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Listening Room: Smokey Robinson, Matisyahu and more...
“Time Flies When You’re Having Fun”
This would be a good year for a big and important Smokey Robinson album. Motown’s 50th anniversary celebration cries for an artistic statement from one of the label’s most durable and prominent creative forces, and Michael Jackson’s death — though unforeseen while Robinson was recording his latest work — certainly makes fans look towards Motown’s elders for comfort and reassurance. “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun” finds Robinson back in Quiet Storm mode, coming off 2006’s pop standards collection “Timeless Love” with love songs and come-hithers that flaunt a libido that’s still alive at 69 but in a quiet, Cialis commercial kind of way. There’s a Smooth Jazz texture to the 11 tracks here, especially the opening “Time Flies” and Robinson’s remake of the Norah Jones-popularized “Don’t Know Why,” the only song on the album he didn’t write, but he gently throttles the grooves up on “Girlfriend,” the trancey “That Place” and “L and “Please Don’t Take Your Love,” a slinky sojourn featuring guitar accents by Carlos Santana. Joss Stone also shows up to lend a bit of vocal heft to “You’re the One For Me,” while India.Arie coos along with Robinson on “You’re Just My Life.” But while it’s listenable, “Time Flies...” is far from Robinson’s best moment, or moments, as a lyricist. It’s hard not to cringe when you hear someone Bob Dylan considers America’s greatest living poet murmur weak come-ons like “you got so many assets” or delve into the schtick of alternating English, French and Spanish phrases in “Please Don’t Take Your Love.” And the soft-core porn overture of “Love Bath” are, frankly, beneath an artist of Robinson’s stature. There are certainly flashes of what made Robinson, and Motown, famous here, and fortunately his legacy is cemented and unlikely to be damaged by this unremarkable effort.
On his fourth album and first full-length release in three years, the Hassidic sinwriter turns reggae into little more than the most general heading possible for his genre-blending music. Rock, hip-hop and Afro-Caribbean styles collide on these 13 songs, a broad sonic pastiche fueled by consciousness and also by the muscular, optimistic anthemry of tracks such as “One Day,” “So Hi So Lo,” the metallic “Darkness Into Light” and the full-bodied “For You.” New collaborators such as Sly & Robbie and members of Fishbone, Fyre Dept. and Glitch Mobb, as well as producer David Kahne, help Matisyahu stretch in a variety of directions, from the slamming urban energy of “Motivate” and “Struggla” [cq] to the chill vibe of the album-closing “Silence.” There’s always a “Light” at the end of the tunnel in Matisyahu’s songs, and a heady mix of sounds to go with it.
New & Noteworthy:
— George Benson, “Song and Stories” (Concord): The jazz guitarist gets original material from Lamont Dozier, Bill Withers and Rod Temperton and also covers songs by James Taylor, Donny Hathaway and Tony Joe White on his latest release.
— Sandra Bernhard, “Whatever It Takes” (Mi5/EMI/Caroline): The actress/comedian tries her hand at music, mixing rock and World flavors with help from the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, among others.
— Colbie Caillat, “Breakthrough” (Universal Republic): The songstress gets help on her sophomore album from her father, recording engineer and Fleetwood Mac cohort Ken Caillat.
— Collective Soul, “Collective Soul (Rabbit)” (Loud & Proud/Roadrunner): The Georgia rockers “Shine” again on a set whose last song, “Hymn For My Father,” pays a posthumous tribute to band members Ed and Dean Roland’s dad.
— Eldar, “Virtue” (Sony Masterworks): The jazz pianist’s fourth album features guest contributions by Joshua Redman and Nicholas Payton.
— Roy Hargrove, “Emergence” (Groovin’ High/Emarcy): The jazz trumpeter tries his hand with a big band ensemble for the first time in his career.
— Peter Himmelman, “My Trampoline” (Minivan Productions): The singer, songwriter and Bob Dylan son-in-law bounces back to family music here, with songs about picky eaters, tortoises (named King Ferdinand) and a need for more kids named Steve.
— Michael Jackson, “The Remix Suite I” Universal Motown): The first of five planned digital collections giving the late singer’s favorites a bit of sonic overhaul. Dallas Austin, the Neptunes, Stargate, Polow Da Don and Salaam Remi do the honors here, the latter tackling “ABC.”
— Jet, “Shaka Rock” (Real Horrorshow/Five Seven): The Australian quartet returns to its rocking (“Are You Gonna Be My Girl”) ways after a commercial stumble on its 2006 sophomore album “Shine On.”
— David Mead, “Almost & Always” (Cheap Lullaby): The singer-songwriter’s first album in three years takes an optimistic look at the promise of life after marriage.
— Najee, “Mind Over Matter” (Heads Up): Eric Bent and Jeff Lorber lend their talents to the onetime Prince saxophonist’s latest project.
— Willie Nelson, “American Classic” (Blue Note): The American music legend’s tribute to Tin Pan Alley features duets with Diana Krall and Norah Jones.
— Dolores O’Riordan, “No Baggage” (Zoe/Rounder): The Cranberries singer co-produced her second solo album with Ontario-based collaborator Dan Brodbeck.
— Gretchen Parlato, “In a Dream” (ObliqSound): After a four-year wait, the jazz vocalist’s sophomore album mixes her own material with song by Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others.
— The Postmarks, “Memoirs at the End of the World” (Unfiltered): The cross-cultural south Florida trio brings its own material to disc after the 2008 covers set “By the Numbers.”
— Skillet, “Awake” (Lava/Ardent/Atlantic): The Memphis Christian rockers’ eighth studio album comes with high expectations after its Grammy Award-nominated predecessor, 2006’s “Comatose.”
— Smile Empty Soul, “Consciousness” (F.O.F./EMI): The California hard rock trio’s fourth album was pushed back nearly three months for additional production, although the single “Don’t Ever Leave” has been representing since late spring.
— Soundtrack, “Fame” (Lakeshore): Hitmaking writer-producers such as James Poyser, Raney Shockne and The Matrix team created new material for the fresh-faced cast of this film update.
— Soundtrack, “Rob Zombie’s Halloween II” (Hip-O/UMe); “Rob Zombie Presents Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures” (Stag/Zombie A Go Go): Captain Clegg and company — whose leader, Jesse Dayton, has been working with Zombie since “The Devil’s Rejects” in 2005 — get a double-pump from this pair of releases, keeping company with classic tracks from the Moody Blues, the MC5, Motorhead and others on “Halloween II.”
— Soundtrack, “Taking Woodstock” (Rhino): Ang Lee’s new period film makes use of a host of Woodstock festival and era recordings by Richie Havens, Canned Heat, the Doors, The Band, Melanie and others.
— Victims of Circumstance, “Roll the Dice” (Financial): The second outing by the ska-rock quintet from central Florida.
From the Vaults:
Michael Jackson, “The Definitive Collection” (Motown/UMe): The Supremes and the Four Tops, “Magnificent: The Complete Studio Duets” (Motown/Hip-O Select); Various Artists, “Island 50 Reggae” (Island/UMe).
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