That Girl (Mercury Nashville)
As lead singer in the contemporary country duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles and partner Kristian Bush kept growing increasingly experimental over four albums. For her first solo album, That Girl, Nettles takes a different tact, stripping her songs to their basics -- both sonically and emotionally.
Nettles is blessed with a voice that features a wide range and a distinct, vinegary tone, but it's her ability to connect with a song's emotional content that makes her stand out most. That Girl shows off that quality remarkably well, whether she's singing an open-hearted ballad like This Angel, a playful yet meaningful bopper like Moneyball or a complicated confessional like the title cut.
The Rick Rubin-produced album is a 1970s-style creative statement, recalling classic Carole King and Linda Ronstadt rather than any of her country or pop contemporaries. It's a reminder of how powerful music can be when it comes from the heart -- and tilts more toward talent than technology. ****
Download this: That Girl
-- Michael McCall, The Associated Press
The River and the Thread (Blue Note/Universal)
Informed by her own life experiences, The River and the Thread is a love letter to family, friends and the South of Rosanne Cash's youth.
Producer John Leventhal (her husband) expertly guides Cash through this musical journey by playing guitar, bass, organ, drums, mandolin and even electric sitar. There is still room for special guests Derek Trucks' slide guitar and vocalists John Prine, the Civil Wars' John Paul White and even ex-hubby Rodney Crowell.
Dipping into a palette of blues, gospel, roots and traditional country, Cash visits many places both sonically and lyrically, but a common thread of travel, history and love runs through the album, offering yet another testament to Rosanne's talent and the Cash legacy. ****
Download: A Feather's Not a Bird
-- Bruce Leperre
The Pack A.D.
Do Not Engage (Nettwerk)
When a two-piece band makes it to album No. 5 five, hypothetically, they must be doing something right. Maya Miller (drums) and Becky Black (guitars/vocals) have exceeded expectations for their latest release, the grindingly melodic Do Not Engage. Mostly it comes down to the song arrangements and the manner in which Black alters her garage rock guitar tone ever so slightly from song to song. The guitarist's ability to swoop, hammer and cajole interesting buzzes and howls from her axes is what keeps this album constantly charged up.
Most everything on the fiery 11-tracker boils with an edginess that is beguiling without sounding pretentious or overly harsh. Producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Dirtbombs) helps the Pack get plenty of lo-fi bang for their Canadian bucks, and while the producer is known for keeping it pretty basic, he can also augment the sound with a dash of echo, a touch of reverb or even electronic handclaps when necessary. Battering Ram, Airborne and Animal must be played at full volume to fully appreciate their innate power.
For anyone who craves a high-voltage listening experience you need to get engaged with this album. ***
Download this: Battering Ram
Ripple Effect (Addo Records)
Toronto bassist Mike Downes leads a crack trio of pianist Robi Botos and drummer Ethan Ardelli (guitarist Ted Quinlan also shows up as a guest on the title track) on his fourth recording as a leader.
The former Winnipegger composed nine of the 11 tunes and plays splendidly on material that ranges from the racing C¥te D'Or to the calm, measured A Reflection, an homage to Downes' father, with some terrific bass soloing.
Ripple Effect is a great showcase number with Quinlan's lead guitar, Botos' excellent comping and soloing, Ardelli's spry drumming and Downes' tasteful soloing.
Downes and crew turn So Maki Sum Se Rodila, a traditional Macedonian piece, into tasty jazz. ****
Download this: A Reflection
-- Chris Smith
This Week's Singles
Satellite Flight (Republic/Universal)
Presumably included on his upcoming Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon EP, Cudi dishes out more of his trademark deep-spacey production that has made him a hit with the chilled stoner hip-hop crowd. It's not bad, but it's no Just What I Am. And that recurring groan-rapping (grapping?) makes him sound like he needs to take some Gaviscon or something. ***
The Crystal Method feat. Dia Frampton
Over It (Tiny e)
With their first album since 2009's underappreciated Divided By Night set to drop this week, this new single features some breathy vocals courtesy of The Voice alumni Frampton and does an admirable job of updating the duo's signature late-'90s electronica sound with more contemporary dubstep and EDM influences. *** 1/2
7 Days of Funk
Faden Away (Stones Throw)
Another side project for Snoop Dogg (here under the absurd guise of Snoopzilla) in which he teams with L.A. producer Dam-Funk for a trip down memory lane with the type of laid-back G-Funk that made Snoop famous in the first place. It's far from Doggystyle, but you could do a lot worse. ***
-- reviewed by Steve Adams