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Listening Room: Randy Jackson, Michael McDonald and more...
Various Artists, “Randy Jackson’s Music Club, Volume One” (Dream Merchant 21/Concord) **1/2
Given the waning fortunes of “American Idol’s” recent winners and runners-up (where have you gone, Taylor Hicks?), the reality show’s judges may well be in the best positions to generate excitement over a new album. Enter Randy Jackson, the wellpositioned fulcrum between positive Paula Abdul and snidely Simon Cowell. He recruits an all-star assemblage for “Randy Jackson’s Music Club, Volume One,” on which he serves as producer and occasional songwriter — and, most important, record mogul, launching his new imprint (Dream Merchant 21) by using high-profile friends to begin spotlighting new acts such as Barbi Esco and Kelli Love. But considering that their contributions (“My R&B” and “Who’s Gonna Love You Now,” respectively) are the 12-track album’s weak tracks, it’s left to the more famous members to carry this Music Club. Abdul’s “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” is a throwback to a somewhat anonymous kind of early ’90s dance pop, but Jackson has more success orchestrating vocal “events,” particularly by Big & Rich’s John Rich and Anthony Hamilton on “Home” and Travis Tritt, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and Lucy Woodward on “Willing to Try.” Joss Stone and Three 6 Mafia morph Dionne Warwick’s “Walk On By” into the more contemporary “Just Walk On By,” while soul legend Sam Moore joins Keb’ Mo’ and Angie Stone on a convincing rendition of “Wang Dang Doodle.” And Jackson gets Mariah Carey to re-create the dogwhistle falsettos that were once her trademark on “I Understand,” a gospel track that also features BeBe Winans, Kim Burrell, Rance Allen and Hezikiah Walker. Jason Mraz, Van Hunt, John McLaughlin and past “Idol” finalists Katharine McPhee and Elliott Yamin also join the Club, giving Jackson an album that’s intriguingly diverse if not quite greater than the sum of its parts.
Michael McDonald “Soul Speak” (Universal Motown) ***
This isn’t quite “Motown 3” — maybe more like “Motown 2.5.” The former Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan singer/keyboardist’s third covers album does touch on Motown, including a gutsy remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City,” while also taking on some of his other favorites from the soul side of his musical fence. Particularly winning are a New Orleans-flavored treatment of the frothy George Michael/Aretha Franklin duet “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a sultry rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and subtle versions of Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” McDonald tosses three new compositions into the mix, too, and if this is his transition back to original material from covers, he’s certainly leaving that realm on a good note.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
Eric Bibb “Get Onboard” (Telarc): Bonnie Raitt and Ruthie Foster guest on the rootsy singer-songwriter’s latest release.
Del the Funky Homosapien, “11th Hour” (Definitive Jux): The first solo album in eight years from Ice Cube’s cousin and Da Lench Mob member.
Junkie XL, “Booming Back at You” (Artwerk Music): The Dutch-born DJ/mixer/producer recruited a variety of vocalists for his latest collection, which covers Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Cities In Dust” and samples Stetsasonic, among others.
Shawn Mullins, “honeydew” (Vanguard): The Georgia troubadour’s 11th album features appearances by Kasey Chambers, Lyle Lovett foil Francine Reed and Sheryl Crow guitarist Peter Stroud.
One Flew South, “Last of the Good Guys” (Decca): The trio of Nashville songwriters teamed with colleagues such as J.D. Souther and hitmaker Marcus Hummon for their debut as a group.
Mike Patton, “A Perfect Place” (Ipecac): The Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Peeping Tom frontman makes his first sojourn into the film world with the score for this cinematic short.
Presidents of the United States of America, “These Are the Good Times People” (Fugitive Recordings): The humor-tinged Seattle trio’s fourth album was produced by fellow Northwest rocker Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks.
Tristan Prettyman, “Hello” (Virgin): The San Diego singer-songwriter’s sophomore album was recorded in London and may just have a song or two inspired by her breakup with fellow troubadour Jason Mraz.
Pride Tiger, “The Lucky Ones” (Caroline): The first outing by the new headbanger crew formed by three former members of 3 Inches of Blood.
Raffi, “Animal Songs” (Rounder) and “Songs of our World” (Rounder): A pair of compilations from the children’s music favorite.
Rick Ross, “Trilla” (Slip N’ Slide/Def Jam): The Miami rapper works with T-Pain, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Trick Daddy and more on his sophomore album.
Saosin, “Come Close” (Capitol): The heavy metal upstarts buy time for their second album with this live CD/DVD set.
Snoop Dogg, “Ego Trippin’” (Doggystyle/ Geffen): Though initially conceived as a Snoop-only showcase, the album includes guest shots by Too $hort, Pharrell, Raphael Saadiq and Snoop’s uncle Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band.
Gerald Veasley, “Your Move” (Telarc): The master jazz bassist works with guitarist Chuck Loeb and saxophonist Chris Farr on his latest release.
The Vines, “Best of the Vines” (Capitol/EMI):
A 16-track overview of the Australian group’s initial three album run.
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