TREY SONGZ "Chapter V" (Atlantic, 3 stars)
Other than that lustrous tenor voice, the nicest thing about R&B crooner Trey Songz is that he gets better with age. He didn't peak with his 2005 debut or fade into the sunset with fewer hits, as so often happens in the nu-soul stakes. Although not flashy, each album since his start shows Songz getting rougher around the edges, a little freakier and more willing to face down top-notch guest rappers.
The freak-a-deak side of Songz is satisfied by the panting "Panty Wetter" and the racy, racing club-a-dub "2 Reasons." An unnecessarily Auto-Tuned Songz finds G-rated humanity between grumbling MC Young Jeezy and the overplayed growl of Lil Wayne on the rudely click-clacking "Hail Mary" (rappers T.I., Rick Ross, Diddy, and Philly's Meek Mill are littered throughout V, for better or worse). Songz does best when he goes it alone while keeping slow and low down. The beeping, laid-back "Heart Attack" is a handsome showcase for the singer's sultry vocals, as is "Simply Amazing," which finds Songz and his paramour lost under the covers with a subtle melody line and a slinky beat to warm them.
- A.D. Amorosi
ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI "Mature Themes" (4AD, 3 1/2 stars)
"Step into my time warp now," Ariel Pink sings on "Is This the Best Spot?" from "Mature Themes." That time warp leads directly to a phantasmagoric mishmash of 1970s radio memories, both FM and AM, that is as indebted to Frank Zappa as it is to Hall & Oates, to Sparks as to Gary Numan, to Brian Eno as to Curtis Mayfield.
The album whiplashes among styles, from goofy ephemera (with proudly immature themes) such as the trudging, distorted "Schnitzel Boogie" and the synth-pop-meets-spaghetti-western "Symphony of the Nymph" to catchy, irresistible keepers like the shimmering, harmony-rich "Only in My Dreams" and the slinky, soulful "Baby," an obscure cover of a Donnie and Joe Emerson non-hit. Pink has left behind his lo-fi roots, even more so than on 2010's Before Today, but he hasn't abandoned his unpredictability. Coherent it's not: It's head-scratchingly diverse, but it's a time warp worth exploring.
- Steve Klinge
ANDRE WILLIAMS AND THE SADIES "Night and Day" (Yep Roc, 3 stars)
He was finally clean and sober when this album was cut, but 75-year-old Andre Williams still sounds full of vinegar on this collaboration with Canadian roots-rockers the Sadies.
"Night and Day" echoes the gloriously sleazy R&B of Williams' 1950s cult classics "Jail Bait" and "Bacon Fat." Part streetwise tough guy, part soulful old codger, he exudes a croaky charisma as he speaks-sings in his froggy voice over the rawboned accompaniment.
The music adds some country flavor toward the end of the set - the fiddle-laced "I'll Do Most Anything for Your Love" finds Williams duetting with Jon Langford, one of the album's guests along with Kelly Hogan, Sally Timms, and Jon Spencer. But it still sounds like quintessential Williams.
- Nick Cristiano
MATTHEW DEAR "Beams" (Ghostly International, 3 stars)
On his fifth full-length album, pop-electronic artist Matthew Dear has toned down the dark edginess that characterized his earlier releases in favor of a more accessible but less memorable album. The 11 tracks of "Beams" feature some standout tunes - "Headcage," the only track from last year's eponymous EP to make it to the album, is the weirdest. With a bubbling, underwater quality reminiscent of the film "The Abyss" and distant, robotic vocals that are sexy in their withheld emotion, it's also the album's most compelling track. There's also the uplifting and tender "Ahead of Myself," a nostalgia-filled song punctuated with breathless, staccato synth beats, a version of which Dear includes on every album. There are other good tunes, some that feature memorable bass lines and others with industrial or even calypso influences. But for all its bright spots, "Beams" lacks the quirkiness and emotional connection that made Dear's earlier albums cult hits.
- Katherine Silkaitis
CORB LUND "Cabin Fever" (New West, 3 stars)
Coming out of western Canada, Corb Lund is well-versed in cowboy culture. But he also has seen life beyond the ranch, and that range of experience informs this bracing and sharp-witted set.
Cabin Fever begins with "Gettin' Down on the Mountain," with the singer sensing apocalypse and going into survivalist mode. He later observes that "(You Ain't a Cowboy) If You Ain't Been Bucked Off," and offers a stark outlaw tale in "Pour 'Em Kinda Strong." Like-minded American Hayes Carll joins in for the wry road story "Bible on the Dash," and on "Cows Around" Lund extols the joys of a constant bovine presence, set to nimble Western swing.
But this cowboy also likes to go "90 miles an hour on a German motorcycle" ("Mein Deutches Motorrad"). He also knows the allure of the big city, which deepens the poignancy of his plea to his girlfriend in the ringing country-rocker "September." And if he does end up having to try to lose "these country-boy blues," he's going to do it with "The Gothest Girl I Can."
Through all of this Lund is backed by his three-man band, the Hurtin' Albertans, and their unfussy, live-in-the-studio approach gives everything an extra kick.
- Nick Cristiano
KEITH JARRETT "Sleeper: Tokyo, April 16, 1979" (ECM, 3 stars)
It was 1979. Pianist Keith Jarrett was hanging with his European Quartet and creating live albums called "Personal Mountains" and "Nude Ants." And now the ECM label has released this double CD recording of a Toyko performance that finds the quartet having another hot hubbub of a time.
Jarrett - punctuating his work with the customary cries and groans - is joined on these seven tunes by tenor and soprano saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who reaches searing heights. Bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen add the often unusual canopy for this consummate players' session, which ranges from the demonic to the picturesque.
The band covers mountains of improvisation while conveying a questing spirit. Garbarek's flute over percussion on the 28-minute "Oasis" could fit right into "Apocalypse Now," another 1979 product, while Jarrett finds some inner funk on "Chant of the Soil."
- Karl Stark
BEHIND THE NOTES: BRAHMS PERFORMED BY COLLEAGUES AND PUPILS "Piano Concerto No. 1, plus solo piano works" Alfred Hoehn, Etelka Freund, Carl Friedberg, Ilona Eibenschutz, piano; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Max Fiedler conducting. (Arbiter, 3 1/2 stars)
Of the "three B" composers, Brahms is the only one whose pupils and colleagues lived to record after the arrival of the microphone in 1925, allowing a clearer sound picture of how the composer was performed by those who breathed his air. Most of what's on this disc is issued for the first time, the biggest find being a 1935 Piano Concerto No. 1 played live by the little-known Alfred Hoehn, who defies conventional wisdom. Brahms-era performances are said to have been faster and leaner than what we now often hear. This one takes its time, but with great ownership and strength of purpose. Time and again, phrase readings and tempo modifications throw a revealing new light on music you've heard a zillion times - and in surprisingly good sound quality.
Among the solo piano works, the three pianists all lack the mellifluous surfaces of modern performances and are full of inner turmoil. You might call it "argumentative lyricism," Carl Friedberg's performances having the least artifice, Ilona Eibenschutz's enjoying impulsive freedom, and Etelka Freund being seriously whimsical. All three, in other words, are full of coexisting contradictions.
- David Patrick Stearns
©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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