Note to Jamie Foxx:
You're an Academy Award winner with friends in the hip-hop biz. You've got soulful singing chops. On
, you combined smooth R&B and rugged rap, and the result was cool, sensual and subtle.
, on the other hand, is as subtle as the film version of
Your cocksure croon, paired with the tops in hop, such as Lil Wayne ("Number One") and T.I. ("Just like Me"), works nicely for what seems to be a concept album about your desire to please the ladies. You and your pals make an elegant combo of satin and steel. But the more salacious pop, with robot guys Kanye West and T-Pain, is misfire after misfire. "Weekend Lover" feels as if it lasts a fortnight. What good has that Oscar done you?
- A.D. Amorosi
(World Village ***1/2)
Like Cesaria Evora, Omara Portuondo possesses a voice that is at once calming and full of sorrow, a colorful alto that seems to luxuriate over each note.
, her third solo album since her appearance with the Buena Vista Social Club in 1996 revitalized a recording career that began more than 50 years ago, is a thing of beauty.
Backed by a flexible jazz quintet that includes musicians from Cuba, Brazil, Israel and India, plus with assorted guests, Portuondo croons songs about her native Cuba ("Yo Vi") as well as songs from South America ("O Que Será," a duet with Chico Buarque) and Africa ("Drume Negrita," with Cameroon's Richard Bona). Portuondo's elegant voice blends them seamlessly: It's such a commanding and entrancing presence that the occasional guest vocalists are mere distractions.
- Steve Klinge
For all the studly showmanship of his 1960s pop-idol persona, Tom Jones has always been a more than credible singer of vintage R&B and rock. (Check out the DVDs of his 1969-71 variety show, where he went toe-to-toe with the likes of Aretha and Little Richard, and his excellent 2004 album,
Tom Jones and Jools Holland
shows both sides of the Welshman. The first half pushes toward Jones' Vegas side, with echoes of his old near-kitsch pop hits. Even here, though, Jones' charm can shine through, and not just on the tasteful "We Got Love." The macho strut of "Sugar Daddy" verges on the ridiculous, except that the 68-year-old Jones seems to be in on the joke ("The older I get, the better I was").
The second half takes on a more autumnal air, with the music turning toward classic soul. And Jones, acting his age, is up to this mature material, highlighted by a spectacular, Stax-like take on Springsteen's "The Hitter."
- Nick Cristiano
He has all the ingredients for artistic success - a voice as deep as he is tall, and music that maintains a strong country foundation - but Trace Adkins' albums have been frustratingly uneven. That's not so with
(as in "10"), however; the hitmaker here delivers his most consistently rewarding set.
With Frank Rogers, one of Nashville's best producers, manning the board, Adkins shows his man's-man side with several solid rocking numbers, and "Muddy Water" provides some gospel-infused uplift. Top-flight ballads, meanwhile, anchor the collection, from the family-man plea "All I Ask for Anymore" to the haunting, piano-and-cello "I Can't Outrun You," and the honky-tonk-infused "Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink." The ultimate stunner, though, is "Till the Last Shot's Fired," a sobering soldiers' tale that salutes bravery but never glorifies war, and ends on a truly inspired note - with the West Point Cadet Glee Club singing the chorus.
- Nick Cristiano
The Best of the HighTone Years
(Shout! Factory ***1/2)
Dave Alvin likes to say that there are two kinds of folk music - quiet and loud - and that he plays both. This 18-song collection from his days with the now-defunct HighTone label shows the Southern California troubadour-rocker's mastery of each style.
Alvin's gift for taut everyman narratives is evident on rockers like "Haley's Comet" and "Fourth of July," acoustic pieces such as "Dry River," and the many electric-acoustic songs in between. Also evident, as the '90s progress, is the growing expressiveness of the former Blaster's cigarette-roughened baritone.
The Alvin set has been released simultaneously with HighTone-era collections by two other ace tunesmiths, Buddy Miller and Alvin collaborator Tom Russell.
(Dreambox Media ***)
Philly's premiere jazz label, Dreambox Media, here puts out its first holiday CD. It's a jaunty stocking stuffer, featuring an elegant trio that covers many of the usual ditties without doing anything embarrassing.
The veteran trio includes pianist Mark Kramer, who has worked with guitarist Jimmy Bruno and bassist Eddie Gomez, and recorded jazz takes ranging from Broadway shows to the Rolling Stones songbook.
Bassist Charles Fambrough, also a producer, has collaborated with Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey and Grover Washington Jr., while drummer Jim Miller is a Philly jazz fixture and a Dreambox cofounder.
The set is suave and dreamy. There's no attempt to simplify or schmaltz up the proceedings, or make them Hallmark versions. The tunes are full of unexpected harmonies and serve as settings for Kramer's sensibility to roam widely. The traditional "Deck the Halls" is typical of the trio's intelligent approach. Flutist Leslie Burrs and percussionist Omar Hill also appear.
(Dreambox CDs are available at
» READ MORE: www.dreamboxmedia.com
- Karl Stark
Say You'll Understand
» READ MORE: www.klezdispensers.com
The Klez Dispensers are an eight-piece band that lands somewhere between swing and klezmer. It could set the Hora to the Charleston.
The group focuses on seven Yiddish theater classics, including "Papirosn," which gets a slinky beat from drummer Gregg Mervine.
Singer Susan Watts rips the heart out of "Oy Mame." Its English lyrics are full of double entendres that are a stitch and feel like an old blues, such as "When he fiddles with his bow and moves it faster to and fro, Oy Mame, really does me good . . . klezmer boy, I really want you bad."
The set also includes five originals, including a snake-charming "Fischer Tanz," by violinist Amy Zakar and a swirling "Sirba" by Russian-born reed man Alex Kontorovich, who's a persuasive soloist. Pianist Adrian Banner creates many of the good arrangements.
(Atma Classique ****)
As numerous as holiday recordings are, try finding one that you'd want to hear (or can stand to hear) more than once. This one, however, is so good that it transcends the season and keeps yielding marvelous new things. Performed by Musica Intima, a 12-voice Canadian group based in Vancouver, the program is all for unaccompanied chamber choir, and is a smartly sequenced, intelligently selected succession of 19 works, mostly two to four minutes long. Familiar names such as Benjamin Britten and Eric Whitacre are mixed in with mostly contemporary composers unknown to those outside choral circles, such as Healy Willan, represented by his quirky combination of English text and plainchant in
, and Elizabeth Poston's simple, direct setting of the Shaker text
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.
Some pieces are written by group members. Best among them is Jonathan Quick's
Angels From Heaven Came
, an eventful, six-minute epic with the men singing the narrative of the Blessed Virgin Mary's Annunciation while women's voices supply all sorts of ethereal, angelic atmosphere. Musica Intima's vocal blend, hailing from the dignified Anglican tradition, is consistently flawless but not careful: This group's distinctive personality is defined by each group's having something vital to say.
- David Patrick Stearns