Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams
Get Lucky (Columbia)
The only thing bigger than the anticipation for Daft Punk's upcoming Random Access Memories album is the secrecy surrounding it. After several cryptic teases over the last few months, we finally get a first single. And it is beautiful. A delicious disco throwback featuring Nile Rodgers of Chic on guitar and a fantastic falsetto from Pharrell explaining why exactly it is we stay up so late -- it's to get lucky, of course. And when those robot voices show up? Pure bliss. Four stars
Back 2 The Wild (37 Adventures)
The first proper new music from the British duo since 2009's somewhat underwhelming double shot of Scars and Zephyr is quintessential Jaxx. Their one-of-a-kind brand of quirky house music is in full effect here with a rambunctiously funky tribal feel and preposterously silly sing-along lyrics. Easily the most instantly memorable track they've done since Where's Your Head At? Four stars
Fine China (RCA)
The lead-off single to the polarizing R&B star's forthcoming sixth album steers clear of the assembly line EDM-pop he's been putting out in recent years and instead goes for a very retro Michael Jackson kind of vibe. While more than a few people will raise an eyebrow at the "I'm not dangerous" chorus, slick production and smooth vocals make for a solid head-nodder that'll be as comfortable on the dancefloor as it is in the lounge. Or the bedroom. Three and a half stars
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses)
The Low Highway (New West)
LIKE a modern-day Woody Guthrie, country-folk troubadour Steve Earle offers up a sincere snapshot of today's America. Earle's world is rife with backwoods meth labs, addicts, big-box stores, hurricane survivors, homeless and incurable romantics. However there is light beyond the darkness: 21st Century Blues cites a litany of unfulfilled '60s promises before stressing that we possess the power to make a difference in our future.
Working again with co-producer Ray Kennedy, Earle is backed by his road band in the studio (including wife Allison Moorer) and together they deliver an honest mix of bluegrass, Cajun, old-time, country, folk, rock and blues, lovingly caressed by pedal steel, mandolin and Eleanor Whitmore's fiddle.
On album closer Remember Me, the 58-year-old Earle addresses his mortality with a heartfelt request for his three-year-old son to remember him when he's gone. With efforts like this, who could forget him? Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Remember Me
-- Bruce Leperre
Willie Nelson and Family
Let's Face The Music and Dance (Sony/Legacy)
AMERICAN musical icon Willie Hugh Nelson turns 80 years young on April 30 -- let the marketing campaign begin. Not that the craggy-faced Nelson needs much of a push to keep recording, touring and playing benefit gigs; in fact, there are times that this guy seems to be almost everywhere at once. Good for him, we say. Of course, old Nelson's fat back catalogue of album releases contains more than a few duds and any music fan with only casual interest in his output needs to be wary of the quality of the songs on any new release from the wild world of Willie.
The "...and Family" tag on the album title is one clue as to what is going on with this laid-back 14-tracker. Nelson uses his touring band here almost exclusively -- in other words, you'll find no space-filling duets with whatever current contemporary country artist the label is pushing Willie's way.
By keeping it simple, the album is a winner that keeps pace with any of his better releases this decade. Musically, it tends toward the Great American Songbook (You'll Never Know, Vous et Moi, I Can't Give You Anything But Love) cover versions that artists of Nelson's vintage seem to gravitate toward as they age. Or maybe they just run out of their own ideas for songs. Either way Nelson picks away mightily on his worn, gut-string Trigger all over this set, while the rest of the Family aids and abets near-telepathically as always. Let's face it, Willie is pasture prime, and if you enjoy the quiet side of life, this one is for you. Four and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Twilight Time
-- Jeff Monk
POP & ROCK
THE four Frenchmen known as Phoenix continue to refine their nonpareil synthesis of dance pop and glam rock on their fifth album Bankrupt!
Marked again by pristine production, miniature symphonies emerge during the transitions and swashes of melody ascend on each chorus.
As polished as the music is, singer Thomas Mars' nonchalant voice is the band's defining element. Railing off inner monologue lyrics about Scandinavian leather, "Mint Julep testosterone", the Rosetta Stone and pesticides, his words act mostly as vehicles to sing along with.
And you'll want to. Even if nothing reaches the pure pop monstrosity of 1901 or Lisztomania from the group's last album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, potential hits abound. Lead track Entertainment picks up right where those left off. Chloroform splits the difference between ballad and banger, a perfect tonic for drifting away while stuck in traffic. Subverting its title, Trying to Be Cool glides effortlessly on a floral neon groove.
Bankrupt! is mostly Phoenix getting better at what it does: firing off populist-themed sure shots that won't get out of your head. But subtle shifts in the formula resonate. An acoustic guitar trickles through Bourgeois. A blizzard of synth glitter washes out the title track. And an occidental pulse runs through Entertainment.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Entertainment
-- Jake O'Connell, The Associated Press
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records)
VANCOUVER native, Brooklyn-based composer and band leader Darcy James Argue continues to update and upend big-band jazz on his sophomore recording.
The 18-member Secret Society, under Argue's direction, deftly performs a mash-up of musical styles, a tour through a mythic Brooklyn with a Gil Evans-like figure as your musical guide.
This music was composed as part of a multimedia work with a visual artist that premièred in 2011. The music stands on its own with its recurring melodic themes and varied styles from swing to Eastern European to dance-punk.
Argue's music takes a novelistic approach with a prologue, eight chapters separated by interludes, and an epilogue. If that seems too literary, it isn't. It's 53 minutes of great orchestral jazz performed by top players and incorporating a number of instruments and styles.
It isn't your father's big band; it's a newer style for a newer age and a worthy followup to the acclaimed Infernal Machines (2009). Big band music, a foundation of jazz, is evolving and adapting. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Missing Parts
-- Chris Smith