(429 ** 1/2)
nolead ends One legend paying tribute to another, with a diverse crop of guests: that's the concept behind Steve Cropper's Dedicated. Cropper, the guitarist in Booker T. & the MGs and on many of Stax Records' greatest hits, has often cited Lowman Pauling as his main formative influence. Pauling led the 5 Royales, the influential R&B group whose early '50s songs were precursors to rock-and-roll and soul. However, "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Think," and "Baby Don't Do It" are probably better known in later versions by the Shirelles, James Brown, and the Band, respectively.
The album is a nostalgia trip and history lesson. Cropper's guitar and his crack band of Memphis compatriots often take a secondary role to the singers, who include Steve Winwood, B.B. King, and Queen's Brian May. Like many tributes, it's a mixed bag: Although Delbert McClinton and Buddy Miller nail the 5 Royales' humor and Lucinda Williams brings out their pathos, only Sharon Jones and Bettye LaVette, and occasionally Cropper's guitar, convey their essential wildness.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins NRBQ
nolead ends nolead begins Keep This Love Goin'
nolead ends nolead begins (Clang ***)
nolead ends NRBQ (the New Rhythm and Blues Quintet, then Quartet) has been around for more than 40 years and has undergone personnel changes before. But this album really marks a new beginning. Keyboardist and founding member Terry Adams has taken the NRBQ name for his own group, formerly the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet. (Former 'Q drummer Tom Ardolino plays on two tracks and painted the cover illustration.)
New members Scott Ligon and Pete Donnelly sing and write along with Adams, and their contributions help maintain a distinct NRBQ flavor - at least, the group's pop side. Adams exudes his usual shaggy charm, and still displays a knack for writing catchy tunes with an offbeat outlook. He can also be musically ambitious while remaining unpretentious: "In Every Dream" may recall Buddy Holly, but it's actually adapted from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor.
A couple of numbers rock lightly, but longtime fans may miss NRBQ's more boisterous bar-band side. Of course, for many of those fans the group hasn't been the same since its ultimate rock-and-roll animal, guitarist Big Al Anderson, departed nearly two decades ago.
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Kelly Rowland
nolead ends nolead begins Here I Am
nolead ends nolead begins (Universal Motown Republic ***)
nolead ends The question of what would happen to Destiny's Child members when Beyoncé Knowles left has been resoundingly answered on several occasions by Kelly Rowland. The answer has been Fine, just fine, especially since the soft R&B singer split from her manager (Beyoncé's dad) and her label (Beyoncé's Columbia) and turned some attention to electro and house. French dance-music producer David Guetta's 2009 smash One Love, featuring Rowland's voice, was the gateway drug. After that, she was hooked on the Euro-disco sound, which gives Here I Am its flashiest moments.
Familiar as her past solo albums have been with syrupy slow jams and wifty hip-hop, a track like the steamy "Motivation," costarring nasty Lil Wayne, makes sense. So does the bippity-bopping "Lay It on Me" with MC Big Sean. There are a few out-and-out pop jams that Rowland executes with varying degrees of guts and grace. But it's the brash Euro-dance stuff on Here that's made her into Donna Summer's best successor with producers such as the whooshing Guetta ("Commander") and the crackling RedOne/Jimmy Joker/The WAV.s team ("Down for Whatever") playing Giorgio Moroder to Rowland's nu-disco diva.
Beyoncé better beware. Rowland's got some hot stuff.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Handsome Furs
nolead ends nolead begins Sound Kapital
nolead ends nolead begins (SubPop ***)
nolead ends Sound Kapital is the third album from the wife-and-husband team of Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner, the latter also being the front man of the currently-on-hiatus Montreal indie-rock band Wolf Parade. From 2007's Plague Park to 2009's Face Control to Sound Kapital, the duo have moved steadily from guitar-and-drums to an electro-pop model.
So though the band has discussed how Sound Kapital - which comes packaged in an NSFW album cover, not suitable for a daily newspaper - was affected by being recorded while traveling in Asia, that hasn't resulted in any far-flung exoticism creeping into their straight-ahead sound. Instead, it means the album was recorded entirely on the fly on synthesizers and drum machines, and the duo have absorbed the influence of shiny-surfaced Japanese and Korean pop. Snappy, super-tight song structures and Boeckner's rough-cut voice don't blend naturally, but the distancing effects created in alienated Gary Numan-esque pleas like "What About Us?" and the homesick "When I Get Back" are effectively executed.
