The mixed-race Southern California songwriter, who has penned tunes for Usher, Asher Roth, and Musiq Soulchild, allows all sorts of elements to course through his music, whether he's pondering big questions in "Candles in the Sun" or calculating "How Many Drinks" will be required to attain his goal for the evening. "Don't Look Back" uses the Zombies' "Time of the Season" as a starting point, and "Do You . . ." and "Arch and Point" point to a Prince-ly obsession. As does the spare, strummed "P- Is Mine," which presents itself as an accidental, off-the-cuff throwaway, thus allowing the singer to expose his jealous heart and confront his gravest fear: "I don't want to believe anyone is just like me." No worries, Miguel: On Kaleidoscope Dream, there's never a question that you're one of a kind.
- Dan DeLuca
Glad Rag Doll
Diana Krall's last album, 2009's Quiet Nights, was quintessential Krall: a tasteful, careful, and artfully easygoing set of bossa-nova tunes. Glad Rag Doll is an anomaly: It's a lively, loose, and swinging bunch of old pop nuggets, mainly culled from Krall's father's collection of 78s of songs from the '20s and '30s.
T Bone Burnett produced, and he assembled some of his favorite players - guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Jay Bellarose, bassist Dennis Crouch, with a few guest turns from Krall's husband, Elvis Costello - to accompany Krall's sexy, sometimes bluesy, singing and her surprisingly forceful piano. While not exactly Krall's rock record, Glad Rag Doll fits with Burnett-produced albums by Sam Phillips and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss: It's earthy and precise, with moments of edgy friction (often courtesy of a delicious Ribot solo), and Krall sounds like she's having fun, whether on ancient songs such as "There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears" or comparatively recent ones, such as Doc Pomus' "Lonely Avenue."
- Steve Klinge
Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Part 1
Contending with Lupe Fiasco is no easy task. On his last album, Lasers, the cerebral rapper played fair-and-balanced by dissing Glenn Beck and Barack Obama while crafting an alternate ending to American slavery with stunning strangeness. Each album before Lasers had trouble in mind - lyrical or musical, drifting as Fiasco does into vampy, operatic prog-hop on occasion.
That's Fiasco's calling card: no single answer, no simple twist. To call his work heady and provocative is an understatement.
With zero connection to 2006's debut, Food & Liquor, (save for his usual cluster of wise rhymes), Fiasco goes about borrowing from hip-hop's bible, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," for his incendiary "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)." He connects Afghan civil strife with child rape so stirringly on the grippingly rhythmic "Lamborghini Angels" that it's more of a graduate thesis than a rap attack. On "Audubon Ballroom," the ghosts of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes are vividly alive in the ferocious Fiasco as he cries out: "I rap black history/ you can only see my past if you fast/ forward."
His music may drift and be wifty, but as a rapper, Lupe Fiasco is sniper-sharp.
- A.D. Amorosi
NO LOVE DEEP WEB
Death Grips is splattering for attention visually (the cover of the members' second album cannot be printed in this newspaper), sonically (dense, noisy, blunt-force rap-punk), and media-obsessively (unknowns at year's start except for ex-Hella Zach Hill, they dropped a major-label debut and leaked this follow-up themselves in the same year). Despite their avowed futurism, this all feels nostalgic. These are old-guard punk moves, biting the hand that feeds with crypto anarcho-horror rhymes (on "Hunger Games": "Somebody kill me/ I got that feeling/ Can't stop stealing/ Zero million"). The Money Store was meatier and catchier, but NO LOVE has sharper rapping from head mushmouth Stefan Burnett that grows teeth with time, culminating in hooky chants that go "Face of a woman/Tears of a child" and "F-F-F-F-F-F-Frantic."
- Dan Weiss
Free the Music
(Arista Nashville **1/2)
When Jerrod Niemann sings (or more accurately, raps) about freeing the music, he's talking about loosening the bonds on country music: "Twang town sound taking a trip." It's an approach that showed promise on Niemann's hit debut, Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury. Here, however, Niemann's blend of neotraditionalism and postmodernism doesn't jell quite so well, and ultimately, it's a rather conservative effort that doesn't follow through on the bold declaration of the leadoff title track.
That's not to say Niemann can't be quite engaging. "Honky Tonk Fever" is most likely the only "honky-tonk" tune you'll hear with a clarinet solo, but it works. Horns are also successfully incorporated into the old-school ballad "Whiskey Kinda Way." Niemann uses horns a lot, in fact, including on the first single "Shinin' on Me," where they play nicely against the tangy, Dobro-spiced arrangement.
For all the Jimmy Buffett-like breeziness, however, there's not a lot of substance. And for a guy who wants to be cutting-edge, the ballads "Only God Could Love You More" and "I'm All About You" (with Colbie Caillat) are the lamest sort of Nashville schlock.
- Nick Cristiano
(Anzic Records ***1/2)
As jazz goes increasingly international, it is only right that a Tel Aviv-born clarinetist who lives in New York should play music from Brazil, France, Cuba, and South Africa, with some New Orleans sass thrown in.
Anat Cohen is a master storyteller on reeds, and her working band - pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman - join with guests like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, whose horn can sound like Louis Armstrong's raspy voice.
Brazil gets special focus. "As Rosas Nao Falam," translated as "The Roses Do Not Speak," is a gem of an unrequited-love song, while Milton Nascimento's "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser" is cause for lightness and soaring.
Cohen's slow version of the Edith Piaf signature tune "La Vie En Rose" is soulful and seductive, with updated features like Linder's rising piano runs. "All Brothers" kicks off with West African rhythms that Cohen uses to channel John Coltrane. She and Cuban expat saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera conjure Artie Shaw for some big-band high-jinks on "Nightmare." Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Wedding" is bursting with South African vitality.
- Karl Stark
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor; I Barocchisti, Diego Fasolis directing.
Cecilia Bartoli's album covers keep getting scarier: In this anthology of arias, duets, and choruses by Agostino Steffani (1654-1728), Bartoli appears on the cover bald, wearing a priest's collar, sternly brandishing a cross, as if her admirers are vampires. Perhaps they are. But the photo is actually riffing on composer Steffani's extramusical life as a bishop. Unfortunately, the hardcover booklet (with more, even-crazier photos) is a case of packaging overload eclipsing a thoughtfully assembled recording of music that's mostly new to CD.
Though Steffani can be short-breathed and expressively limited compared to Bach and Handel, the music is as gloriously lyrical as that of any baroque composer. The complete range of genres is here (arias with obbligato, choruses, etc.), and even if much of the music isn't all that different from what the early-music community has heard before, there's Bartoli's considerable and undimmed charisma.
The highest voltage is heard in four duets with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, her technical and dramatic equal. Clearly, Bartoli's next disc ought to be duets with the new generation of baroque specialists, most of whom were no doubt influenced by her.
- David Patrick Stearns