Wynn: Martina Shines on new CD

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 12:00am

Martina McBride

The four-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year’s latest release includes its share of both affirmative, upbeat pieces (“Just Call You Mine,” “Sunny Side Up”) and assertive, demonstrative numbers that showcase McBride’s consistently powerful and impressive style and range (“What Do I Have to Do,” “You’re Not Leaving Me,” “Lies.”)

McBride is a disciplined, yet compelling performer, able to take a song in any direction and effectively explore and exploit different moods.

She doubles as co-producer along with Dan Huff, and the pair has nicely varied the frameworks and style between traditional and contemporary arrangements to craft another successful and memorable McBride release.

The Dead Weather
(Third Man/WB)

Take the blues, mix it with jagged, swirling rock licks, punk attitude, even some hip-hop swagger and you’ve got the formula for Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and company’s latest incarnation, The Dead Weather.

Alison Mosshart’s (The Kills) amazing vocals, Dean Fergita’s (Queens of the Stone Age) multi-instrumental savvy, White’s own spirited drumming and Jack Lawrence’s (The Raconteurs) bass, guitar and occasional percussive assistance all weave to form the unusual and catchy fabric of these songs.

From the edgy sensibility of “Hang You from the Heavens” and “I Cut Like a Buffalo” to even more intense performances on “Birds,” “Bone House” and “So Far from your Weapon,” The Dead Weather represent yet another variation of White’s constantly evolving, experimental and delightful musical vision.

BLACKsummers’ night

Acting and sounding as though he’d only taken a couple of days off rather than eight years, the vocalist Maxwell soars and croons with verve and soul on his latest offering, the first of a proposed trilogy.

He opens with a decisive, declarative number “Bad Habits,” then gradually expands into softer statements (“Pretty Wings,” “Help Somebody”) while taking time to offer both sentimental (“Love You”) and vulnerable (“Fistful of Tears,” “Playing Possum”) romantic expressions.

Maxwell doesn’t veer as much or as often in the falsetto realm as he did earlier in his career, but he sounds stronger and more confident, in addition to being more fluid and versatile as a singer and instrumentalist.

BLACKsummers’ night definitely reaffirms Maxwell’s contention that being away from the spotlight helped rather than hurt him both professionally and personally.

Son Volt
American Central Dust

Jay Farrar is alternately anguished and angry, animated and restrained on Son Volt’s newest collection of alt.country ballads, manifestos and reflections.

“Cocaine and Ashes,” “Jukebox of Steel” and “Pushed Too Far” are among the highpoints, with Farrar sometimes seeming too close to vocal strain but always able to recover and fortify the strong musical support coming from guitarist Chris Masterson and keyboardist/lap steel guitarist Mark Spencer.

There’s not a lot of cheery fare here, with “Sultana” and “Dust of Daylight” qualifying as perhaps the least pensive and terse pieces. But despite the somber ethos and sensibility, Farrar and crew keep things musically fierce and exciting, with their energy and zeal compensating for lyrics that are often anything but warm and joyful.

Hank Williams Jr.
127 Rose Avenue

Hank Williams Jr.’s latest disc occasionally takes a nostalgic approach, particularly on the title track, a tune that recounts youthful days spent at his legendary father’s home, which is now a museum.

The lengthy “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” pays tribute to Hank Williams Sr.’s legacy as a songwriting genius and musical master. But otherwise, Williams Jr. keeps the focus on contemporary events and affairs. “Red, White & Pink-Slip Blues” is a dashing chronicle about a laid-off mill worker, and “Sounds Like Justice” offers a blistering account of child abuse, with the situation ultimately handled in a manner that will please some and anger others.

Williams also takes a solid turn into bluegrass with The Grascals on “All the Roads” and ventures into Southern boogie, swamp and the blues on other occasions.

At 60, now firmly among the country icons of his generation, Williams Jr. still has plenty to say about both the past and the present.