Radio Music Society
Heads Up International
If 2010's Chamber Music Society was bassist/ composer/vocalist Esperanza Spalding's hat tip to her classical roots, this new album looks at her popping funk history and the fellow jazz players who helped make the music.
Like a neo-soul Steely Dan, Spalding's arrangements bring differently swinging drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Jack DeJohnette, spiky guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, salty saxophonist Joe Lovano, vocalist Gretchen Palato, and keyboardist Leo Genovese (among others) to bear on her subtly layered productions.
Save for two riveting tunes coproduced with rapper Q-Tip (their "Crowned & Kissed" is one of the album's high points) and two covers (Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder), this is Spalding's shining hour. She lets her alto coo flitter atop the abrupt rhythms and syncopated horns of "Radio Song" and slithers into the blues of "Hold on Me" with sensual aplomb. She pens smartly emotional lyrics for Shorter's "Endangered Species" and turns it into rubbery bop-pop. While "Black Gold" offers a sermon in the church of electric gospel (complete with children's choir), "Let Her" is heel-clicking R&B guided by her supple rhythmic interplay with DeJohnette. Each collaborator shines, their best traits highlighted, their funkiest feet forward. But it's Spalding's show, a truly crowned and kissed moment.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
It's been seven years since her last album, but Bonnie Raitt seems to pick up right where she left off in a consistent career that began in the early '70s. Slipstream begins with the funky R&B of "Used to Rule the World," revs up for some roadhouse fun with "Down to You" and "Split Decision," and slows for tasteful ballads, such as "Not Cause I Wanted To." There's also Gerry Rafferty's 1979 pop hit "Right Down the Line," which is right in Raitt's wheelhouse and, like much else here, showcases her emotive slide guitar.
Raitt produced all those numbers, performing them with her own band, and it's all typically solid stuff. But the highlights are the four tracks helmed by Joe Henry, using his own musicians, especially two excellent Dylan numbers, "Million Miles" and "Standing in the Doorway."
The arrangements are spare and evocative, and bring a new and fresh feel to Raitt's usual blues- and folk-based approaches. It makes you want to hear more from this collaboration.
NICK CRISTIANO, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Amadou & Mariam
Most of the blind African couple Amadou & Mariam's music is sung in Bambara or French, already a barrier to entry for many English-speaking music fans.
For their new disc they traveled to New York for sessions with guest artists TV on the Radio, Santigold, Theophilus London and members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Scissor Sisters. Then they went home to Mali to record the same songs with African musicians using instruments like the ngoni and doumdoums, and the French singer Bertrand Cantat.
Unable to decide between two approaches, they dumped the tapes in the hands of producers with the request to meld the different versions into one.
Let's be honest. That sounds like an utter disaster, doesn't it?
The fact that it isn't, and may even be this duo's most enjoyable disc yet, is nothing short of miraculous. Credit the driving, rhythmic guitar playing of Amadou as the element that ties many disparate elements together. This is thrilling, catchy and complex music that satisfies even if you haven't a clue what they're singing about (although the package includes an English translation of the lyrics). That's no small feat.
The alluring interplay of guitar, harmonica and violin on "Sans Toi" feels like happening upon a hip party in the desert.
DAVID BAUDER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Paul van Dyk
German trance music titan Paul van Dyk treats us to his musical evolution with an album aptly titled "Evolution," a light listen that features his signature synth-soaked approach. The good news for van Dyk fans is that he hasn't lost his touch.
The bad news is it's the same old touch, delivered at the same old pace and does little to show that van Dyk has truly evolved since five years ago, when he last delivered similar stuff.
Early tracks like "Symmetries" and "Eternity," the latter featuring Owl City vocalist Adam Young, are simply too soft around the edges. There is no urgency to run to the dance floor and shake off the weight of the week to such flimsy fare.
"Rock This" builds up nicely and gets the blood flowing, but the bottom-end bass never comes hard enough and the listener is left anticipating something more fulfilling.
Van Dyk redeems himself slightly on "Lost in Berlin," featuring sparse but catchy vocals from Michelle Leonard. Here van Dyk allows himself to get lost in a beautifully churning pace and give listeners something they can really move to.
These are the times when harder edged DJs and live electronic artists rule the dance floors. Deadmau5 and Grammy-winning Skillex are the current forces to be reckoned with in the sphere of electronic music. If van Dyk wants to keep pace with their powerful progressions, he'll need a better evolution.
"I Don't Deserve You" features contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Plumb. Her vocals soar to the rafters and van Dyk plays off her pure tones perfectly. He supports her with a gentle build of synthesizer work and a crescendo so lush you can't help but smile. Plumb emerges as the star on an album of fading lights.
RON HARRIS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
After the success of her last album, 2010's"Still Standing," Grammy-winner Monica returns with a soulful yet less-than-impressive collection of R&B tracks.
The album's first single, "It All Belongs To Me," has deservedly attracted the most attention of all the songs on the album. Possibly the most talked about musical reunion of the year, it features Monica and Brandy with another powerful duet, 14 years since their 1998 classic "The Boy Is Mine." This one is an anthem for the ladies, all about giving the boot to a no-good man.
But there aren't a lot of songs as electric as that one. "Daddy's Good Girl" has a strong beat but lyrically seems out of place, with lines like "Shopping sprees might make me smile for now but what about later?" ''Big Mistake" is emotional and full of passion, but while it briefly grabs the listener's attention, it doesn't hold it. The same can be said for "Take A Chance" featuring Wale. Expectations are high, but a little more oomph is needed.
Among the highlights of "Still Standing" is "The Man Who Has Everything," a risky song where Monica experiments with a reggae beat, and pulls it off.
Showing off her vocal range on "Without You," Monica reminds us why she's still relevant, and she takes it further on the sad and sophisticated "Until It's Gone." The raw pain in her voice hits home to give you goosebumps all over.
Vocally, Monica has never disappointed: Her voice is powerful and pure. But the album sounds uneven and underwhelming, perhaps due to the large number of producers, including past collaborators Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox and Missy Elliott, along with new blood like Salaam Remi and Rico Love. With all that talent behind Monica, it's surprising this album has such a shortage of standout hits.
BIANCA ROACH, ASSOCIATED PRESS