Spin Factor

Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 10:05pm

Arctic Monkeys

With their earlier recordings emphasizing more of a dance/club underpinning to the rock structure, the Arctic Monkeys’ latest disc Humbug takes more of a straight and harder rock framework. A lot of that comes through their production union with Josh Homme, who brings some of the same expertise and studio textures to such songs as “Crying Lighting,” “Potion Approaching” and “The Jeweler’s Hands” as he has previously provided for Queens of the Stone Age. But still, everything is fueled by the writing and vocal presence of Alex Turner, plus the sometimes unorthodox melodies and rhythmic arrangements supplied by his co-horts, most prominently the flashy keyboardist John Ashton. The Arctic Monkeys nicely expand both lyric and musical foundations with a flourish on Humbug.

George Benson
Songs And Stories

The ratio between guitar solos and featured lead vocals is always carefully calculated on George Benson discs, something that regularly disturbs the jazz purists in his fan base. But everyone should be pleased by the direction and content of Benson’s latest, his overall best effort since Breezin’. The covers (especially an inspired version of “Rainy Day in Georgia”) are exceptional. The newer tunes nicely balance the consistently splendid Benson playing with equally warm and appealing singing, and co-producers John Burk and Marcus Miller don’t overload any songs with limp orchestration. They always keep Benson’s masterful sound squarely in the center of every number. There’s even an updated and powerhouse rendition of “Someday We’ll Be Free,” and one of the very few remakes of “Sailing” that’s neither tepid nor dreary.

Willie Nelson
American Classic
(Blue Note)

It never matters what type of song or what style of music Willie Nelson tackles, because it always ends up becoming his own. After a wonderful duet date with Wynton Marsalis, Nelson returns to pre-rock pop and jazz standards here in a mostly solo vein, though there are also two superb duet offerings. On “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” he joins Norah Jones in a less sensual but just as effective rendition of a song previously done by Ray Charles and Betty Carter, while “If I Had You” puts the weary Nelson vocal alongside Diana Krall’s tingling complementary turns. Otherwise, whether he’s adapting Fats Waller (“Ain’t Misbehavin”), Lowe and Lerner (“On The Street Where You Live”) or Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (“Come Rain or Come Shine”), Willie Nelson tweaks, adjusts and turns vintage fare into updated, contemporary works.

The Rolling Stones
Jump Back – The Best of the Rolling Stone 1971-1993
The latter period music of the Rolling Stones has continued to surprise, confound and sometimes anger audiences, even as they’ve increasingly evolved into beloved celebrities and venerable rock statesmen. But going back through numbers like “Brown Sugar,” “Miss You,” “Beast of Burden” and “Mixed Emotions,” as well as recalling the furor that the video for “Harlem Shuffle” created when it aired during a Grammy broadcast, this anthology re-issue offers plenty of musical evidence that Mick, Keith and company were still creating plenty of controversy even after achieving rock icon status. “Start Me Up,” “Wild Horses” and “Tumbling Dice” are three more prime selections on a set that almost any of the Stones’ faithful long ago collected, but that makes a very good 18-cut sampler for anyone who wasn’t regularly acquiring the albums from which these songs were selected.

Smokey Robinson
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
(RoSo Records)
Smokey Robinson is approaching 70, yet the glittering, lush falsetto that’s made the man an R&B legend hasn’t lost its luster or range. He may not be able to hold or sustain the notes and lines as long as he could in the ‘50s and 60s, when he was helping make Motown the sound of Young America, but he’s still a wonderful interpreter and ballad stylist. Robinson also hasn’t lost his touch with phrasing or romantic lyrics and storylines, as evidenced by such numbers as “Don’t Know Why,” “Please Don’t Take Your Love” and “That Place.” Plus, there’s a trio of prime duets — matching him with Joss Stone, India.Arie and Carlos Santana — on which Robinson repeatedly demonstrates that he can share the spotlight as smoothly as he can dominate it.