POP AND ROCK
Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (Domino, 3 1/2 stars)
IT'S been four years since Franz Ferdinand released an album, and a full eight since the Scottish dance-rock foursome, named after the Austrian archduke whose assassination triggered the First World War, sounded as vigorous and as entertaining as they do on RT, RW, RA.
When last heard from, on 2009's sluggish Tonight, torpor was setting in, but this time around, FF are clearly on again, making music for all the correct reasons. The guitars are razor-sharp, and locomoting tunes like Treason! Animals sport jagged grooves and lacerating self-criticism. "I'm in love with a narcissist," Alex Kapranos sings as he gazes into a mirror of self-awareness.
Add a previously undiscovered knack for melody to go with the band's trademark rhythmic flair, and this album amounts to a stylishly energetic comeback of the first order. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Treason! Animals
-- Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Songs From St. Somewhere" (Mailboat)
ON Jimmy Buffett's first album in four years, the mayor of Margaritaville returns to mixing softly swaying beach tunes with pirate tales of foreign intrigue and social commentary. The problem, however, is Buffett's voice doesn't sound nearly as engaged as his imaginative songwriting and a few turns with inspired guests.
The 66-year-old veteran sounds bored on the island songs, snapping off each word with a clipped tone and a bland sense of phrasing -- an about-face from the performances that made Buffett such an enjoyable performer in the past. He sounds livelier on a series of ambitious songs about the mysterious adventures of a world traveller, but the tunes lack the hooks that made Buffett's famous songs of long ago so memorable.
There are positive exceptions, especially when guests Mark Knopfler (on Oldest Surfer on the Beach) and Latin singer Fanny Lu (on a Spanish version of I Want to Go Back to Cartagena) stir up the proceedings. Best of all is a duet with country star Toby Keith -- Too Drunk to Karaoke -- which bobs along with common-man humour and vivid writing and performing. It's the one song from the new album sure to become a favourite during Buffett's ever-popular live shows. **1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Too Drunk to Karaoke
-- Michael McCall, The Associated Press
Pushin' Against A Stone (Universal)
BLACK Keys frontman Dan Auerbach may be going through some intense times at home, but in his new recording studio he keeps coming up with a mitt full of aces. Take for instance his latest sonic conquest, the estimable Valerie June and her fourth album Pushin' Against A Stone. With a sweet yet worldly vocal trill and an uncomplicated musical palette, the dreadlocked Miss June produces better than average blues and indie-soul music (there is plenty enough average out there these days).
Album opener Workin' Woman Blues treats the listener to a percolating, Delta blues-informed guitar figure before adding a kind of African highlife horn chart that gets your attention. The Hour and Wanna Be On Your Mind will please certain classic soul fans with their slow-motion power and easy to hum melodies. Auerbach's influence comes to the fore on the title track and especially the Black Keys sound-a-like grinder You Can't Be Told. The producer gets full marks for taking chances with the arrangements, bouncing from the sound of the back porch to the heat of the barroom with ease.
Perhaps there is a little too much emphasis on double-tracking June's vocals on every track, but the songs are remarkable enough only a cynical critic would nitpick. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Pushin' Against A Stone
-- Jeff Monk
SPANISH tenor Placido Domingo can check another item off his bucket list with the release of his new recording, Verdi, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Verdi's birth. You may be surprised to learn it is an album of baritone arias from several of the composer's most beloved and lesser performed operas, including Macbeth, Don Carlo, La traviata, Il trovatore, Rigoletto and Un ballo in maschera.
At age 72, Domingo handles this transition seamlessly, his resonant power and strength vivid and true, yet he also displays touching tenderness as evidenced in Si, la mia figlia (Rigoletto).
Regally commanding and emotionally convincing in each aria, Domingo shows his vocal versatility and veteran performance mastery throughout this recording. And while his execution of Di Provenza il mar, il suol as Germont in La traviata may not sound as effortless as some other cuts, it still sets the heart to beating a little faster.
Pablo Heras-Casado leads the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, providing solid support with the appropriate pomp.
Meant for the true opera lover. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Si, la mia figlia
-- Gwenda Nemerofsky
CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE TRIO
Out Here (Mack Avenue)
MONSTER bassist Christian McBride leads trio-mates pianist Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens Jr. in a hard-swinging, nine-track outing of standards and bluesy gospel.
Thus is McBride's second album as a leader this year (after People Music with his Inside Straight quintet) and the first with this trio.
They open with the McBride/Sands tune Ham Hocks and Cabbage and its suave swinging, setting the tone that this isn't all straight-ahead jazz despite a setlist that could be chestnuts, like My Favorite Things, East of the Sun (and West of the Moon) and Cherokee.
The talented Sands gallops through Oscar Peterson's Hallelujah Time and McBride's I Guess I'll Have To Forget is a Latin-tinged ballad that serves as a standout on a great album. Show tune My Favorite Things, made famous by saxophone legend John Coltrane, is presented as a suite.
But it is the closer, Who's Making Love, associated with R&B singer Johnny Taylor, that is the most entertaining and the most fun. McBride is so deep in the pocket of the funky bass line, scatting over the bass, and Sands is so bluesy while Owens drives the beat you can't help but follow McBride's advice and "shake your boo-tay." ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Who's Making Love
-- Chris Smith
Rock N Roll (Epic)
Avril's still bratty and refuses to join the rest of her generation as an adult, but things seem to flow a lot more naturally here instead of sounding somewhat forced like on her last single, Here's to Never Growing Up. With some truly super-catchy vocals, a stomp-stomp-clap pattern vaguely reminiscent of Queen's We Will Rock You, and pop-rock energy to spare, she proves she can definitely still pull off the skater girl schtick. ***1/2
English pop-tart Ellie Goulding really has something special going on -- her voice has an undeniable indie feel to it, but the music underneath is straight-up mainstream synth-pop. Co-written and produced by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, this new single from the deluxe re-release of last year's Halcyon album is an addictive, angelic dance track. ***1/2
Helluva Night (Def Jam/Universal)
Maybe because he's too busy making Fast & Furious sequels, maybe because he just doesn't care anymore (his latest mixtape is titled I Don't Give a F**k, after all), but Ludacris just sounds extra lazy and uninspired here. Over a Like a G6-knockoff beat, he drones on about a night on the town drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking excessive amounts of weed. Gee, never saw that coming. **
-- reviewed by Steve Adams