MAYBACH MUSIC GROUP "Self Made Vol. 2" (Maybach Music Group/ Warner Bros., 3 stars)
Rick Ross is as audacious a businessman as he is a rapper.
Not only because the Maybach Music label owner has been giving sacks of cash to exotic dancers in strip clubs across America to promote this compilation's bouncing first single, "Bag of Money." Ross understands how to showcase his label's roster without fearing they'll best the boss. He's looking to sell records by Maybach signees like Meek Mill, the controversial Philadelphia MC who, when not busy fighting Drake's battles with Chris Brown or arguing with preachers over risqué lyrics, is releasing his MMG debut in August.
While Ross saves the ego for his forthcoming album, "God Forgives, I Don't" (on the rival Def Jam label), he's got plenty of boastful brio to go around on "Bury Me a G," his crackling duet with T.I., and guest bits littered throughout SMV2 like the crunching "Black Magic," with Philly's Mill.
Some of the album's best moments focus on singsongy rapper/crooner Omarion and Washington MC Wale. Their sweet-and-sour pairing on "M.I.A." is a surefire soul-hop hit if ever there was one. Still, Maybach is an exclusive gang, and hip-hop's mob mentality is made fluidly funky on the team effort "This Thing of Ours."
- A.D. Amorosi
THE BLASTERS "Fun On Saturday Night" (Rip Cat, 3 stars)
The 1985 departure of guitarist Dave Alvin may have left the Blasters without a distinctive songwriting voice, but they remain one of the great roots-rock bands (and still one of our all-time favorites).
On "Fun on Saturday Night," the four musicians - original members Phil Alvin, Bill Bateman and John Bazz, joined by red-hot guitarist Keith Wyatt - again show their impressive range. They tear through blues chestnuts by Tiny Bradshaw, Magic Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Gatemouth Brown, and tackle both Johnny Cash and James Brown while also venturing south of the border.
The two originals here, one by Phil Alvin and one credited to all four Blasters, may not match the extremely high standards set by Dave Alvin. But as a singer, his older brother remains a marvel. Phil Alvin's piercing tenor turns raspy in some spots, but it remains as strong and rangy as ever. He belts the blues with authority, duets with Exene Cervenka on a scorching version of the Cash-June Carter hit "Jackson," and pleads like the Godfather of Soul on "Please Please Please." He even proves a nimble yodeler.
Dave Alvin's voice is not missing entirely. The set closes with "Maria Maria," which is the classic Blasters rave-up "Marie Marie" transformed into a lovely acoustic waltz, and sung in Spanish.
- Nick Cristiano
LAETITIA SADIER "Silencio" (Drag City, 3 stars)
On her second solo full-length since her old band, electro-pop legends Stereolab, went on indefinite hiatus, the French-born vocalist amps up the lusciously delivered political rhetoric she's made her trademark. The album title and spoken-word closer "Invitation Au Silence" nod to the power of stillness in a world awash in noise. On the endearingly earnest "Auscultation to the Nation," Sadier scolds unelected, "politically illegitimate" financial authorities, while the Jean Renoir-inspired "The Rule of the Game" skewers a fattened bourgeoisie. Things can get a bit heavy, but old bandmate Tim Gane helps on the peppy "Next Time You See Me," and "Silencio's" pièce de résistance is the James Elkington- co-penned "Fragment Pour le Future de l'Homme," a manic, hip-shaking treatise ("Our church is on fire, from its crypt up to its spire") on the hubris of nations.
AZEALIA BANKS "Fantasea" (self-released, 3 1/2 stars)
Speed-rappers don't get enough respect. Do Busta Rhymes or Twista albums ever achieve the legendary status of "The Blueprint" or "Illmatic"? That goes double for female rappers. History will prove whether 21-year-old Harlemite Azealia Banks (a performing-arts schoolmate of Nicki Minaj) can change that. Her incandescently bawdy debut single "212" was a dark horse best-of-2011 single. "Fantasea," her first mix tape, is rarely as instantly quotable; Banks raps too quick and cool to parse casually (notable exception: "up in the hood like Ku Klux"). Luckily, it bumps enduringly for an hour of excavated hip-house beats morphing through an all-night retro party. The best hook is on the track called "Luxury" (duh). It's whistled (whoa!).
