New Recordings

Posted: December 03, 2012

Pop

Alicia Keys

Girl on Fire

(RCA ***)

Girl on Fire? Grabby title, and the song of the same name hangs its hat on a big, belted-out hook that demands attention.

It's a misleading sobriquet, though, for Alicia Keys' fifth album, a bounce-back from the mid-career rut of 2007's As I Am and 2009's The Element Of Freedom. Maybe marriage and motherhood have something to do with it - her son Egypt shows up acting cutesy at the end of "When It's All Over" - but Girl On Fire is marked more by confidently composed maturity than an effort to set the night ablaze.

Sure, there are some silly, de rigueur concessions to the marketplace, such as the Nicki Minaj rap appended to the title track, or the knotty reggae rhythm that Keys awkwardly navigates at the start of the clumsily titled "Limitedless." But Keys mostly plays to her strengths here. She starts off with the piano-tinkling "De Novo Adagio" intro, teams up effectively with both Maxwell and blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. on "Fire We Make," digs into a gospel groove on "Not Even the King," and, most effectively, delivers a just-right raspy soul vocal on "Tears Always Win," a huge hit-to-be cowritten with Bruno Mars.

- Dan DeLuca

Kid Rock

Rebel Soul

(Atlantic ***)

Heartland rock and country epics - that was Kid Rock, vintage 2010. Kid's Born Free that year was a good one, filled with the grandeur, grit, and fresh air of a Bob Seger record, without Kid's usual hip-hop lean or strip-club soliloquies. Problem was, few people bought into the idea of a Chevy truck-driving, wind-in-your-hair-styled Kid. They like their Kid with dirty hair and a dirtier mind.

So he gave it to them.

Rebel Soul is more cliché-driven than Rock's foul, funkier previous albums. Then again, you don't come to Kid's albums for innovation. You come for tried-and-true rock-out axioms, ideas as worn as old motorcycle boots, and how Kid somehow makes them inviting. The churning, bass-heavy sound behind the yowling Rock is crusty and distorted - a perfect fit for the sleaze factor of cuts like "Cocaine and Gin." Throw some hip-hop and a hot tub into that equation? A tune like "Cucci Galore." Replace sex and drugs with cars, and there's the rich Corinthian leather of "3 CATT Boogie."

No matter how tacky or tawdry, there's always an earnest Kid trying to break through on tunes like "God Save Rock n Roll." As long as it's nasty, let him try.

- A.D. Amorosi

Ke$ha

Warrior

(Kemosabe/RCA ***)

Ke$ha burst onto the scene with 2009's Animal, a wonderland of bourbon-breath'd, glitter-flecked, dance-all-night moral relativists. Warrior, her guest-laden follow-up, begins on a similar course. Lead single "Die Young" is a classic live-for-the-party anthem, while the Iggy Pop duet "Dirty Love" is deliciously, almost uncomfortably filthy. But cracks begin to show in Ke$ha's neon body paint, through which we can see a beating, vulnerable heart. The house thumper "Wherever You Are" and the Strokes-assisted "Only Wanna Dance With You" celebrate love of the nonfleeting variety. And the Ben Folds/Flaming Lips-aided deluxe edition track "Past Lives" chronicles an oddball romance for the ages. Even the kiss-off "Thinking Of You" reveals previously uncharted depths. While not a completely seamless process, the evolution of Ke$ha is fascinating to watch.

- Brian Howard

Scott Walker

Bish Bosch

(4AD **1/2)

Bish Bosch takes its name in part from Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th-century Dutch painter known for his phantasmagorical and sometimes grotesque triptychs. He's an apt reference point for the world Scott Walker conjures on his first album since 2006's Drift. Walker, an American revered in Britain since his hits with the Walker Brothers in the mid-'60s, has come far since "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." Bish Bosch is a willfully inaccessible, darkly obfuscating album.

Walker's dramatic baritone is intact at age 69, but he's using it not as a romantic crooner but as an oracle from hellish depths. Walker doesn't sing so much as intone the fragmented images, by turns poetic, scatological, and arcane; the music is an industrial blend of synthesizer squeals, abrasive guitar bursts, and martial drum crashes, punctuated by ominous quiet and literalist sounds of knives sharpening and grotesque bodily functions. One piece lasts more than 21 minutes. These aren't songs so much as avant-garde theater pieces: discomforting, uncompromising, and alienating.

- Steve Klinge

Country/Blues

Iris DeMent

Sing the Delta

(Flariella ****)

Iris DeMent certainly takes her time making albums. Sing the Delta is her first in eight years and her first collection of new original material in 16. When the results are this sublimely good, however, it's hard to complain.

The 51-year-old Arkansas-born singer may have been raised in Southern California, but her voice still possesses an industrial-strength nasal twang, one that radiates both frailty and resolve and is as real and unvarnished as the portrait of her on the cover. The music, likewise, is still rooted in country and gospel, with DeMent's churchy piano underpinning most of the tracks. The vividly drawn songs bring striking depth and nuance to familiar country themes, whether she's singing movingly about Mom and Dad, missing a loved one, or delivering a love song to her native South (the title track, a stately ballad caressed by Stax-like soul horns).

Perhaps nowhere does DeMent cut closer to the bone than on the songs that grapple with faith. It still exerts an ineluctable pull on her: On "If That Ain't Love," she sings about being overcome when Aretha comes on her car radio singing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." But in "The Kingdom Has Already Come," she confesses: "I stopped in the church to pray/ It was the middle of the day/ And I don't even know if I believe in God." And that is followed by her devastating story about "The Night I Learned How Not to Pray."

- Nick Cristiano

Jazz

Adam Kromelow Trio

Youngblood

(Zoho ***1/2)

Just when you think jazz is a dying genre, along comes some new blood.

Pianist Adam Kromelow is just a year out of Manhattan School of Music, and his CD from earlier this year sounds big and often scary-good.

His trio, with drummer Jason Burger and bassist Raviv Markovitz, is heavy on the leader's originals, such as "Mr. Pokey," which takes a sly way through the melody. Or "Mojo," a Monkish bit of free jazz, a rarity in this age of attention deficit.

Kromelow and mates show their poetic side picking through a sweet take of the Beatles' "Across the Universe," and they go positively epic on Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street," which resonates in the head long after it ends.

Pianist Arturo O'Farrill is the sage producer who lets this young trio take it down. But all credit goes to the upstarts themselves, who could inherit the Village Vanguard.

- Karl Stark

Classical

Jacob Obrecht

Missa de Sancto Donatiano

Cappella Pratensis

(Fineline Classical, CD and DVD ****)

The Dutch vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis made a strong impression in recent weeks with Jacob Obrecht's 1487 Missa de Sancto Donatiano in New York's Music Before 1800 series. It called attention to the group's important though somewhat overlooked recording of the piece, one that's a breakthrough in the Renaissance vocal repertoire discography.

Besides having a CD of the Mass, the group also issued, in the same package, a DVD of the piece, shot in the Bruges church where it was first sung, and with English subtitles, allowing listeners to hear the interwoven texts while they're being sung. Other authentic niceties: pronunciation of the Latin text in keeping with the period, and the eight-member Cappella singing from a single (large) score.

What it sounds like: Obrecht requires close attention (if only because his refined vocal lines lack a modern sense of tension) but repays it handsomely as the music's profound ingenuity reveals itself. Obrecht punctuates his simultaneous texts with their own cadences yet somehow maintains the music's overall flow. The music also benefits enormously from Cappella Pratensis' inward sense of concentration as well as its distinctive blend, tinted by the use of male voices for soprano and alto parts.

- David Patrick Stearns

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