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Listening Room: Lionel Richie, Kate Voegele and more...
Lionel Richie, “Just Go” (Island) **1/2
Some artists spend their entire careers looking for a sound and never find it, and then there’s Lionel Richie, who could sing the Metallica songbook and still sound like ... well, Lionel Richie. It’s a blessing and a curse; he’s sold millions of albums both on his own and with the Commodores and has a trophy case stocked with Grammys, Oscars and Golden Globes, but the trademark is so firmly affixed that it’s hard to break out left or right. So on “Just Go” Richie stays to the center, just as he did on 2006’s “Coming Home.” Working primarily with producers StarGate, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Terius “The-Dream” Nash and, on three tracks, Akon, Richie eschews his onetime roles as writer and producer and allows himself to be molded with appropriately contemporary touches while maintaining the musical character that’s been his stock in trade since the Commodores’ “Easy” hit the Top 5 32 years ago. That means “Just Go’s” 14 tracks are heavy on midtempos, balladnce, with the occasional lost-love paean thrown in for balance. Richie does kick it up a bit on the Akonwritten and produced “Nothing Left to Give,” a 2009 cousin to his early ‘80s party anthem “All Night Long,” while Tricky and The-Dream take Richie in an electronic club direction on “Somewhere in London,” though with a reserve that keeps the dancing well below ceiling level. The rest is smooth and, well, easy, from the gentle handclaps of “Forever” to the breezy island flavor of the title track and first single (another Akon collaboration) and the lush, slightly gospel-flavored finale “Eternity,” one of several tracks that build to a full, majestic conclusion — in this case with a children’s choir in tow. Ultimately the Lionel Richie of 2009 still sounds a lot like the Lionel Richie of 1981. Or 1983. or 1986 ... you get the picture. That’s good news for some fans, no doubt, but it hardly makes us put away our copies of “Can’t Slow Down.”
Kate Voegele,“A Fine Mess” (MySpace/Interscope) ***
This Ohio-born songstress may sing a line like “Put me up on a pedestal/I’ve got nowhere to go but down” to a lover in the song “Who Are You Without Me,” but those kinds of expectations resonate on her sophomore album, too. Voegele has enjoyed all the trappings of being a Next Big Thing, from a massive MySpace following to major label bidding wars and critical plaudits; those and a recurring role as singer Mia Catalano on “One Tree Hill” made her 2008 debut “Don’t Look Away” something to talk about, and she doesn’t fade on “A Fine Mess.” Truth be told Voegele is an amalgam of any female pop-rocker of the past decade (Fiona Apple and Michelle Branch come to mind most), but she pulls it off with interpersonal insights that are mature for a 22-year-old and songwriting chops that cut a wide and convincing swath from the ringing richness of “Inside Out” to the more rock-styled grooves of “99 Times” and “Say Anything” to pensive solo pieces such as “Unfair” and “Forever and Almost Always.” All that makes this “Mess” pretty fine, indeed.
New & Noteworthy
Tori Amos, “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” (Universal Republic): Amos has filmed video companions for each of the songs on her 10th album, including them as a bonus DVD on deluxe versions of the project.
Aur Revoir Simone, “Still Night, Still Light” (Our Secret): The trio of female keyboardists from Brooklyn returns with its third album of ambient synth-pop.
Zee Avi, “Zee Avi” (Brushfire): The debut outing by the Malaysian singer-songwriter signed to Jack Johnson’s label stable of laid-back music makers.
Diane Birch, “Bible Belt” (S-Curve): The Michigan-born preacher’s daughter, who’s now based in Portland, recorded her debut album with members of the Roots, the Meters, Galactic and the Patti Smith Group.
Busta Rhymes, “Back on My B.S.” (Flipmode/ Universal): A slew of guests populates the rap veteran’s eighth studio album, including Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Jadakiss, Pharrell, Akon, T.I., Estelle, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx, John Legend and Common.
Carbon Leaf, “Nothing Rhymes With Woman” (Vanguard): Despite the title, the Virginia group still finds a few things to write about on its third album.
CKY, “Carver City” (Roadrunner): After resolving some internal issues, the Pennsylvania hard rockers deliver their first set of new material in four years.
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, “Live From Madison Square Garden” (Warner Bros.): A CD/DVD document of the former Blind Faith bandmates’ 2008 stand in New York City, featuring songs from throughout their careers.
Hedley, “Never Too Late” (Fontana Universal): The Canadian rockers’ U.S. debut features culls songs, including seven homeland No. 1’s, from its two Great White North releases.
Iron & Wine, “Around the Well” (Sub Pop): A two-CD collection of rarities and unreleased material from cult fave singer-songwriter Samuel Beam.
Diana Jones, “Better Times” (Proper American):
The rootsy American singersongwriter brings her latest set of old-time, traditional tunes back home after taking the U.K. by storm with it.
Lakisha Jones, “So Glad I’m Me” (Elite Music): While the world is waiting to see who will be crowned this year’s American Idol, the 2007 finalist from Flint finally releases her debut album.
J ulie The Band, “An Act of Communication” (Planetary Group): The Los Angeles altrockers teamed up with Detroit rapper Obie Trice on “Foggin’ Up a Clear View,” a remix track from the band’s national debut album.
Mat Kearney, “City of Black and White” (Aware/ Columbia): The VH1 You Oughta Know troubadour hunkered down at home in Nashville to write the songs for his sophomore major label album.
Jason Lytle, “Yours Truly, the Commuter” (Anti-):
The now-Montana based rock singer-songwriter steps from the ashes of Grandaddy for his first solo project. You’ll also find him working with the Crystal Method, Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous these days.
mewithoutyou, “it’s all crazy!...” (Tooth & Nail):
The Philadelphia modern rock quartet deploys an assortment of friends and guest to make the group’s fourth full-length its most idiosyncratic outing to date.
Method Man and Redman, “Blackout! Vol. 2” (Def Jam):
It only took a decade, but the Wu-Tang Clansmen follow up their platinum 1999 set with help from Pete Rock, Erick Sermon, Rockwilda and group mates Raekwon and Ghostface Killah.
Tim “Ripper” Owens, “Play My Game” (Steamhammer/ SPV): The former Judas Priest and Yngwie Malmsteen singer steps out with his first solo album, supported by members of Whitesnake, Dio, Kiss, Queensryche and other hard rock cohorts.
Red Stick Ramblers, “My Suitcase is Always Packed” (Sugar Hill): The roots quintet strikes a traveling rhythm on its fifth album, with 11 original tracks sung in both English and Cajun French
Settle, “At Home We Are Tourists” (Epitaph): The indie rock quartet from Easton, Pa., has been working towards this debut album for the past eight years.
Ruben Studdard, “Love Is” (Hickory/19): “American Idol’s” second-season champ reached out to proven hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, StarGate and even Nashville luminary John Rich to bring him back to the love songs on which he staked his reputation.
Mike Herrera’s Tumbledown, “Tumbledown” (End Sounds): The debut outing by MxPX frontman Herrera’s pop-punk-a-billy side project.
From the Vaults: The Beach Boys, “Summer Love Songs: Girls on the Beach” (Capitol); Kenny Chesney, “Greatest Hits II” (BNA); Little Texas, “Greatest Hits” (Rhino)
New Music DVDs: Various Artists, “Paul Simon and Friends” (Shout! Factory)
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