay and verbal forays while carefully working either with or off beats supplied by producers Chad Hugo, Madlib and J Dilla among a host of others.

This is inventive and incendiary music, with Def in peak form as a lyricist and rapper.

Neil Young
Fork in the Road

Automobile analogies and traffic references are frequently utilized on Neil Young’s latest, which also contains both acerbic and sentimental material.

“Just Singing a Song” dismisses the notion any art form by itself can remedy society’s problems. Yet it’s clear from the anger and lyric fury contained in “Fork in the Road” that Young feels songwriters should offer their feelings on contemporary issues, since he certainly has plenty to say about the bank and auto industry bailouts.

“Cough up the Bucks” and “Light a Candle” present musings on other topical things, while Young takes a less pointed approach on “Johnny Magic,” “Off the Road” and “Get Behind the Wheel.”

More importantly, after decades as a premier songwriter, vocalist and instrumentalist, Young remains a triumphant, compelling and surprising performer.