September 24, 2006

Brandy - Afrodisiac

album review:
I’ve given up trying to figure out Brandy. She’s hid out in the spotlight for too long, never tip-toeing outside her role as a teen diva-in-training, never catching flak for being a manufactured urban princess like Ashanti either. Ten amazing and terrifically impersonal years into her career, we don’t know any more about Brandy than we did in 1994, when she was a 15 year old newcomer who just desperately wanted to be down.

And that’s exactly the way she likes it, at least if Afrodisiac is any indication. Brandy wrote barely any of the lyrics herself, but the story she tells is still revealingly oblique. Afrodisiac’s being marketed as a coming-of-age record, but this isn’t the kind of “all growns up” we’re used to seeing from our female pop stars, all newly unwrapped sexuality prepackaged for maximum male hormonal meltdown—dams bursting, speeding trains, shooting fireworks, the previously coquettish young innocent dead and buried, completely eradicated so you don’t feel bad for leering at Moesha or a Mouseketeer, replaced by a brand-new fully-formed sex symbol.

Brandy briefly tries on that bare-all ensemble for “Come As You Are”, but it never quite seems to fit. Tellingly, she’d rather reminisce than stake out brazen new sexual territory—one of the album’s best and brightest cuts, “Turn it Up”, finds Brandy waxing nostalgic for Kid 'N Play's House Party, of all things.

September 20, 2006

Scarface - The Diary

album review: With the dissolution of the Geto Boys far behind him, Scarface follows the epic overreaching of The World Is Yours with The Diary, a refreshingly modest album with a few really strong moments and little filler. Never short on ideas, Scarface had nonetheless gone a little too far with the 70-minute The World Is Yours. There was plenty of brilliance there, including the stunning "Now I Feel Ya," but you had to do some sifting to find it. That's less the case with the 43-minute Diary, which doesn't overextend its ambitions. Scarface here once again offers a laid-back gangsta ballad, "I Seen a Man Die," that's as thoughtful and somber as the style gets and also perhaps the album highlight. Elsewhere, he teams up with fellow gangsta veteran Ice Cube on "Hand of the Dead Body" and reprises his best-known song, "Mind Playin' Tricks 94." Not counting the interludes, there's only ten songs here, and they're nearly all produced by the team of N.O. Joe and Mike Dean. It may make the album a short listen, yet it also makes The Diary one of Scarface's most solid efforts, one where you rarely, if ever, feel inclined to skip a song. And that's something you can't say about the work of most rappers, particularly ones as creative as Scarface.

Los Lonely Boys - Sacred

Tex Mex Rocks
Great new long anticipated album from LLB. I dont think its a s good as their first album, but anything these guys do is great. Highlights are 'Oye Mamacita', 'My Lonliness' 'Orale'. Something here for everyone, country, rock, soul. Well Done!!

September 16, 2006

Michael Franks - Rendezvous in Rio

As one of the prime movers in that select sub-group of white folk-pop singers who have found a home in Brazilian style (Kenny Rankin is a "similar urban AOR rival," to quote a customer review), contemporary jazz artist Michael Franks has aged pretty well--if not all that gracefully. As a guy who resorts to couplets like "The clothes on my back/Are too Pasternak," he probably shouldn't be waxing philosophical about how "feeble" and "pedantic" critics are ("The Critics Are Never Kind," a musical-derived number on which Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Degas commiserate). Franks also makes music his subject too often for his own good, celebrating "The Cool School" in self-congratulatory fashion and the first time he heard "Take Five"--he says Dave Brubeck's beloved version, though his use of bleating smooth jazz saxist Eric Marienthal to evoke the great Paul Desmond makes you wonder. But his vocals are breezy and intimate, and the instrumental settings provided by a cast including guitarist Chuck Loeb and keyboardist David Sancious are attractive without being too slick. Fans whose "inner harmony always turns blue in the end" won't be able to resist the wistful pull of the songs.

September 13, 2006

Cypress Hill - Till Death Do Us Part

B Real: "Throw it on the wall/See if it sticks/If it don't work/Take another hit." Sen Dog: "Take another hit!" Those are not quotes. However, if Cypress Hill were to take the lead from every other MC who has declared honesty to be the only policy, the group might've included lines like that somewhere near the beginning of their eighth album. More restless than ever, fleeting flirtations with Jamaican music of most stripes -- dancehall, dub, and ska included -- are handled clumsily. The results are as mixed as the approaches. The most problematic moment of all is the missed opportunity that is "What's Your Number?," where Rancid's Tim Armstrong is drafted in to help replicate the dubby lope of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton"; though it would've been more fitting to hear B Real spit another grimy rhyme in this setting, he chooses instead to spin a tale of picking up a woman. The highlights all take place when the group sticks to what it does best, though the pro-weed moments keep on getting increasingly dire. The Alchemist-produced and Tego Calderón-assisted "Latin Thugs" is one example of the group retaining its strengths, since it's full of fire and swagger. All points aside, the album is strictly for the devout fan base.

