nolead ends You're forgiven if you dismissed T-Pain as stupid. Didn't A Perfect Circle already use the album title rEVOLVEr? And his tales of boozed-up sex aren't helped by two outlets for the creepy Chris Brown. But this is the Auto-Tune king's third straight album to elevate more than half the ultra-dumb tracks with his smart, alien melodic sense. One of the Brown tracks is actually a winner ("Look at Her Go"), and Lil Wayne's "Thong Song"-esque "Bang Bang Pow Pow" beats their odious collab from his own 2011 record. Other dumb pleasures include an ode to mixed-race girls and a team-up with a barely noticeable Lily Allen. But the master of ceremonies should never again attempt a five-minute ballad about drowning.
- Dan Weiss
nolead begins Rammstein
nolead ends nolead begins Made in Germany 1995-2011
nolead ends nolead begins (Universal ***1/2)
nolead ends Rammstein is Germany's most crucial band, a standard-bearer of the Neue Deutsche Härte ("new German hardness") movement, and an act whose singular aesthetic made them as iconic as their countrymen Kraftwerk. Its initial brand of epically Wagnerian melody, industrial rhythmic tumult, and arena rawk - topped with the commanding lyrics of Till Lindemann, an ex-Olympic swimmer - eventually gave way, in part, to softer tones, supple grooves, and tender storylines. Yet Rammstein never lost its incendiary force, figuratively and literally, as the operatic Lindemann has appeared engulfed in flames onstage - the best place to see the act.
This package acts as an introduction to the aforementioned roar of Rammstein's German-language past and present. While the towering inferno of "Du Riechst So Gut '98" and "Feuer Frei!" get hotter still with new remixes from (respectively) Faith No More and Junkie XL Remix, much of its catalogue is left happily untouched to stew in its own juices. Rammstein is hardly averse to singing satirically in English about the sway the United States holds over the planet ("Amerika" and its rants about Mickey Mouse and Coke), yet takes even greater delight in poking frantic fun at its own home in the new "Mein Land."
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Common
nolead ends nolead begins The Dreamer, the Believer
nolead ends nolead begins (Warner Brothers ***)
nolead ends Nearly 20 years after his debut album, Common has a burgeoning screen career (most recently as a hip-hop penguin in Happy Feet 2, and also a role in the AMC series Hell On Wheels) and a new autobiography, One Day It Will All Make Sense. And now a new album, The Dreamer, the Believer, his ninth and his first in three years. It's a back-to-basics move that finds Common juggling roles he's played throughout his hip-hop career.
Produced exclusively by No I.D., who worked on 1994's Resurrection, the album opens with "The Dreamer," an autobiographical statement from the "hip-hop romantic" that features Maya Angelou reading a new poem. That socially conscious moment segues into the insistent first single, "Ghetto Life," a Parliament-sampling, tough-talking, hard-edge street-life story with a Nas cameo. The album bounces through ELO and Curtis Mayfield samples and a John Legend guest appearance, through joyful party tracks ("Celebrate") and edgier rhymes ("Raw"). It's not Common's most consistent or focused album, but it's the best representation of his wide-ranging talent.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins Anthony Hamilton
nolead ends nolead begins Back To Love
nolead ends nolead begins (RCA ***)
nolead ends Anthony Hamilton is a throwback soul singer with a rich, gruff, manly voice who recalls such rugged '60s masters as James Carr and Otis Redding. The North Carolina native isn't the most exciting or dynamic presence in contemporary R&B, but he may well be the steadiest and most solid. Cowriting here with producers such as Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Amy Winehouse cohort Salaam Remi, and James Poyser of the Roots, Hamilton raises his game with songs that don't stint on the details of everyday life or pull punches, emotionally speaking. Standout cuts are the fiery Babyface collab "Mad" and the sobering Poyser cowrite "Life Has a Way," but there's not a duff number in the bunch.
- Dan DeLuca
(Red Dirt ***)
nolead ends It's been 22 years since the Kentucky HeadHunters raised a little ruckus with their highly entertaining debut, Pickin' on Nashville, and since then they haven't changed all that much. The lineup might have shifted for a while, but the current group consists of four of the five original members.
In other words, the "lullabies" of the title is a bit of a joke. (If you want to be put to sleep, listen to Wilco.) The HeadHunters are still a bunch of long-haired Southern rockers who like it raw and loud. "She's in love with the swagger of my low-hung Les Paul Standard," goes one number, summing up the essential vibe. If the formula remains largely the same, the group is still getting plenty of mileage out of it - in fact, this is one of the quartet's stronger, more sharp-witted sets. Riff-heavy rockers and boogies still dominate, but even when they slow it down a bit and turn earnest, they never get mushy (witness the lovelorn plea to a stripper, "Little Angel"). And with numbers such as "Tumblin' Roses," they show they possess more than a little bit of soul.
- Nick Cristiano
A Child Is Born
nolead ends Occasionally a jazz CD covers Christmas tunes with intelligence, eschewing the pabulum of the season. Pianist Geri Allen presents such a disc. Appearing mostly by herself, Allen spices up the holiday canon on acoustic piano. She also uses a Fender Rhodes, a concert celeste, a Farfisa electronic organ, a Hohner clavinet, and some singers.
The result is full of dark corners and unexpected moments. Well-trodden tunes like "Angels We Have Heard on High" get rediscovered, while "Amazing Grace" is full of serene elegance.
This spare session covers the usual tunes with a sense of verve and exploration. Allen's compelling piano makes this a real jazz CD.
- Karl Stark
(Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, 14 discs, ****)
nolead ends Here's a last-minute entry to the array of gift-worthy boxed sets: the newest installment in a decade-by-decade retrospective of live performances by one of the world's great orchestras. The beauty of this box (currently $182 on Amazon.com) is that, unlike some previous ones, the sound quality is thoroughly up-to-date, and there's no brain-racking involved with determining the significance of the performers because most of them are still alive.
Klaus Tennstedt, Ivan Fischer, Riccardo Chailly, Charles Dutoit, Georg Solti, Andre Previn, Mariss Jansons, Pierre Boulez, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and Kurt Sanderling are all represented with peak efforts - Wolfgang Sawallisch's Beethoven Symphony No. 6 is a particular high-energy highlight - along with soloists such as violinist Thomas Zehetemair, baritone Willard White, and pianist Ronald Brautigam.
Some pieces are heard in something close to a best-ever performance, such as Martha Argerich playing Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Isabelle van Keulen playing Dutilleux's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. It's guaranteed to keep any classical-music lover occupied the entire winter.