Megan Thee Stallion
(330 Entertainment *** 1/2)
Good news abounds for Megan Thee Stallion, the Texas rapper who also answers to Hot Girl Meg and has recorded using the alter ego Tina Snow.
Beyond this week’s four Grammy nominations for best new artist, record of the year, best rap song, and best rap performance (the last three for “Savage” featuring Beyoncé) — she has succeeded here at something that’s often elusive: Living up to the outsized expectations she set for herself when she first emerged as a brazen, bountifully talented new voice in 2019.
Her first zeitgeist moment happened that year with “Hot Girl Summer.” Since then, she’s commanded attention with her lusty collaboration with Cardi B. on “WAP,” spoke out against the police killing of Breonna Taylor on Saturday Night Live, and wrote ”Why I Speak Up For Black Women,” an op-ed in the New York Times.
This July, she was allegedly shot in the foot by rapper Tory Lanez, who she ridicules on Good News’ opener “Shots Fired,” which references the Notorious B.I.G.
Though last year’s full-length Fever, which was categorized as a mixtape, was a well thought out, full- length piece of work, Good News has been hyped as Meg’s debut album. And other than a few missteps like the unsubtle “Intercourse,” it is a breakthrough that refines her technique and displays mastery on the mic.
Her charisma and wit energize the self-confident burner “Savage Remix” featuring Beyoncé, the gender- flipping “Girls In The Hood,” and the irresistibly bumping “Body.” In that track, Meg makes a Tiger King pun because her enemies are “scaredy cats” and suggests her male fans have only made it through quarantine by spending time alone with pictures of her.
— Dan DeLuca
The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound
(Clean Feed, *** 1/2)
Philly-based saxophonist Bobby Zankel originally formed his exploratory big band, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, to perform his own rich and thorny compositions. Nearly a decade into the ensemble’s existence, he began inviting other composers to collaborate with the band, yielding exhilarating new pieces and explosive collisions with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman, and Don Byron, among others.
The pinnacle of these efforts was legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams’ collaboration on the evening-length composition “Soundpath,” which premiered in 2012 at Montgomery County Community College. Following Abrams’ death in 2017, and with the composer’s blessing, Zankel determined to finally record the piece, convening a new, all-star version of the Warriors under the guidance of saxophonist and frequent Abrams collaborator Marty Ehrlich.
Soundpath brings together veterans of the Philly Warriors (saxophonists Julian Pressley and Mark Allen, pianist Tom Lawton) with a who’s who of venerated avant-gardists including trombonist Steve Swell, cornetist Graham Haynes, and bassist Michael Formanek.
The music unfolds as a single, album-length piece, evolving continuously over its 40-minute length. A raucous opening fanfare shatters into a breakneck excursion by the rhythm section, which melts into elegantly interwoven saxophone lines. Strident, monolithic chamber sections suddenly part to reveal a New Orleans-style groove.
The VIP of the session is drummer Chad Taylor, who maintains a dazzling air of invention through shifts in tempo and style. The vibrant album is a fitting testament to a visionary composer and thinker, whose imagination always encompassed entire histories of music while gazing far beyond them.
– Shaun Brady
The Dirty Knobs
Wreckless Abandon begins with the title song, the kind of ringing, mid-tempo rocker that singer and writer Mike Campbell could probably compose in his sleep. He was Tom Petty’s top collaborator and right-hand man in the Heartbreakers for four decades.
Fortunately, the ace guitarist is not working on autopilot here, even if this debut album by his new quartet doesn’t break any new ground. On the songs here, all originals, the Dirty Knobs move with easy command from the Stonesy riff-rocking of “Pistol Packin’ Mamas” (with Chris Stapleton contributing vocals) and “Aw Honey” (with fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on piano) to the heavy blues-rock of “Don’t Wait” and the punkish snarl of “Loaded Gun.”
The acoustic-textured “Irish Girl” and “Anna Lee,” with their folkish lilt, offer a change of pace musically and emotionally as Campbell reveals a softer and more poetic side.
Campbell co-wrote two songs on Stapleton’s new album, Starting Over, and the country star returns the favor, collaborating on “F- That Guy.” The band locks into a sinuous, slide-accented groove as Campbell talk-sings his grievances with deadpan humor. He takes the same vocal approach on “Don’t Knock the Boogie,” a John Lee Hooker-ZZ Top-style workout whose shifts in tone and tempo give it a dynamism that underscores the Dirty Knobs’ ability to re-energize tried-and-true forms.
— Nick Cristiano