Spirit moves McFerrin on new album
Bobby McFerrin (Sony)
From the music of Bob Dylan to his own versions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” Bobby McFerrin's look at American music is as original as his look at singing. His new album. “Spirit-youall,” is dedicated to his father, Robert McFerrin, the first African-American to sign a contract with the Metropolitan Opera. It is a tribute that uses some of the music the elder singer performed but lets Bobby offer his fresh look at music. It is built around some vocal classics, but includes five of Bobby's originals. His righteous-seeking anthem “Woe” stands out in its heart, and “Rest/Yes, Indeed” is a bounding hoedown filled with energy. To do all of this, McFerrin is joined by bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding; Larry Campbell on guitar, mandolin and violin; keyboardist Gil Goldstein and bassist Larry Grenadier, who all add a variety of flavors to the album. It all makes “Don't Worry, Be Happy” seem so old.
— Bob Karlovits
‘The Bespoke Man's Narrative'
Aaron Diehl (Mack Avenue)
Vibist Warren Wolf has such a strong role on pianist Aaron Diehl's debut release, he nearly overshadows the headliner. But when the composition work of the pianist is considered, it is easy to see whose album “The Bespoke Man's Narrative” really is. The two of them are joined by drummer Rodney Green and bassist David Wong to form a solid quartet built around strong solo work. Diehl's “Prologue” opens the album and hints a chamber-jazz look, but quickly moves into a livelier approach on “Generation Y” and “Stop and Go,” which features Wolf's quick mallets. Besides Diehl's five originals, the album also has five classics, including Milt Jackson's “The Cylinder,” which is appropriate for the Wolf-Diehl Modern Jazz Quartet sound. They also do a jazz version of Maurice Ravel's “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” which is a showpiece for the pianist. It is an impressive debut for Diehl, even if he is challenged on his own album.
— Bob Karlovits
‘Life on a Rock'
Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville)
It's a thin line between laid-back and lazy. And for a whole lot of “Life on a Rock,” it's hard to tell which side of the line Kenny Chesney is standing on. Chesney has been championing the laid-back, island lifestyle in his lyrics for a while, and now he is incorporating more acoustic guitar and bits of reggae into his country sound. Nothing wrong with that, especially as Chesney generally polishes all his music until it gets a specific, likable sheen. However, “Life on a Rock” finds Chesney stretching into unfamiliar territory that he hasn't quite mastered yet. The authentic reggae sound of “Spread the Love,” featuring The Wailers and Elan, makes Chesney's delivery sound all the more out of place, and lyrics like “Love really, really, really is the answer just like the wise man say” even clunkier. He fares better on “Coconut Tree” with the great Willie Nelson, but Nelson sounds so much more suited to the song, it seems to throw Chesney off. There are times when he gets the laid-back feel right, especially on the lilting “It's That Time of Day,” which conjures the feel of campfires and Coronas. He is strongest, though, in his country-rock wheelhouse, including the strutting first single “Pirate Flag” and the John Mellencamp-influenced “When I See This Bar.”
LL Cool J (429)
LL Cool J pulls out the biggest cards in his Rolodex for “Authentic,” his first album since leaving Def Jam Records. Eddie Van Halen provides some thunderous guitar to “We're the Greatest,” while also shaking up “Not Leaving You,” LL's more pop-oriented duet with Fitz and the Tantrums. Seal's smooth hook on “Give Me Love” should help LL get back on the radio, if Monica's sultry turn on “Closer” doesn't get him there first. Chuck D., Tom Morello and Z-Trip give “Whaddup” some old-school bite, and, with LL referencing both “Rock the Bells” and “Welcome to the Terrordome,” he sounds like he's having a blast.
‘Modern Vampires of the City'
Vampire Weekend (XL)
Good songs win out in the end, and Vampire Weekend has plenty of those. The New York foursome fronted by Ezra Koenig has been simultaneously celebrated and denigrated since before the release of their self-titled debut album, which generated loads of blog buzz — and just about as much backlash — in 2008. Sure, these guys had lots of catchy tunes that cleverly used “Graceland”— era Paul Simon as a point of departure, but weren't they just a bunch of spoiled Upper West Side kids who went to Columbia and sang about their vacations on Cape Cod? The band's second album, “Contra,” was solid, as well. But on “Modern Vampires of the City,” Vampire Weekend distinguishes itself with sharp, smart, grownup, terrifically energetic tunes that are clever, but never merely so. The first tip-off is the single “Diane Young,” whose punning title hints at the intimations of mortality that apparently haunt the boys in the band as they get ready to turn 30. “Wisdom's a gift, but you trade it for youth,” Koenig sings in “Step,” one of many songs that stand out, thanks in no small part to crafty arrangements that showcase keyboard player Rostam Batmanglij. “Age is an honor, but it's still not the truth.” You could go on nitpicking the band and resenting their privileged beginnings, but you'd only be cheating yourself.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Has it really been 11 years since the last Eve album? Indeed it has. The 34-year-old Philadelphia rapper, born Eve Jihan Jeffers, put music aside for acting for a time in the mid-'00s, and a planned 2007 return got mired in record company drama and was never released. “Lip Lock” does a respectable job of repositioning the former “pit bull in a skirt” and female mouthpiece of DMX's Ruff Ryders in a transformed hip-hop landscape. Tough-as-nails declarations that E-V-E is not to be messed with include the booming opener “Eve” and “Wanna Be,” a stutter-step attack that features Missy Elliott. “Wanna Be” is one of many cuts demonstrating that Eve's rhyme-spitting skills have not diminished. Production help comes from old associates like Swizz Beatz, and the former Snoop Dogg funks up “Mama in the Kitchen.” There are dashes of reggae dancehall here and there, and uplifting pop moves like the lightweight “Make It Out of This Town,” with Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship. More successful in that hortatory vein is “Never Gone,” with a hook sung by Chrisette Michele, which finds our heroine owning up to the uncertainty that comes with age while asserting her continued supremacy.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer