nolead ends Bruno Mars was no innocent when he dropped his 2010 debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans. As a writer, Mars had cowritten hooks for hits by Flo Rida and such. As a Hooligan, though, he proposed marriage and willingly took grenades for l'amour; he had whiskey oozing from his pores. But on Unorthodox Jukebox, when Mars sings "Got a bottle full of liquor with a cocaine kicker / I'm feeling like I'm thirty feet tall" on the sly "Gorilla," it's apparent he's toughened up.
Good. Mars' newfound grime gives the club-a-dub "Money Make Her Smile" its couch-dancing subtext, while a dark dance-hall vibe clings to "Show Me" like skin on bologna. Beyond Mars' revelation of nastiness - lyrically, sonically - Unorthodox Jukebox is, like its predecessor, a slab of pop perfection to be cherished as one would a Bacharach tune. There's a Burt-like cosmopolitan sensibility on the torchy "When I Was Your Man," the smolderingly soulful "If I Knew," and the doleful disco-fied "Treasure." Still, this is slick 21st-century pop. Throughout Unorthodox's genre-shifting proceedings, Mars, the singer, finds the sweet spot every time.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Green Day
nolead ends nolead begins Tré!
nolead ends nolead begins (Reprise ***)
nolead ends Not everyone believes this year's ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tre! trilogy marks a comeback, but the Green Day now associated with Broadway musicals took a major hit in the pithy-lyric and clever- chord-change departments. The right-wing apocalypse 21st Century Breakdown was unthinkably banal. Now they've spent almost three hours just trying to show they can put likable, normal songs together again. But over three discs they proved only that they can sound like a convincing imitation of themselves. So it's the surprises on ¡Tre! where the stale trio tries hardest: the gorgeous canned-soul opener "Brutal Love" and the six-minute Celtic-country pastiche "Dirty Rotten Bastards." On the more Green Day-esque peaks, "Missing You" and "Kid," they prove they can still make power pop - if they strain themselves.
- Dan Weiss
nolead begins Big Boi
nolead ends nolead begins Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors nolead ends nolead begins
(Def Jam ***)
nolead ends Back when OutKast was having its way with the pop-music universe with the double-disc Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, Big Boi was supposed to be the meat-and-potatoes half of the duo, in charge of churning out the funk in contrast to Andre 3000's more fanciful musical flights. These days, though, with his other half in OutKast seemingly permanently on the sidelines, Big Boi has taken responsibility for delivering both bottom-heavy rump-shakers and experimental pop. He delivered the goods without fail on 2010's Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, but on Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors the results are more uneven. BB collaborates with a dizzying array of guest artists, from indie-rockers Wavves and Phantogram to R&B artist Kelly Rowland, to Southern rappers T.I. and Ludacris. But if that makes for a bumpy ride through hard-to-figure head-nodders such as "Thom Pettie" to the dreamy closer, "Descending," featuring Swedish electro band Little Dragon, Vicious Lies still gets envelope-pushing points, as it aims, with varying degrees of success, to expand the parameters of hip-hop.
- Dan DeLuca
nolead begins Jessica Pratt
nolead ends nolead begins Jessica Pratt
nolead ends nolead begins (Birth ***)
nolead ends Part of the appeal of Jessica Pratt's self-titled debut is that it sounds so old. Pratt, a young singer-songwriter from San Francisco, perfectly inhabits a distant folk world, a world where Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs, and Bill Fay are major figures, and sparse, cryptic songs can be deeply transfixing. It's a world shared by contemporary artists such as Joanna Newsom, Marissa Nadler, and Philly's Meg Baird. But while an element of familiarity graces these 11 songs, Pratt casts a spooky spell of her own.
"I am calling out to you from another place," Pratt sings to start "Bushel Hyde." Throughout the album, she uses little more than her fingerpicked guitar to accompany her quavering, unadorned voice. The songs are full of images of dark roads and departures, and they seduce the listener to follow Pratt on her journey to the past.
- Steve Klinge
. . . First Came Memphis Minnie
(Stony Plain ***1/2)
nolead ends Although billed equally with the other contributors on the album cover, Maria Muldaur is really the driving force behind this "loving tribute" to Memphis Minnie. She produced the set and sings on eight of the 13 tracks.
Muldaur has had a long fascination with the pioneering blueswoman who became a primary influence on her. A photo on the inner sleeve shows Muldaur singing a Memphis Minnie tune with her then-husband, Geoff Muldaur, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Her feel for the music comes through in performances of such numbers as "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" and "She Put Me Outdoors" (one of two duets with bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart).
Also impressive on the album's bracingly stripped-down acoustic arrangements are Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, and Ruthie Foster. Two of the album's contributions, meanwhile, are recordings by now-deceased artists: Phoebe Snow, not known for the blues, offers a striking rendition of "In My Girlish Days" from 1976, backed by David Bromberg and others, and Koko Taylor closes the set with a ferocious, full-band take on "Black Rat Swing" from 2007 that is electric in more ways than one.
- Nick Cristiano
(Blue Forest Records ***)
nolead ends Dave Brubeck is no longer on this earthly bandstand, but his sons play on, mining in many ways the artistic and entertainment values the old man championed.
Bassist and trombonist Chris and drummer Dan Brubeck create a warm, mainstream quartet that covers a bunch of tunes linked to dad, ranging from Paul Desmond's iconic "Take Five," done here as more electric and stiff, to "Kathy's Waltz," a winsome tribute to daughter Cathy (Someone at Columbia Records misspelled her name on the great Time Out album)
The quartet, with guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb, presents a well-honed sound that is perfectly respectable, if kind of safe.
- Karl Stark
An American Romantic
Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson conducting.
(Harmonia Mundi ***)
nolead ends This disc of Barber choral works needed to be made. It brings together numerous short works, many from the composer's early maturity (the mid-to-late 1930s) through the early 1970s. All of the pieces show Barber's keen insight in setting words to music, although often in ways that diverge from his usual character, such as the confrontational "A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map," written in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. Whatever demands, the chorus Conspirare meets them handily.
However, the disc's big event is also the biggest disappointment: The Lovers, a major 1971 choral work written for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the only substantial piece he wrote after the demoralizing failure of his Antony and Cleopatra opera. This infrequently heard choral setting of Pablo Neruda poems appears here in a new chamber version by composer Robert Kyr, created with the belief that the piece's details were lost in large performing forces. It's a step too far in the right direction: This version is so small that it loses the well-upholstered gentility heard even in Barber's chamber works. It simply doesn't sound like him.
- David Patrick Stearns
On Sale Tuesday
Terius Nash: 1977;
Chief Keef, Finally Rich; Jenni Rivera,
La Misma Gran Señora;
T.I., Trouble Man:
Heavy Is the Head