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CD Reviews:
Christina Aguilera, Obie Trice and more
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Pop

Christina Aguilera “Back to Basics” RCA ***

She’s logged her time as a polished pop star and a selfsexualized diva. Now Christina Aguilera is getting “Back to Basics” — although her idea of “Basics” is conceptually ambitious (and advanced) by any measure. The two-disc set’s 21 songs are about the length of a single CD but exist in two entirely different worlds — the fi rst, primarily produced by DJ Premier, blends meticulous songcraft with jazzy samples and hip-hop flavors; the second, produced and co-written with pop hitmaker Linda Perry, is seriously old school, throwing back to burlesque styles of the 1920s and ’30s. The unifying force is Aguilera herself, always the most accomplished of the late’90s teen boom singers and even then an outspoken student of big-voiced legends such as Etta James, Billie Holiday and Pearl Bailey. The first disc is the more readily accessible, with an ambitious soundscape that still fits comfortably into the Beyoncé/Mariah pop-soul world on “Ain’t No Other Man,” the emotive “Understand” and the title track. Classic rocker Steve Winwood helps out on the muscular “Makes Me Wanna Pray,” while “Without You” is a subtle delight of Spanish-fl avored guitar and layered vocals. Aguilera manages to hold her sonic character on the second CD’s bloozy glamour songs, deploying a wider variety of vocal approaches amid lush horn and string sections and even crafting some Andrews Sisters-style harmonies on “Candyman.” Her lyrics are forthright and personal throughout as Aguilera sings about husband Jordan Bratman, her parents and her music biz experiences. But a smattering of self-congratulatory hyberbole — such as the fan tributes tacked into “Thank You” — is unnecessary, because “Back to Basics” certainly can stand on its own bold creative feet.



RAP

Obie Trice “Second Round’s on Me” Shady/Interscope **1/2

Besides playing off 2003’s “Cheers,” the title of Detroit rapper Obie Trice’s sophomore album refers to his desire to get out a bit from under the formidable shadow of his mentor and label chief, Eminem. In that regard, “Second Round’s ...” not entirely successful; Eminem is credited with producing eight of these 17 tracks and appears on one (“There They Go”), and the fl avor throughout bears the aroma of the Dr. Dre-inspired Shady style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and Trice shows growth as a rapper and writer here, whether he’s spitting gangsta style (“Kill Me a Mutha,” “24’s”), offering social commentary (“Ghetto”), paying heartfelt tribute to his “Mama” or recounting his New Year’s Eve shooting while driving on the Lodge freeway — all in a no-frills flow that’s not unlike a good barroom conversation. He also deserves props for giving a cameo to underexposed local MC Big Herk, and we might even be willing to pony up when it’s time for the third round, too.



New and noteworthy

Trace Adkins, “Dangerous Man” (Capitol) — The country singer celebrates his 10th year of recording with his seventh set of new material.

Blowoff, “Blowoff” (selfrelease) — A pop collaboration between ex-Hüsker Dü/Sugar leader Bob Mould and Deep Dish mainstay Richard Morel.

Cham, “Ghetto Story”

(Atlantic) — Debut set from the New York rapper, with guest shots from Akon and Rhianna.

The Damnwells, “Air Stereo” (Zoe) — The Brooklyn rockers return with their second album.

Joe Grushecky, “Good Life” (Schoolhouse) — Good pal Bruce Springsteen helps out the Pittsburgh rocker on four songs, including the cowritten “Code of Silence.”

Guitar Shorty, “We the People” (Alligator) — The Texas-born blues-rock pioneer and former Ray Charles sideman still has plenty of bite as he approaches the 50th anniversary of his recording career.

Lyfe Jennings, “The Phoenix” (Sony Urban/ Columbia) — The R&B singer’s sophomore album features Three 6 Mafia and Young Buck, as well as a song dedicated to the late Notorious B.I.G.

Joanna, “This Crazy Life” (Geffen) — After opening for Sheryl Crow and performing at malls, this newbie from Philadelphia certainly has range, if nothing else.

The Living End, “State of Emergency” (Adeline/East West) — A politically charged set from this Australian punk/ rockabilly trio that debuted at No. 1 Down Under.

Andy Fairweather Low, “Sweet Soulful Music”

(Proper LLC) — The fi rst solo album in 26 years from the highly decorated sideman for Eric Clapton, the Who, Roger Waters, Van Morrison and others.

Maria Muldaur, “Heart of Mine: Love Songs of Bob Dylan” (Telarc) — No “Master of War” — or “Tangled Up in Blue” — here as the veteran singer pays homage to Dylan’s softer side.

Leigh Nash, “Blue on Blue” (Nettwerk) — The former Sixpence None the Richer singer releases her fi rst solo album.

Bonnie Raitt, “Bonnie Raitt and Friends” (Capitol) — Culled from her recent “Decades Rock Live” special, Raitt mixes it up with pals Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Alison Krauss and Keb’ Mo’.

Soundtrack, “Snakes on a Plane: The Album” (New Line) — Reptile rock courtesy of modern rockers such as Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, The Academy Is ... and more.

Mike Stern, “Who Let the Cats Out?” (Heads Up) — The jazz guitarist’s 13th album features an all-star group of pedigreed “cats” that includes Richard Bona, Victor Wooten and Roy Hargrove, among oth-

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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