- Dan Weiss
Country / roots:
CHRIS SMITHER "Hundred Dollar Valentine" (Signature Sounds, 3 1/2 stars)
Nobody philosophizes to the blues quite like Chris Smither. On his 12th album, the singer and guitarist continues to be a spellbinding blend of the elemental and the erudite, with a deft touch and often droll undertone that allows him to go deep without getting ponderous or pretentious.
Smither still grounds himself in acoustic blues, this time spicing things up with the likes of cello, fiddle, and female backup vocals. The title song is a jaunty little number about romantic frustration, but mostly Smither likes to delve into the big questions. When he does, he has a knack for making even his wordiest songs flow as fluidly as his fingerpicking and insistent rhythms.
But he can also be gut-wrenchingly concise, as he is on "What It Might Have Been" ("It ain't what I knew that made me blue/ It's what I thought I knew") and on two of his better known older songs reprised here: "I Feel the Same" (covered by Bonnie Raitt and others) and "Every Mother's Son."
AMIT FRIEDMAN SEXTET "Sunrise" (Origin, 3 1/2 stars)
A product of the expanding Israeli jazz scene, reed man and composer Amit Friedman has made one of the happier recordings of the year. This set of a dozen originals delivers a succession of winsome melodies with jazz heft and soloing along with hints of world music.
The result is tuneful and kind of unexpected. Friedman, who was inspired by the late jazz apostle and pianist Amit Golan, makes very personal jazz with some knockout sidemen. Amos Hoffman deftly works in some along with guitar, while pianist Omri Mor offers sophisticated color. Drummer Amir Bressler almost steals the show with inventive locomotion that borrows from around the globe.
Friedman, who plays soprano and tenor, knows his way around a bop tune and clearly draws from the jazz tradition. The funky calypso vibe of "Optimism" is dedicated to Sonny Rollins. Yet he takes the basics to new realms.
- Karl Stark
"Symphonies 1-9" West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting (Decaa, 3 1/2 stars)
"Symphony No. 9" Israeli Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik conducting (Helicon, 2 1/2 stars)
"Symphony No. 7 and Leonore Overture No. 3" San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting (SFS Media, 3 stars)
Those who think Beethoven sounds too civilized in this age of posh, technically accomplished orchestras will be refreshed by much of this. As much a social experiment as it is an artistic institution, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has brought together musicians from all over the Middle East since 1999. In this new set, titled "Beethoven for All," the orchestra's muscular, youth-powered sonority lacks refinement but, because of that, suits the music's rough-hewn manner well. Artistically, Barenboim's Beethoven has always been a moving target, varying in quality, often from movement to movement. But isn't everybody's? (One of the few exceptions is Riccardo Chailly's superb "Leipzig" cycle, issued late last year.) This set's highs are higher (the slow movement of the 9th goes to expressive extremes like no other) and lows aren't so low compared to Barenboim's "Berlin Staatskapelle" recordings 12 years ago. Only "Symphony No. 3" feels inarticulate. Almost all of the performances have a great sense of long-term continuity, even if the details are as vulgar or puzzling as they are profound.
These other new Beethoven releases are contrasting pendants. The 1958 performance of the 9th, from the Israel Philharmonic vaults under the late Rafael Kubelik, is pretty wild, sometimes with such emphatic brass you forget the string section exists. The choral finale raises the roof - sung in Hebrew. After that, Michael Tilson Thomas' "Symphony No. 7" is a rest cure, beautifully performed and recorded, with an engaging rhythmic lightness plus lots of intelligence and taste, but rising to the ultimate heights only at the last movement.
- David Patrick Stearns
©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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