Mary J. Blige - No More Drama

In the past, that voice has conveyed untold worlds of pain and anguish, but on Blige's fifth studio album, No More Drama, it's put to good use mining the foreign terrain of happiness, contentment, and other emotions seemingly antithetical to the soul singer's tragedy-filled milieu.

September 9, 2006

Jennifer Rush - Heart over mind

album review: I first heard of Jennifer Rush when her duet with Elton John, "Flames Of Paradise" hit the Top 40, and I was taken by the resonant, deep but exotic voice that accompanied Elton. The rest of the album is a combination of fiery guitar rock and heavy synthesizers, not like Ron Nevison's brand. Four producers cooked the broth that became Heart Over Mind, along with well-known songwriters and session musicians, and the differing styles make a symphonic mlange of 80's synth/rock guitar music.

The intense keyboards and crunchy rock guitars, the latter done here by Bon Jovi's Ritchie Sambora demonstrate that sound in "I Come Undone" which has the intensity of Cutting Crew's "I Just Died In Your Arms." Ellen Shipley, well known for her association with Belinda Carlisle's solo albums, wrote and did backing vocals for here.

Desmond Child produced and co-wrote "Down To You" call it a power keyboard ballad, highlighted by sheets of synths over which Jen's voice rises in its glory.

Rilo Kiley

It's fairly safe to say Jessica Simpson fans aren't going to dig Rilo Kiley: The production is tinny, the lyrics are hyper-literate, and they just haven't got around to covering that ballad from Top Gun--which just leaves more for rest of us to enjoy. Part new-wave keyboards, part folky acoustic guitars, the music on More Adventurous is unexpectedly beautiful. "Does He Love You" and "I Never" are odd pop songs, filled out with soft verses and sweet choruses. "We could be daytime drunks if we wanted...All of your failures are training grounds." singer Jenny Lewis intones on "The Absence of God." Oh, and it's not all that uppity. But still, it's a major source of refreshment for anyone feeling parched by the mainstream creative drought.

September 8, 2006

Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds 2006

notes: America's funkiest white boy puts even more distance between his boy-band past and his present career with FUTURESEX/LOVESOUNDS, the follow-up to his 2002 smash JUSTIFIED. The album is set for a September 12 release and features a slew of money-in-the-bank producers including Rick Rubin, Timbaland, and

Diana Ross - The Definitive Collection

notes: Recording information: 1970 - 2006. At a mere 20 songs, a Diana Ross collection claiming to be 'definitive,' is immediately suspect. Is it possible to define one of pop music's most iconic divas in the space of a single CD? Motown's DEFINITIVE COLLECTION tackles the problem first by excluding Ross's work with the Supremes and focusing only on her solo endeavors. The album also opts for singles over choice album cuts, and while the selection might not pass muster with diehard Ross fans, it provides a solid introduction to the singer's peak moments. Naturally, the #1's are here: "Touch Me in the Morning," "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)," and her duet with Lionel Richie on "Endless Love," among others. Ross's pop-funk hits are faithfully represented ("Upside Down;" "Love Hangover"), as is her essential duet with Marvin Gaye on "My Mistake (Was to Love You)." In short, while the album may be too brief, every song here is a glittering gem, underscoring the Motown diva's rightful place in pop music history.

September 3, 2006

Shania Twain - Man! I Feel Like A Woman

review: Since the release of Shania Twain's 12-times-platinum Come On Over in 1997, this track has been among the most obvious single choices among the steady stream of releases to both pop and country radio. Already a hit at her home base (It peaked at No. 4 on Hot Country Singles & Tracks in June), there's no reason that "Man!", with its coquettish turn of phrase, shouldn't have the same kind of appeal as her earlier "That Don't Impress Me Much". There are plenty of tasty ingredients that radio traditionally searches out here-great tempo, attitude, a hook that sells like ice cream in summer (including a guitar riff that conjures the ubiquitous "Spirit In The Sky"), and the instantly recognizable vocals of a woman who is a fond acquaintance of so many millions out there now. This is country crossover at its best and that little something different that radio says it is always after, remixed gently to add a pop touch without stripping it of its vital twang. And wait until you catch this videoclip, which features Twain imitating Robert Palmer in his groundbreaking 1986 clip for "Addicted to Love," complete with buffed and blank-eyed male models in the background. Hilarious. This is all good; go for it.

September 2, 2006

Christina Aguilera - Best Of

bio:After Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera was the most popular female singer of the late-'90s teen pop revival. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Aguilera was a technically skilled singer with a genuinely powerful voice, belting out her uptempo dance numbers and ballads with a diva's panache. Born Christina Maria Aguilera on December 18, 1980, on Staten Island, her parents were of Irish and Ecuadorian stock and her father's military career meant the family moved quite a bit during her childhood. They eventually settled in Pittsburgh, PA, where Aguilera began performing in talent shows at age six, with considerable success. She appeared on Star Search in 1988 (though she didn't win) and in 1992 joined the cast of the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club, which also included Spears, future *NSYNC members Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, and Felicity star Keri Russell. ..