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Listening Room: Usher, BNL and more...
Raymond v Raymond
Divorce may have broken Usher Raymond’s heart, but not his libido. On his sixth album and first since his 2009 split with wife Tameka Foster, the young R&B lion and Justin Bieber patron wears some of the emotional ravages — particularly on “Foolin’ Around,” his emotive apology for adulterous behavior, and on “Papers,” a teeth-gnashing review of the divorce process. But Usher, who in just 2008 was cooing the virtues of married life on his “Here I Stand” album, apparently got over it quickly as the other dozen tracks here find him either in pick-up mode in the club or getting his freak on back in the bedroom, exploring the “galaxy between the sheets” that he travels in “Mars vs. Venus.” It’s hardly foreign territory and, truth be told, it makes for more interesting listening than last time out. He promises to “celebrate life” on the opening “Monstar,” one of three tracks on “Raymond...” produced by Minneapolis masters Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, while “Lil Freak” incorporates the bridge of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For the City” as well as a menage a trois rap by Nick Mina. He has some high-spirited fun with Ludacris on the phat-bottomed “She Don’t Know” and teams up with T.I. on the poppier “Guilty,” although the disparate component parts of the will.i.am collab “OMG” (it actually stands for “gosh”) never quite gel. “There Goes My Baby” benefits from producer Jim Monsin’s subtle orchestrations, while “Pro Lover’s” reggae-flavored lope accents the song’s already playful lyrics and “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” adds a fresh electro club feel to Usher’s quiver. Bob Dylan may have left “Blood on the Tracks” and Marvin Gaye blustered his way through “Here, My Dear,” but on “Raymond v Raymond” Usher has dusted himself off and is happily back on the prowl again.
Barenaked Ladies, “All in Good Time” (Raisin’ Records) ★★★
It’s certainly titillating to comb through the lyrics of BNL’s first album since Steven Page’s departure for disses directed towards the former co-frontman. And there are certainly lines that could be interpreted as being about Page, though they’re couched in terms general enough to allow for deniability. But what’s more interesting is exploring BNL’s new world order on “All in Good Time,” a terrain in which Ed Robertson dominates but more room is made for multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan, yielding a greater variety and a sense of band democracy that still works well. Robertson’s mid-album charge of “Ordinary,” “I Have Learned” and “Every Subway Car” gives the set some real heft, while “Summertime” is a bouncy pop confection with a soulful root. And Hearn’s smoothly ambient album-closer “Watching the Northern Lights” may be the best BNL to hail from outside the Robertson-Page axis.
New & Noteworthy
Joan Armatrading, “This Charming Life” (429): After a Grammy-nominated blues turn last time out, the British songstress gets back to rocking — harder than ever, in fact — on her latest release.
The Auctioneers, ““The Auctioneers” (self-released): A four-song introduction to the New York rock quintet, produced by Kid Rock bassist Aaron Julison and recorded at Rustbelt Studios in Royal Oak.
Erykah Badu, “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)” (Universal Motown): The R&B singer’s fifth album and companion piece to 2008’s “New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)” uses live instrumentation and focuses on romance and relationships rather than politics.
Black Francis, “NonStopErotik” (Cooking Vinyl): The Pixies’ Charles Thompson returns to his solo persona for an album that’s accompanied by a Judy Jacob film.
E-40, “Revenue Retrievin: Day Shift” (Heavy on Grind) and “Revenue Retrievin: Night Shift” (Heavy on Grind): The California rapper’s pair of new albums are loaded with guests, including Snoop Dogg, Too $hort, Bucci Mane, B-Legit and others.
Evelyn Evelyn, “Evelyn Evelyn” (8 ft./Eleven): Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer and singer-songwriter Jason Webley are the voices and fingers behind this purported duo of music-making conjoined twins from western Kansas.
Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon, et al, “Wu Massacre” (Def Jam): This partial Wu-Tang Clan reunion features guest appearances by Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, Solomon Childs, Sun God and comic actor Tracy Morgan.
Amy Grant, “Somewhere Down the Road” (Sparrow): The singer-songwriter gets back to her Christian roots on a collection that includes six new songs, two previously unreleased tracks and other tunes from her vaults.
Alan Jackson, “Freight Train” (Arista Nashville): The country star’s 16th studio album has already launched a hit (“It’s Just That Way”) and features a duet with Lee Ann Womack (“Till the End”).
Lady Gaga, “Telephone: The Remixes” (Interscope): An EP sporting nine new treatments of her duet with Beyonce. May we suggest Tom Neville’s “Ear Ringer Remix”?
The Living Sisters, “Love to Live” (Vanguard): The birth of a “supergroup” of female singer-songwriters that includes Inara George of the Bird and the Bee, Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark and Eleni Mandell.
MBird, “Over the Bones” (self-released): The Detroit-born jazz singer-songwriter (real name Megan Birdsall) returns to music after recovering from surgery for a rare degenerative jaw disorder.
Mishka, “Talk About” (j.k. livin’): The Bermuda-born reggae singer delivers his second album for actor Matthew McConaughey’s Austin, Texas-based label.
Original Cast Recording, “Memphis: A New Musical” (Rhino): The stage show’s aural souvenir includes a second rendition of signature song “The Music of My Soul” by co-writer and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan.
Paper Tongues, “Paper Tongues” (A&M/Octone): The debut outing from the buzz-about North Carolina troupe whose “Ride to California” is picking up a steady stream of passengers.
Christian Scott, “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow” (Concord Jazz): The New Orleans trumpeter recorded his new effort with legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who’s worked with John Coltrane, Miles Davis and other luminaries.
Seasick Steve, “Man From Another Time” (Ryko): Rootsy, backporch blues music from the Washington State production vet who’s the oldest nominee in the history of the U.K.’s Brit Awards.
Rob Thomas, “Someday” (Atlantic): The singer’s new digital EP, an iTunes exclusive until April 6, features four previously unreleased tracks, including a live version of the chart-topping title track.
Robin Williams, “Weapons of Self Destruction” (Columbia): The comedian’s latest stand-up act is liberally profane but as hysterically high-energy as ever.
Gretchen Wilson, “I Got Your Country Right Here” (Redneck): The country singer teamed with co-producers John Rich and Blake Chancey on her first release as an independent artist.
From The Vaults: Edwin McCain, “The Best of Edwin McCain” (Time Life); Saliva, “Moving Foward in Reverse: Greatest Hits” (Island/UMe); .38 Special, “Authorized Bootleg — Long Island January 29, 1986” (A&M/UMe); Various Artists, “Stax Number Ones” (Stax)
New Music DVDs:Gerry & the Pacemakers, “It’s Gonna Be All Right 1963-1965” (Reelin’ in the Years); Herman’s Hermits, “Listen People 1964-1969” (Reelin’ in the Years); Small Faces, “All or NOthing 1965-1968” (Reelin’ in the Years); Dusty Springfield, “Once Upona Time 1964-1969” (Reelin’ in the Years); Various Artists, “The British Invasion Box Set” (Reelin’ in the Years)
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