CD reviews: Mardin's friends present a lovely tribute
Arif Mardin, et al (NuNoise)
Arranger-pianist-producer Arif Mardin (1932-2006) worked with an array of stars in his career, and a group of them give "All My Friends Are Here" an appropriate title. This was a project he began before his death and finally was put together by his son, Joe. The title track alone would justify the title, as it features Hall & Oates, Barry and Robin Gibb, members of the Rascals and the Average White Band, Phil Collins, Lalah Hathaway, Cissy Houston and Randy Brecker. The album also has Bette Midler singing "The Greatest Ears in Town," Chaka Khan and David Sanborn doing "So Blue," Diane Reeves on "No One," Carly Simon on "Calls a Soft Voice" and Norah Jones on "Longing for You," which also has saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Jon Faddis. That lineup doesn't even mention "Lonestar Blues" with a guitar solo by Willie Nelson. Mardin's friends have put together a great tribute. The album is available Tuesday.
— Bob Karlovits
Lauren Kinhan (E-1)
Lauren Kinhan is not only a marvelous singer, but "Avalon" shows she is a good songwriter, as well. She wrote or took part in the composition of all 12 songs on the album and is successful on all of them. Not only are the songs immensely agreeable, they also show off the range of her vocal talents. "Here is My Avalon" lets her sail through brightly soprano lines, but when she drops into deeper registers, as on "Until You're Mine," the voice is low, not rough. The songs are sung to arrangements that go from a quartet on the lovely "There Alone Go I" to a frequent use of eight musicians and even 10 three times. Those bigger groups involve such players as saxophonist Darmon Meader and pianist Peter Eldridge, both from New York Voices of which she is a member, to saxophonist Donny McCaslin and McCandless' Jay Ashby on percussion.
— Bob Karlovits
Tracey Thorn (Merge)
Tracey Thorn has always seemed an old soul. In Everything but the Girl, Thorn and her musical and life partner, Ben Watt, started off dabbling in bossa nova and cool jazz back in the mid-'80s before moving into club territory later in a career that's been on hiatus since 1999. No matter the setting, though, Thorn's restrained, unaffected alto conveyed a somber wisdom and heartfelt experience. That's even more true on "Love and Its Opposite." After 2007's percolating "Out of the Woods," Thorn tones down the beats (although noted remixer Ewan Person produced the album) in favor of subdued ballads that contemplate the difficulties of adult love: friends divorcing, a daughter's hormones ("yours are just checking in/mine are just checking out," she sings), a sad visit to a singles bar. The unadorned spareness of "You Are a Lover" recalls Thorn's earliest days in the Marine Girls, but she's a better singer now, with more control, more depth, and more truth to share.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Dierks Bentley (Capitol)
On the smart, mainstream-country albums that made him a star, Dierks Bentley always unplugged for a bluegrassy number. For "Up on the Ridge," the Arizona native goes virtually all-acoustic, with the help of several well-known guests, and it's an inspired move: The album represents an artistic rebound from 2008's somewhat tepid "Feel That Fire." Bentley contributes strong cowritten originals, including the opening invitation to go "Up on the Ridge" and the somberly moving "Down in the Mine." Kris Kristofferson performs a duet with Bentley on the former's "Bottle to the Bottom," which includes a long instrumental passage to give the pickers a chance to cut loose. "Bad Angel" is a terrific slice of barroom honky-tonk with Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson. Even with the help of the great Del McCoury, however, Bentley can't make much worthwhile out of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
Paul Weller (Island/Yep Rock)
"Wake Up the Nation," the 10th solo album from influential British rocker Paul Weller, isn't nearly as ambitious as its title might suggest, but it is a high point in an often frustrating solo career. If the entire album lived up to the promise of its jittery opener, "Moonshine," Weller would truly have a stellar solo record. But forgettable tracks like "She Speaks" and "Aim High" substitute aimless riffs and falsetto warbling for genuine substance. It's not until Weller looks backward musically, on the Bowie-inspired "Andromeda" and the punky "Fast Car -- Slow Traffic," that the album begins to come together. A solid (if unspectacular) song set, "Wake Up" could do with less filler, but its highlights make this icon's latest work worthy of repeat listening.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
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