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Listening Room: Sade, VV Brown and more...
“Soldier of Love”
About halfway through “Soldier of Love,” Sade sings about “flying as slow as I can/I’m not trying to reach the land.” That aptly sums up a career that’s yielded a half-dozen studio albums of varying waits — including a whopping 10-year gap since the last batch of new material, “Lover’s Rock,” during which we’ve been entranced by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis and other soulful U.K. exports. Even more telling, though, is the opening line from the first single and title track: “I’ve lost the use of my heart/But I’m still alive.” “Soldier of Love” is not without its merits — Sade’s voice alone is worth the price of admission — but for all the purported passion professed in its 10 songs’ lyrics, this is a bloodless affair. Sade is still the smooth operator, but this time to a fault as she and her three regular cohorts, plus co-producer Mike Pela, sound for the first time like they’re being lulled to sleep by their own polished and spare arrangements. The notable exception is the title track, whose thumping, martial lockstep of a beat and shifty instrumental textures, along with Sade’s dryly dispassionate vocals, is without precedent in her catalog. There are other flashes of life on the album — the reggae lilt of “Babyfather,” guitarist Stuart Matthewman’s slinky lick on “Be That Easy” and the overdue appearance of his saxophone, along with some violin, on “In Another Time.” Otherwise the ambience here is decidedly languid and stultifying, with tracks such as “Morning Bird,” “Long Hard Road” and the chamberish “The Safest Place” built on constructions so delicate and precise that even those using the music for amorous accompaniment will probably dose off before accomplishing much of anything. Sade may be alive, but the pulse on “Soldier of Love” is pretty weak.
VV Brown, “Travelling Like the Light” (Capitol) ★★ 1/2
“Shark in the Water,” the powerful first single from this British singer and songwriter’s debut album, is an attention-getting calling card but doesn’t really offer the full picture of what’s going on here. In the finest tradition of her forebears, Brown — whose writing credits include the Pussycat Dolls and Sugababes — covers a lot of retro bases here, from the rockabilly flavors of “Quick Fix” and “L.O.V.E.” to the Shirley Bassey-style dramatics of “Back in Time” and “Bottles” to the 60s mod touches of “Leave!” She even appropriates the 30s piano standard “Heart and Soul” on “Crazy Amazing.” Brown’s contemporary influences show in the beats, however, as well as on the hip-hop tinged “Game Over,” and if “Travelling Like Light” lacks cohesion it certainly makes up for it with variety.
New & Noteworthy
Michael Buble, “Special Delivery” (Reprise): An online-only collection of six unreleased covers from the Great American Songbook, including “Mack the Knife” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You).”
Celtic Thunder, “It’s Entertainment!” (Decca): The vocal quartet covers material by U2, Leonard Cohen, the Proclaimers, the Beach Boys and Jim Croce on this CD/DVD collection.
Gerald Clayton, “Two Shade” (Emarcy): The jazz piano prodigy covers Cole Porter and Dizzy Gillespie, along with 10 original compositions, on his debut as a solo artist.
Neil Diamond “Hot August Night from Madison Square Garden” (Columbia): A live CD from Diamond’s 2008 shows in his hometown, also available in DVD and Blu-ray packages.
Fear Factory, “Mechanize” (Candlelight): The industrial rockers’ seventh studio album brings former guitarist Dino Cazares back into the fold for the first time since 2002.
Galactic, “Ya-Ka-May” (Anti-): The decided contemporary New Orleans quintet pays homage to its home town this time out, collaborating with legends such as Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, John Bouttee and the Rebirth Brass Band, among others.
Gil Scott-Heron, “I’m New Here” (XL): The rap pioneer returns to active duty for the first time in 16 years. The revolution will still not be televised.
HIM, “Screamworks: Love in Theory & Practice” (Sire): Ville Valo and his Swedish hard rock crew let themselves see some sunshine by recording their seventh studio album in Los Angeles. And they didn’t melt.
Hot Chip, “One Life Stand” (Astralwerks): The British dance music quintet cites an array of influences, including Susan Boyle, for the songs on its fourth full-length album.
Jaheim, “Another Round” (Atlantic): The New Jersey rapper’s fifth studio joint includes a duet with Jadakiss on a remix of the first single, “Ain’t Leavin Without You.”
Angelique Kidjo, “Oyo” (Razor & Tie): The African diva visits songs by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Miriam Makeba, along with favorites from film soundtracks, on her first outing since 2007’s Grammy-winning “Djin Djin.”
Lionel Loueke, “Mwaliko” (Blue Note): The singer-guitarist from Benin gets help from duet partners Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding and Richard Bona on his sophomore U.S. release.
Massive Attack, “Hiligoland” (Virgin): The British trip-hop duo’s latest collection of guest vocalists includes Damon Albarn (Blur/Gorillaz), Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and Tricky muse Martina Topley-Bird, with several Portishead members contributing their instrumental skills.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, “Live in Las Vegas” (RCA): The duo’s latest live album captures an unplugged engagement in Sin City, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
Allison Moorer, “Crows” (Rykodisc): Moorer returns to her own writing after covering other female composers’ material on 2008’s “Mockingbird.”
The Nighthawks, “Last Train to Bluesville” (RipBang): The rockin’ blues group includes songs by Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters and James Brown on the follow-up to last year’s “American Landscape.”
Pretenders, “Live in London” (E1): A CD/DVD document from a 2009 show by the always fierce Chrissie Hynde and company.
Reckless Kelly, “Somewhere in Time” (Yep Roc): The Austin, Texas, roots rockers take on the songs of under-appreciated Idaho songwriter Pinto Bennett on its latest studio effort.
TobyMac, “Tonight” (ForeFront): The Christian rapper’s fourth album features guest appearances by members of Skillet and Relient K, as well as genre veteran Israel Houghton. Josh Turner, “Haywire” (MCA Nashville): The deep-voiced country singer from South Carolina takes a gospel turn on “The Answer,” the closing track of his fourth studio album.
The Watson Twins, “Talking to You Talking to Me” (Vanguard): The sibling duo tapped friends from My Morning Jacket and Everest to help them make their sophomore album.
Yeasayer, “Odd Blood” (Secretly Canadian): The second full-length effort by the experimental rock trio from Brooklyn.
From The Vaults: Luther Allison, “Songs From the Road” (Ruf); Chris Cagle, “Best of Chris Cagle” (Capitol Nashville/EMI); the Grateful Dead, “Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 1 (12-28-79)” (Dead.net/Rhino); Enigma, “The Platinum Collection” (Virgin/EMI); k.d. lang, “Recollection” (Nonesuch).
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