Whether punching or being punched, Chris Brown is a magnet for controversy. There's always some scrape Brown is in the middle of, whether it involves a woman (Rihanna) or a rival (Drake).
Luckily, the 23-year-old R&B singer with the elastic baritone is capable of souped-up modern soul far bolder than any headline. With each record since 2009's Graffiti, the charismatic Brown, a onetime prince of pop-hop, has become increasingly dependent on techno-trickery and sleek sequenced beats. The result of such electronically induced revisionism is an AutoTuned erotica of sorts, with the mature Brown as the ultimate RoboRomancer on the Eurocentric likes of "Strip." Motor-driven machismo and steely sexuality aren't all Brown's thinking about. While dance-club life gets its due on the clunky "Bassline" and the slinky "Turn Up the Music," hanging at the strip club and getting "medicated" is the subject of "Till I Die." With military electro-beats behind him and rappers Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa, "Die" races at an up-tempo clip until hitting upon "Said she wanna check the poll / I said OK Sarah Palin." If this is Brown hitting up political controversy, he may have another fight on his hands.
— A.D. Amorosi
Haha I'm Sorry
The first words on Kitty Beckwith's second EP are "Get out of my room!"; on the next track she proclaims herself the "rap game Taylor Swift" before guest weirdo Riff Raff drops in to rhyme "rhinoceros" with "immaculate." The most laconic voice-of-her-generation candidate ever condenses a few years of New York Times-recognized microgenres (chillwave/witch house/swag rap) into a happy, sluggish universe that culminates in turning 2012's biggest breakout hit, "Call Me Maybe," into the hypnotic-horns giggle "Give Me Scabies." The Floridian, a Claire's employee and unlikely rap star, spends Haha's other 10 minutes prizing 3 a.m. drunk dials, taking Adderall to stay thin, and bragging that she's ruining hip-hop. She's smarter than indie-rockers five years her senior, not least because she won't tell us how old she actually is. — Dan Weiss
Swing Lo Magellan
With 2009's Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors established themselves as one of today's most adventurous and significant indie-rock bands. Helmed by singer-guitarist David Longstreth, the band merged avant-garde conceptual structures, West African-influenced guitar lines, and leaping female harmonies in songs that were as knotty as they were uplifting. It was the Projectors' most accessible album.
Swing Lo Magellan, the much-anticipated successor and the band's sixth overall, uses similar elements, but it's looser, less dense, and less immediate. The songs are full of startling bursts — a blast of Jimmy Page-like guitar in "Offspring Are Blank," the bleat of women's voices in "Gun Has No Trigger" — amid Longstreth's elongated vocal lines. Moments of relative simplicity (the acoustic title track; the easygoing "Impregnable Question") contrast with complexly layered, more challenging pieces (the skittering, electronic "See What I See"; the communal, clattering "Unto Caesar"). Bitte Orca is still the best gateway to Dirty Projectors' complicated rewards, but Swing Lo Magellan often distills the band's strengths. — Steve Klinge
Country / Roots
(Stony Plain )
"Get the feel of it, down to the real of it," Ian Tyson sings on "Blueberry Susan," a salute to the first guitarist he ever heard and other musical colleagues who have passed on. At 78, the Canadian troubadour and cattle rancher has been doing just that for a long time, going back to the early '60s, when he was half of the hitmaking folk duo Ian and Sylvia.
Tyson is still recovering from the damage his voice suffered in a 2006 outdoor performance and a subsequent virus. It's more hoarse and hushed than robust and resonant. But that just lends a new intimacy to Tyson's performances, framed in spare, acoustic-textured folk-country arrangements. He also maintains all of his usual grace. Combine that with another batch of closely observed and close-to-the-bone songs that draw from his rich and varied life — that get "down to the real of it" — and the aging cowboy poet still has the power to move listeners. — Nick Cristiano
(ACR Music )
It has been a while since the flute entranced my jazz consciousness, but Ali Ryerson reminds me how slinky and sensual her slim ax can be.
The leader seduces from the get-go. She can play sweet — there are some fusion sensibilities here — but she's always got the spiritual heft along with a wild soloist's heart.
Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri — whose Steps Ahead ventures were so excellent — gives a pleasant, dark resonance to the proceedings. Keyboard Pete Levin writes the almost funky title track, conveying good energy throughout, while bassist Mark Egan is a leprechaun of a presence, dispensing low-register wit.
Satie's "1st Gymnopédie" proves to be a welcome ditty among this set of mostly originals, while Jimmy Giuffre's "Shadows" is quite the mystical outing. — Karl Stark
Ryerson and her quintet play at 8 p.m. Saturday at Chris' Jazz Cafe, 1421 Sansom St. Tickets: 8 p.m. $22; 10 p.m. $20. Information: 215 568-3131 .
Arias for Guadagni
Davies, countenor, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen cond.
Another month, another wonderful new recording by a fresh young countertenor, right? Countertenors keep getting better, and so it is with Iestyn Davies, who has been around for a few years but appears now in a dandy showcase disc of arias by Handel, Hasse, Arne, Gluck written for the great castrato Gaetano Guadagni. Rather than emphasizing the musical athleticism that was so popular in the 18th century, this aria collection has greater depth and reflection, the Handel arias being drawn from the composer's later-period English-language oratorios, and concluding with sections of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. The disc ends with an aria that Guadagni wrote for himself showing, once again, that he thought of himself as an artist as much as a technician.
Davies' voice sets a new standard for natural voice production with a charismatic tone that's particularly welcome in music by some of the lesser composers on disc, whose operas are worth sampling rather than examining in complete form. Words flow clearly from his medium-weight voice, and even the more ornamental passages have emotional weight. Conductor Jonathan Cohen moves through the repertoire with a kind of sympathetic comprehension that never oversells the music, or needs to. — David Patrick Stearns
Zac Brown Band, Uncaged; Serj Tanikian, Harakiri; The English Beat, The Complete Beat (Box Set); Rhonda Vincent, Sunday Morning Singin'