Big Dreams & High Hopes
There won’t be a better putdown tune this year than “Barbie Doll,” a heartfelt dismissive classic featuring Jack Ingram with Dierks Bentley and the LBLBUFFTF Choir (try and find out what that stands for) that’s the centerpiece of Ingram’s latest CD.
But that song’s zeal and anger aren’t the disc’s primary mood. Instead, Ingram explores multiple situations and attitudes, never lingering too long in one place emotionally or musically. There’s the celebratory tone of “Free” and “That’s A Man,” the optimistic fervor in “Seeing Stars,” a beautiful duet with Patty Griffin,” and the defiant sensibility of “Heartache.”
Ingram is definitely in the traditional camp in terms of approach and style, but his vision and sound is anything but retro or dated.
The Black Crowes
Before the Frost
The settings shift from jam-based electric blues to country-tinged acoustic backgrounds on the newest Black Crowes release, though Chris Robinson’s vocal energy and personality remain their primary attraction.
The current incarnation also includes superb instrumentalists guitarist Luther Dickinson and keyboardist Adam MacDougall. Their steady contributions enable the band to handle the changes in idiomatic direction and lyric mood from pensive numbers like “Good Morning Captain” or “Appaloosa” to more intense offerings “Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)” or “And The Band Played On.”
Here is sometimes edgy, sometimes sentimental Southern rock, spiced by occasional side trips into rockabilly, honky-tonk and soul.
Brooks & Dunn
#1s…And Then Some
Summarizing 19 years over two discs is tough, but this package ably displays the qualities that made Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn a country institution. Versatility, topflight material, plus tremendous chemistry in both studio and live performances were among their strengths.
This latest collection gathers both chart-toppers and a pair of new numbers. “Honky Tonk Stomp” features ZZ Top guitar firebrand Billy Gibbons in a fiery guest spot, while “Indian Summer” proves a nice reflective work. The fresh pieces are nice bookends for a host of familiar, essential numbers from a legendary duo.
I Look To You
Whitney Houston’s once spectacular voice has retained its range, but lost some shine and authority on her first studio sessions in seven years.
Thankfully, there’s no audible indication of too much tweaking and remixing, but it’s clear from some of the twists and turns in songs like “I Look To You,” “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” or “Worth It” that Houston can’t navigate the highs or sail through the lyrics in the manner that once made her arguably the finest pure singer of her generation.
But she hasn’t fallen so far that there still aren’t some great moments. These just aren’t achieved as consistently or constantly as before.
Kamal the Abstract
After an eight-year wait, Q-Tip’s Kamal the Abstract, an experimental merger of rap, jazz, funk and soul, has finally been released. The cuts “Do You Dig U?” (with Gary Thomas & Kurt Rosenwinkle) and “Abstractionisms” (with Kenny Garrett a.k.a. Truth) underline his fluid rapping with whirling solos and explosive musical backing.
“Blue Girl” and “Barely In Love” are meditations on the perils of romance, while “Heels” and the bonus track “Make It Work” extend the discussion into topical/social areas. Q-Tip isn’t an intense or assertive rapper. His flow is measured rather than clipped or furious, and he slowly builds his lines rather than rips through them.
While not as controversial or groundbreaking as anticipated, Kamaal the Abstract has both glorious and forgettable sections.
Jay Reatard — Watch Me Fall (Matador) Sharp, taut Memphis punk delivered at a relentless pace with ample doses of pathos, humor and anger.
Drive-By Truckers — The Fine Print (New West) Alternate takes, satiric gems (“George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues”), distinctive covers (“Like A Rolling Stone”) and intriguing oddities, done in peak Truckers fashion.
Radney Foster And The Confessions — Revival (Devil’s River) An entertaining balancing act across the dividing line between fundamentalist finger-pointing and secular actions, spiced by Foster’s wondrous, delightful singing and an array of striking, amazing numbers (“Life is Hard (Love is Easy),” “I Made Peace With God,” “Forgiveness.”)
KRS-One & Buckshot — Survival Skills (Duck Down) Confrontational, combative social/topical rap delivered with a confidence buttressed by decades in the rap game and emboldened by the knowledge few are better at both proselytizing and entertaining than KRS-One.
Laughin’ & Cryin’ — With The Reverend Horton Heat (Yep Roc) From Western swing to gutbucket blues and woeful confessions, Laughin’ & Cryin’ provide the country, rock and blues backgrounds, while Reverend Horton Heat add the irony and barbs.