Riches, Royalty & Respect
(Fat Beats ***1/2)
nolead ends What to do when you're hip-hop's lion in winter? Keep pushing forward, it seems. Since the Reagan era, Nathaniel "Kool Genius of Rap" Wilson has influenced your favorite rappers' favorite rappers by pushing ice-cold lyrics through a flow-within-a-flow delivery, his lisp adding a human touch. Riches, Royalty & Respect, G Rap's fourth proper solo album, isn't much different from the previous three - or the three records he did with DJ Polo, or any of his umpteen guest spots - which is to say, it's awfully good. It's also refreshingly naive: indebted to mob life and steeped in soulful break beats, RRR doesn't sound a day past 1998, minus the clever Feist sample in "The Meaning to Your Love." Keep the change. Kool G Rap will keep his money and guns.
- Michael Pollock
nolead begins My Morning Jacket
nolead ends nolead begins Circuital
nolead ends nolead begins (ATO ***)
nolead ends Over the course of five studio albums, My Morning Jacket established itself as one of America's best rock bands, rooted in Southern country rock but wide-ranging and experimental. Blessed with the heavenly vocals of Jim James, MMJ dabbled in soul and funk on 2008's fantastic Evil Urges. The long-awaited Circuital curtails some of that wild eclecticism, although it does veer into heavy psychedelic set pieces several times.
This mostly live-in-the-studio album contains a few underwhelming tracks (the repetitive "The Day Is Coming," the ambling "You Wanna Freak Out"), but it also has one grand anthem ("Circuital"), one playful celebration ("Outta My System"), and several transcendent ballads, "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" among them. Circuital is the first MMJ album in a long time that's less than epic. But it's still wonderful.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins Tinie Tempah
nolead ends nolead begins Disc-Overy
nolead ends nolead begins (Capitol ***)
nolead ends When it comes to powerhouse hip-hop, rappers from the United Kingdom are such an undervalued entity. Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascal, and Ms. Dynamite are notable English rhymers whose freaky flows sold big in Britain but stiffed in America. Now it's young Tinie Tempah's turn. The London-born grime-pop MC with the rapid-fire attack and quip-filled raps already has a hit in the United States with the dramatic, guitar-overloaded "Written in the Stars."
Tempah likes his backing tracks grandiose and topped with blip tech beats and computer-game synth squeals. The best examples of this PlayStation aesthetic are "Miami 2 Ibiza" (produced by Swedish House Mafia) and "Wonderman," the latter filled with heady grooves and the folksy vocals of Prince William's wedding singer, Ellie Goulding. While another of Disc-Overy's collaborations, "Til I'm Gone" (with Wiz Khalifa), best shows off Tempah's jousting abilities in the face of a brightly dynamic chorus and busy arrangement, the slow dub-infused likes of "Snap" and "Frisky" are stripped down to show off his crisp, brash voice at its most unadorned.
By George, I think he's got it.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Stevie Nicks
nolead ends nolead begins In Your Dreams
nolead ends nolead begins (Reprise **1/2)
nolead ends After a decade away from the recording studio, onetime Fleetwood Mac nightingale Stevie Nicks returns, untouched by time. At 62, her distinctive adenoidal voice is still oddly bewitching. It papers over some of the CD's more wifty tracks, as does the crisp production of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. (Waddy Wachtel and Mike Campbell made significant contributions to the music.) Nicks takes songwriting inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe ("Annabel Lee") to Stephenie Meyer ("Moonlight: A Vampire's Dream"). Perhaps tellingly, the track with the most pop appeal, "Secret Love," was written by Nicks in 1976. If nothing else, In Your Dreams proves that there's life in the old girl yet.
- David Hiltbrand
It's Already Tomorrow
('Effin 'Ell ***1/2)
nolead ends In the late '80s, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd recorded three albums that placed them somewhere among peers such as Rodney Crowell and Marshall Crenshaw - artists who were reinvigorating segments of what the Blasters called simply "American music," in this case country and guitar-pop. They split up in 1990 and have recorded fine solo work. Now they're back together and, well, it sounds as if they never left.
It's Already Tomorrow contains all the Foster and Lloyd hallmarks: a mix of Byrdsian jangle and Bakersfield twang, vibrant harmonies that recall the Everly Brothers, and superb songcraft that blends indelible hooks with emotional resonance. In other words, from the twin-guitar sparkle of the title track, which opens the album, to the poignant closer, "When I Finally Let You Go," this is music that is not about tomorrow or yesterday. Instead it's thrillingly timeless.
- Nick Cristiano
(Jazz Legacy ***1/2)
nolead ends Pianist Benny Green hadn't released a CD in seven years or done a trio recording in a decade. Here the guy who played with folks from singer Betty Carter to bassist Ray Brown does both, scoring points by connecting back to the source.
His lack of presence remains mysterious, but it's good to have him back on these 10 crackling tunes with the über-supportive rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation).
The set is pointed at one of Green's sweet spots: hard bop. The tunes range from Bud Powell's stormy "Tempus Fugit" to Benny Golson's slinky "Park Avenue Petite" to the raw heat of Horace Silver's "Opus de Funk." Green sounds like a seasoned storyteller on Duke Pearson's "Chant," while Mel Torme's "Born to be Blue" makes for a relaxing time.
This trio's old-school ways leave no listeners behind.
- Karl Stark
Paul Lewis, piano.
(Harmonia Mundi ****)
nolead ends Beethoven's mad, brilliant, epic-length, late-period set of variations on what many think is the most trivial of waltzes from the now-forgotten Anton Diabelli is rarely a significant recording event, but often appears as an eccentric postscript to a complete cycle of the composer's piano sonatas. That's how this release is timed with Beethoven specialist Paul Lewis, but those who found his complete sonata recordings a bit reserved might be downright astounded by this unbuttoned, incredibly vivid playing. As a whole, the piece can be described as Beethoven's life passing before his eyes - the peaks and valleys, the exalted and trivial and everything in between - with a bit of Mozart thrown in when the opening of the opera Don Giovanni is quoted. Lewis addresses all of Beethoven's extremes, making each of the 33 variations a world unto itself, even those that last only a few minutes. The playing has exactly the right rhythmic lilt, and Lewis' resources of color seem all but endless. Available for download Tuesday and physical release on June 14.
- David Patrick Stearns