- Dan DeLuca
Plays More Blues, Ballads,
(Shout Factory ***)
nolead ends nolead begins Johnny Nicholas
nolead ends nolead begins Future Blues
nolead ends nolead begins (The People's Label ***1/2)
nolead ends It worked so well the first time, why not do it again? Jimmie Vaughan, older brother of the late Stevie Ray, founding member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and a guitarist's guitarist, follows up last year's Blues, Ballads, and Favorites with more of the same - songs well-known and obscure that shaped his musical life and still fire his passion.
Backed by the same group of musicians, Vaughan continues to show the connections among these various strains of American music. His interpretations make everything here seem of a piece, without loss of individual flavor. He tears into material from the worlds of country (Webb Pierce, Hank Williams), blues (Jimmy Reed), and R&B (Ray Charles, Jimmy Liggins), including a healthy dose of the New Orleans variety (Bobby Charles, Lloyd Price, Annie Laurie).
One quibble: When you have a singer like Lou Ann Barton at your disposal, you have to use her on more than just three of 14 cuts, especially when your own vocals are not nearly as powerful and dynamic. Just as Vaughan sounds as if he was born to play this music, Barton sounds as if she was born to sing it.
Vaughan also plays on the first album in six years by just-as-long-in-the-tooth singer and guitarist Johnny Nicholas. You can see why they connect - Nicholas' version of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" owes a lot to Jimmy Reed. But while Nicholas draws from the same well as Vaughan, he uses those influences mostly in the service of his own songs - 10 of the 12 on Future Blues are originals, and fine ones at that. While not always hewing strictly to the blues, they extend the tradition in ways that ensure the form does, indeed, have a future, as well as a past.
- Nick Cristiano
A Love Electric
(Ropeadope Records *** 1/2)
nolead ends Guitarist Todd Clouser shows many influences on this gem of a CD from earlier this year. A Berklee-trained fellow who divides his time between the contradictory climes of Minnesota and Mexico, Clouser spices the all-American vibe of guitarist Bill Frisell with some Jimi Hendrix fire.
There's also a love of funk. Clouser can dial in the organ-jazz movement, as on "The Habit Kick," or bow to Curtis Mayfield on "Curtis." Or get all slinky on the marvelously facile "Mo City Kid," albeit with vocals that grow tiresome.
"Serenity Now," with trumpeter Steven Bernstein, recalls some sweet, Hugh Masekela moments. Throughout this set of mostly originals, Clouser shows a habit of stopping for a pretty song and honoring it, from Harry Nilsson's "One" to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Some distortion à la '70s rockers is employed, but the whole is bigger than the shifting parts.
- Karl Stark
Christianne Stotijn, Adriana Kucerova, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Vladimir Jurowski conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins Stefania Woytowicz, Anny Delorie, Cologne Radio Orchestra and Chorus, William Steinberg conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins (ICA ***1/2)
nolead ends nolead begins Alice Coote, Natalie Dessay, Orfeon Donostiarra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Jarvi conducting.
nolead ends ( nolead begins Virgin ***)
nolead ends They're all so good, but Vladimir Jurowski is extraordinary. This massive symphony, with its countless moving parts, seems improvised on the spot, especially during the all-important first movement. That beyond-the-bar-lines quality isn't entirely sustained throughout the rest, but the vocal contingent boasts of premier Mahler mezzo Christianne Stotijn, who seems to be living the words and expressing them with great warmth of tone.
The William Steinberg set has several historical distinctions: The 1965 recording is one of the conductor's few Mahler outings, back in his hometown (Cologne) in the country he fled after the Nazi takeover. As great as his recordings can be, few have such a personal temperament. Dance rhythms can be delightfully idiosyncratic and the overall intensity rates among the best. The performance isn't polished and the singing is downright questionable. But the big picture is amazing.
In another time, Paavo Jarvi's recording would be more heartily welcomed: It has everything going for it, just not to the degree of Jurowski's or with the personality of Steinberg's. Mezzo Alice Coote is a particular plus with her beautifully vocalized, introspective fourth movement, and Natalie Dessay is luxury casting indeed. The recording quality (which counts for much in the final movement) is the most detailed of the three.
- David Patrick Stearns