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Sutton excels at a risky blending of styles

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 6:36 p.m.
Tierney Sutton's 'After Blue'
Tierney Sutton's 'After Blue'
Justin Morell Dectet's 'Subjects and Complements'
Justin Morell Dectet's 'Subjects and Complements'

‘After Blue'

Tierney Sutton (BFM Jazz)

Blending genres is a difficult task in any art form, but singer Tierney Sutton manages to avoid inherent dangers on “After Blue.” With respect and great taste, she offers her versions of 12 Joni Mitchell songs, giving them a distinct jazz flavor but never robbing them of their Mitchell style. The selections include great renditions of Mitchell's famous “Court and Spark,” “All I Want,” “Woodstock,” and, of course, “Both Sides Now.” There always was a hint of jazz rhythms and phrasing in Mitchell's music, but Sutton moves that style even further without stretching the music out of shape. She provides her distinctive vocal touch, but obviously repects the songs a great deal, and stays close to their heart. Helping her accomplish that are the Turtle Island String Quartet, flutist Hubert Laws, drummer Peter Erskine, singer Al Jarreau and keyboardist Larry Goldings. The keyboardist seems particularly suited for the project, being a veteran of many jazz projects as well as a tour partner of performers such as James Taylor. Sutton and crew succeed in the kind of effort that often guarantees failure.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Subjects and Complements'

Justin Morell Dectet (Sonic Frenzy)

From a set of five fugues to familiar-feeling pieces that coast along in classic big-band fashion, the Justin Morell Dectet offers a clever look at large-ensemble music on “Subjects and Complements.” Besides providing all original music, the 10-piece band does it with fresh voicings from four saxophones and reeds, a trumpet, a trombone and bass trombone, and rhythm section. The fugues are the best part of the album, suggesting a classical element but being full of jazz, rhythmically and harmonically. As times, they break apart for solos before regrouping. Meanwhile, “The Wobbler” is built around a quirky rhythm that drives its melody, while the pleasant “Sun Subtle” shows off good interplay from the horns, particularly the lower ones. It is an album that demands and rewards the listener for paying attention.

— Bob Karlovits

‘To All the Girls ...'

Willie Nelson (Legacy)

Willie Nelson loves to duet, and judging by his myriad guest appearances, he'll sing with just about anybody (Billy Currington?). There's no questioning his taste or his material here, though, as the 80-year-old Red-Headed Stranger teams with 18 female guests — from eminences like Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris to young lights like Miranda Lambert and Brandi Carlile — on a set whose title alludes to Nelson's biggest duet smash of all, with Julio Iglesias in 1984. Just about everything here — from the country-oriented character of “Somewhere Between” with Loretta Lynn to the more supper-club strains of “Far Away Places” with Sheryl Crow — possesses the drily understated elegance that has been the hallmark of Nelson's best work. Tersely lyrical Willie guitar solos and Mickey Raphael's trademark keening harmonica punctuate many of the arrangements, helping to provide a unifying undercurrent.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Days Are Gone'

HAIM (Columbia)

The So Cal sister act made up of Danielle, Este and Alana Haim has nestled in a sweet, sunny corner of pop's flower patch. Their ethereal vocals ride a muscle-car chassis on songs that are familiar enough to embrace and inventive enough to celebrate. The voices, with their sexy mix of immediacy and languor, may remind you of classic pop chanteuses like Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde and Gloria Estefan. But Haim's hallmark are tracks like “Forever” and “The Wire” that evolve and expand as they go, so the listener starts out somewhere pleasant and gets swept away to somewhere delightful.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Won't Be Long Now'

Linda Thompson (Pettifer Sounds)

Linda Thompson briefly plays the role of proud parent on her new album, happily slipping into the background while her children sing Anna McGarrigle's “As Fast As My Feet.” It's a rousing rendition and a rare moment of peppy pop on “Won't Be Long Now.” With Thompson front and center, doom and gloom dominates the rest of the record — no surprise to longtime fans of Thompson and her ex-husband, Richard. She sings of war, fear, domestic abuse, loneliness and death, and, like the gray sky on the cover, there's a bleak beauty to the music. Thompson's bracing, unvarnished alto remains a wonder despite her history of career-curtailing voice trouble. The family provides plenty of help. Daughter Kami takes the lead on “As Fast As My Feet,” and son Teddy contributes as a composer on four songs, including the wry title cut. Even Richard lends a hand, with his acoustic guitar on the lovely opener “Love's for Babies and Fools.”

— Associated Press

‘See You Tonight'

Scotty McCreery (19/Mercury Nashville)

The first “American Idol” victor born in the 1990s, Scotty McCreery turned 20 the week before releasing “See You Tonight,” his follow-up to 2011's platinum debut, “Clear As Day.” The former church choir boy quickly establishes how much he has matured, opening his album with a rocking party tune, “Now,” and an urgent late-night booty call to his girlfriend on the title cut. McCreery co-wrote those two songs and three others — his first cuts as a songwriter, another sign of his artistic maturation. His growth also comes across in the subtle inflections he brings to “Feel Good Summer Song,” a heartbreaker that requires some complexity in its vocal delivery and in the blend of pain and desire that the lyrics require. Sounding more relaxed, McCreery combines the traditional aspects of heroes Josh Turner and Randy Travis with contemporary touches brought in by producer Frank Rogers. The result shows McCreery moving into a style of his own that should win him fans beyond the “Idol” fan base.

— Associated Press

‘Magpie and the Dandelion'

The Avett Brothers (American)

The evolving definition of folk music currently carries a little bit of rock, a little bit of reverb and a few other nontraditional flavors thrown in the stew. It's all being well received, and The Avett Brothers' new album, “Magpie and the Dandelion,” should be no exception. Songs like “Open Ended Life” and “Skin and Bones” present a folk version of rock's wall-of-sound approach. Instead of a nuanced give and take between banjo and guitar and drums, we get them all at once. With proper mixing, it works on these hardened-heart love songs. Things work up to a glorious crescendo on several tracks, going from simmer to boil on “Another Is Waiting.” All in all, this is pleasant listening and the songs stick in the head.

— Associated Press

‘Drinks After Work'

Toby Keith (Show Dog-Universal)

Toby Keith opens his new album “Drinks After Work” with a song that uses the hip-hop rhythms dominating contemporary country music these days. At age 52, and in his 20th year as a country star, Keith makes it work for him. He simply applies the updated rhythms to his typical macho style, filling the lyrics of “Shut Up and Hold On” with sly wit and a load of double entendres that will upset feminists but entertain Keith's working-class fan base. From there, the Oklahoman slips into his wheelhouse, mixing macho come-ons (“Show Me What You're Workin' With”) with philosophical slices of life (“I'll Probably Be Out Fishin'”) and party tunes about escaping 9-to-5 drudgery (the title cut) — all set to guitar-driven country rock. What amazes is how consistently Keith hits high marks on “Drinks After Work,” despite releasing an album of new material annually since 2005. The reliability comes from Keith's knack for creating new material that fits his swaggering persona, with help from a well-established crew of co-writers (Scotty Emerick, Bobbie Pinson and Rivers Rutherford).

— Associated Press

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