CD Reviews: Rihanna takes a bold step forward
By the writers of Last Word Features
Rihanna: ‘Rated R’
If there were any worries that Rihanna’s fast-rising career would be sidetracked after she was attacked by then-boyfriend Chris Brown in February, it’s time to set those concerns aside. “Rated R,” the follow-up to her hugely popular CD “Good Girl Gone Bad,” is a strong step forward artistically.
Uptempo jams like “Fire Bomb” and “Rockstar 101” sound like sure-fire hits with their infectious hooks and insistent beats. And ballads such as “Photographs” (with guest vocal from will.i.am.) and “Cold Case Love” are silky and strongly melodic delights.
If Rihanna is scarred by the Brown incident, it’s not apparent on “Rated R.” She addresses the saga on occasion (most directly in “Stupid In Love”), but several songs (“G4L” and “Hard”) are full of tough-girl attitude, while the romantic side of the CD emphasizes the flirtatious and fun side of romance (“Rude Boy”). The Rihanna of “Rated R” is confident and anything but a victim. And considering the consistently high quality of the songs, the Rihanna of “Rated R” is also clearly set to give the top stars of R&B (Beyonce, Mariah, are you listening?) a run for their money. — Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Beyonce, Mary J. Blige
Them Crooked Vultures: ‘Them Crooked Vultures’
Josh Homme has to be one prolific guy when it comes to music. Last year, while his main band, Queens Of The Stone Age, was on break, he made a CD, “Heart On,” with his side band, Eagles Of Death Metal, and toured into this past spring in support of that album.
Now he has another outside venture, Them Crooked Vultures, with a pair of rather notable collaborators, drummer Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and former Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones. The trio’s self-titled CD, first of all, lives up to the star power, with Jones and Grohl forming an explosive rhythm section behind Homme, who plays guitar and does most of the singing. It’s fitting that Homme is out front, because there’s a good deal of the hazy but oh-so-addictive Queens Of The Stone Age sound to “Them Crooked Vultures.”
The band really hits its stride three songs into the CD, with the tangy rocker “New Fang.” After that, things just keep picking up steam, as Them Crooked Vultures roll through the wicked tempo shifts of “Elephants,” the mystical strains of “Bandoliers” and the psychedelic stomp of “Caligulove.” As good as the Queens Of The Stone Age has been, Homme is making it easy to tolerate the band’s absence with side projects like Them Crooked Vultures.” – Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: Cream, Stone Temple Pilots
Carrie Rodriguez: ‘Live in Louisville’
For a woman who discovered she could sing only a few years ago, Carrie Rodriguez has one of the most intriguing voices in Americana music. To hear it live conveys the stunning depth of her natural skill.
Recorded in Louisville’s W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre during an opening set for Lucinda Williams, the songs on this disc take on an urgency that makes them even more exciting. Rodriguez’s nuanced delivery and ownership of her material, almost all written or co-written by mentor Chip Taylor, really is mesmerizing. Ballads like “Before You Say Another Word,” “Big Kiss” and “St. Peter’s” literally hypnotize, but when she shifts into twang mode, as on “I Don’t Want to Play House Anymore” and “You Won’t Be Satisfied That Way,” she’s equally stunning. Girl’s got chops to spare, and she’s just gettin’ started. — Lynne Margolis
Buy if you like: Neko Case, Lucinda Williams
Straight No Chaser: “Christmas Cheer”
It’s not often that a holiday album merits review alongside the regular releases of a week. But this snappy 10-man a capella vocal group brings enough of a fresh twist to this collection that it’s worth taking note. Much of the CD is made up of Christmas standards, but Straight No Chaser doesn’t play it entirely (pardon the pun) straight with this material.
On “We Three Kings,” they mix a little “Mission Impossible” into the arrangement, while “Let It Snow” gets a nifty Motown-tinged treatment. But the real highlight is the original tune “The Christmas Can-Can,” which cheerfully skewers the drawbacks of the holidays – namely a shopping season that seems to run as long as the baseball season and monotony of hearing Christmas music blaring everywhere you go during this time of year.
– By Alan Sculley
Buy if you like: The Manhattan Transfer
Shurman: “Still Waiting for the Sunset”
Shurman is an unassuming rock band with a great Americana sensibility — and influences like Old 97’s, Wilco (ex-drummer Ken Coomer sits in), the Jayhawks and Son Volt (the latter two on steroids). They’ve also got a kinship with fellow Austin twang-rockers Reckless Kelly, as evidenced by “Wonder Where You Are” and “Three Chords.” But on “Here’s to Rock ‘n’ Roll,” one might catch a hint of Tom Petty, like Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell did when he complimented Shurman on an earlier disc.
Standouts here include “Lonesome L.A. Blues,” with Al Perkins on steel — the best explanation yet why so many LaLa-landers are following Shurman’s path to Austin; and “I’m Not Crazy,” with restrained drum work that enhances the melody, nicely picked by Jesse Duke. Singer-songwriter Aaron Beavers comes up with some great, tellingly cynical lyrics.
— Lynne Margolis
Buy if you like: Old 97’s, Reckless Kelly
Hank Williams: “Revealed: The Unreleased Recordings”
Rather amazingly, WSM radio, the home station of the Grand Ol’ Opry, had saved a collection of 72 shows country legend Hank Williams recorded for sponsor Mother’ Best flour and farm feed. This three-CD sequel to “The Unreleased Recordings,” was culled from the best of these radio shows from 1951.
Williams recorded many of his classic songs for the show (“Move It On Over,” “Cold Cold Heart” and “Moanin’ The Blues”), as well as a bevy of b-sides and lesser known tracks. The range of music is impressive, running from country to mountain folk to hymns and raw country blues. The songs, spiced with commentary from Williams, offer an up-close look at Williams at an early career peak.
Buy if you like: Johnny Cash, George Jones