Julian Taylor Band
Tech Noir (Independent)
Each summer, we try to choose an album that suits the warmer weather, a disc for those outdoor moods that call for something sonically special to solidify the fundamental sunny vibe. Toronto's Julian Taylor's new set fits the bill almost perfectly.
Despite a slew of albums and hit singles under his hat, the sweet-voiced singer-songwriter has remained relatively under the radar in these parts. Tech Noir is an intelligent mix of funk and soul music that stands apart from more mainstream urban sounds, and Taylor has the kind of natural vibe that reaches back to the classic Motown/Stax energy without sounding like a retro fetishist. Do You Remember and Never Gonna Give You Up should be on the radio right now. The Prince-informed No Guns and the funky New Orleans-bred rhythm of Why Would You Do That, coupled with the harmonica-driven blues-rock of The Other Side, demonstrate this artist's wide range.
When the summer heat finally hits, we can practically guarantee this album will help the good times roll wherever you are. 5 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Be Good To Your Woman
-- Jeff Monk
Lazaretto (Third Man)
Jack White zips through so many genres on Lazaretto it's dizzying -- classic country one minute, rap-rock the next, and then back again.
The most impressive part, though, is how he handles it all masterfully, bending disparate ideas to his will. On Lazaretto's title track, he welds dub to rock and raps with the flow of a Beastie Boy as he crafts an origin story in rhyming couplets. "Born rotten, bored rotten/making models of humans out of coffee and cotton," White raps.
Maybe it's no surprise the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather is eclectic, but it is a surprise how well-executed everything is here. In the past, White prided himself on finishing albums in a matter of weeks, going for the visceral rather than the polished, but Lazaretto was built over a two-year period, and the craftsmanship shows.
In That Black Bat Licorice, which is, ostensibly, a rap-rock love song, he name-drops Sigmund Freud and the Egyptian god of war Horus before busting out rhymes like "She's my baby but she makes me get avuncular /And when my monkey's jumpin' I got no time to make it up for her." That's no small feat. And neither is Would You Fight For My Love? which plays out like a Southern-rock Little Red Corvette.
White may be at his best when he's at his simplest, as with the country-tinged blues rocker Just One Drink, but he's thrilling on the fancy stuff, too. Lazaretto is a wild ride worth taking repeatedly. 4 stars
Download this: Just One Drink
-- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Mike Murley Trio
Looking Back (Cornerstone Records)
This Toronto trio -- Mike Murley (tenor and soprano saxophones), Reg Schwager (guitar) and Steve Wallace (bass) -- swings oh so beautifully and slowly on the opener, Bill Strayhorn's Isfahan.
The musicians are masters of slow to medium tempos on the nine tracks here, which constitute a debut recording for this trio even though its members have been playing together since 2001. (Schwager, an excellent guitarist, joined when the celebrated Ed Bickert retired.)
If you know Murley at all, you know how adept he is playing in larger combos of differing configurations, yet this trio's relaxed chamber jazz ranks high on his list of accomplishments.
Whether on the languid If You Never Come to Me by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the boppish I Wonder Who by Murley or Gershwin's Who Cares, the trio plays sublimely. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Isfahan
-- Chris Smith
First Aid Kit
Stay Gold (Columbia/Sony)
Sweden is less known for its folk scene than for its place in the pure pop market, where for decades the country has produced glistening, chrome-toned singles. This makes young sibling duo First Aid Kit unique, and the proof is spread throughout their new album, Stay Gold.
Produced in Omaha by longtime Saddle Creek Records affiliate Michael Mogis, Stay Gold confirms the duo is eager to explore a big sound. Shattered and Hollow offers echoed drama with a minimal beat and Klara Soderberg's huge voice, a vivid recollection of lost love ferried into the present. Heaven Knows should be a hit: a sing-along gem with an uptempo shuffle-beat and a gigantic hook.
But the group often sounds more derivative than it does inspired, and clumsy lyrics don't help. The first lines of the record, from My Silver Lining, offer a hint of what's to come. "I don't know if I'm scared of dying but I'm scared of living too fast too slow," Klara explains with a forced twang, lost amid linguistic boulders and a cleverness that muddles meaning. The Waitress Song is a patronizing ballad about moving to a small town to become a waitress. "It's a long, twisted road we are on," Klara sings as a moaning violin takes flight. Surrounded by such thrills, the clichés sound less so.
The closer, A Long Time Ago, strives for a grand conclusion, but misses amid musical melodrama that sounds forced, a problem that permeates Stay Gold. 3 stars
Download this: Heaven Knows
-- Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
This week's singles
THE TINGS TINGS
Wrong Club (Columbia)
The first single from their upcoming third album strays away from the in-your-face brat-pop of That's Not My Name, opting instead for a more relaxed disco vibe, similar in style to Daft Punk's Get Lucky. Produced by Duran Duran's Andy Taylor, this soulful gem would be equally appropriate for dancing at the club or lounging on the couch. 4 stars
Still best known for his 2004 mega-smash Call On Me, Swedish DJ Eric Prydz has always had a knack for making accessible dance music without being blatantly commercial or cheesy. His latest straddles the line perfectly between house and trance, with a monumental melody and a chilled, chart-friendly vocal. Lovely. 4 stars
50 CENT FEAT. MR. PROBZ
"Party rockin' bottle poppin' tonight we gonna turn up till we twisted..." Lyrics like that recall 50's In Da Club glory days, but overall, this mid-tempo head-nodder from his recently released Animal Ambition album doesn't really have anything new to say, and doesn't say it in a terribly exciting way, either. 2 1/2 stars
-- reviewed by Steve Adams