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Mighty Sam McClain

Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey)

(Mighty Music ***)

nolead ends "Too much Jesus, not enough whiskey" is not the kind of sentiment you expect to hear from a classic, gospel-rooted soul man. And that's what Mighty Sam McClain is. The song, however, really seems to be a nuanced cautionary tale that takes a different view - "Jesus is the only way," Mighty Sam declares.

That same mix of gritty, preacherly fervor and unvarnished funk also infuses other numbers, notably the calls for justice and peace in "Can You Feel It?" and "Stand Up!" But the 69-year-old McClain, who cowrote all 14 songs, can also play the silky- smooth love man with seductive charm. Even here, though, he can find reason to invoke the divine: "I believe God planned it this way," he purrs on the strings-kissed "So Into You." "He put us together."

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins The Rosebuds
nolead ends nolead begins Love Deluxe:
The Rosebuds Perform Sade
nolead ends nolead begins (Self-released ***)

nolead ends Sade's sexy quiet-storm classic Love Deluxe might seem an unlikely candidate for an indie-rock makeover, but that's what the Rosebuds' Ivan Howard has done, in part to commemorate the album's 20th anniversary. It's one of two new Rosebuds albums released at the end of this year, the other being Christmas Tree Island, a charming, breezily poppy collection of original Christmas tunes. Love Deluxe, on the other hand, concentrates on slow jams and seductive textures, and Howard recorded it without his bandmate and former wife, Kelly Crisp (although she helped mix the album).

Howard wisely does not try to ape too closely the original's cool-jazz arrangements or Sade Adu's masterfully restrained vocals. Instead, he drenches guitars and keyboards in reverb and sings with thoughtful sincerity. The result is an impressive, if occasionally soporific, reimagining, especially when Matt Douglas contributes soft-rock saxophone solos to tracks such as "No Ordinary Love." Like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (with whom Howard partners in Gayngs) and Dan Bejar of Destroyer on last year's Kaputt, Howard is making soft rock cool. And cheap: Love Deluxe is available as a free download at http://bit.ly/Sxt8by or via http://bandcamp.com.

- Steve Klinge

nolead begins T.I.
nolead ends nolead begins Trouble Man:
Heavy Is the Head
nolead ends nolead begins (Grand Hustle/Atlantic ***)

nolead ends "What should I be sorry for?/You can't please everybody," goes the hook to "Sorry," off T.I.'s eighth and most consistent album. Out of jail for a year, not entirely convinced he's not going back in, Clifford Harris quits fooling around with demographics, as on his previous No Mercy, and returns to the Dirty South bounce he does best, with guests like an old reunion (Andre 3000, R. Kelly, Lil Wayne) and a focus no deeper than bottles and molly (known outside the VIP area as booze and ecstasy) in the club and some Meek Mill-assisted tough talk ("G Season") that's good to hear precisely because you know he's harmless. "Who Want Some" will never be a classic like "What You Know," but a 16-track rap album without a single cringe moment deserves an honor.

- Dan Weiss

nolead begins Wiz Khalifa
nolead ends nolead begins O.N.I.F.C.
nolead ends nolead begins (Atlantic **)

nolead ends There's much to love about Wiz Khalifa. His stoner soliloquies are works of art, to say nothing of his cocky, loping flow. Yet for all his communal weed-screeds, there's something lazily exclusionary about Only N - In First Class (O.N.I.F.C., for short.) Set against a groggily hypnotic wall of sound, his raps seem half-baked, his clever wordplay on vacation.

Money and all it buys is hip-hop's princely province. Here, it's tedious currency. The sentiment of "Work Hard Play Hard" is solid but its lyrics ("I got so much money/I should start a bank") are dull. "The Plan" is so lyrically inert, it almost moves backwards. And Wiz, don't call a song "Fall Asleep" unless you're waking us up.

Problems aside, O.N.I.F.C.'s winning moments are so stunning they nearly override its sloth. Wiz's duet with the Weeknd, "Remember You," is moody, subtle, and teasingly romantic. "It's Nothin' " (with 2Chainz) is vibrantly violent.

Cash and weed made Wiz apathetic, but those songs prove that artful aggression makes good bank.

- A.D. Amorosi

Country/Roots

Buddy Miller
and Jim Lauderdale

Buddy and Jim

(New West ***1/2)

nolead ends Based on their respective bodies of work, you'd have to think this was a dream pairing even before you heard a note. And that's indeed what it turns out to be.

Buddy Miller is an in-demand guitarist and producer who's perhaps best known for his work with Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, and others, while Jim Lauderdale is an exceedingly prolific songwriter who excels at country and bluegrass. They begin in a country and folk vein, with Lauderdale taking the lead on their own "I Lost My Job of Loving You" and a recharged version of the traditional "The Train That Took My Gal From Town." But they don't stay there. Miller steps up on the sublime, soul-tinged ballad "That's Not Even Why I Love You," cowritten by the duo and Miller's wife, Julie, and Lauderdale charges through the rock-fueled atmospherics of "Vampire Girl" before the set concludes with a couple of R&B chestnuts.

Nothing underscores the duo's compatibility quite like their vocal harmonies, which are showcased throughout the album but perhaps to no better effect than on the penultimate number, a strutting take on Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You."

- Nick Cristiano

Jazz

Vince Guaraldi

The Very Best
of Vince Guaraldi

(Concord ***1/2)

nolead ends In the modern history of jazz, it's rare for a player to enter the national consciousness. The late Bay Area pianist Vince Guaraldi succeeded where few have gone, embedding his music into Christmas via the Charlie Brown TV specials.

Guaraldi, who often described himself as a reformed boogie-woogie player, was far from a technical wizard. But he knew the way into wistfulness, and he achieved the highest level of jazz, which is to compose memorable songs and be a recognizable soloist.

The joy of these 14 sides is that they release him from the elevator and capture him in more unbridled, improvised moments. The Christmas chestnuts are included, like the famed "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time is Here." But Guaraldi is working the bandstand here, stretching tunes from the film Black Orpheus and veering wildly from Latin to a rockish New Orleans thing on "Treat." The recording is tinny at times, but there's no doubting the heart.

- Karl Stark