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Listening Room: Jimmy Vaughan, Ed Kowalczyk and more...
"Blues, Ballads and Favorites"
Jimmie Vaughan is the kind of guy you take for granted — so consistently, and offhandedly, good that you just assume it always has been and always will be that way. So it's a bit of a shock to the system to realize it's been nine years since the former Fabulous Thunderbird and older brother of Stevie Ray Vaughan put out an album, but that's quickly eclipsed by the pleasure that is "Blues, Ballads and Favorites," a deftly delivery of a dozen tracks from the great American blues and R&B songbook as well as a Vaughan-composed instrumental called "Comin' & Goin'," all of which spotlight his supple, fleet-fingered playing and polished arranging sensibilities. Unlike a lot of his guitar-playing Texas brethren, Vaughan isn't a rip-it-up kind of guy; taste is the hallmark of his style, and he treats material such as Billy Emerson's "The Pleasure's All Mine," Don & Dewey's "I'm Leaving It Up to You," Johnny Ace's "How Can You Be So Mean," Roy Milton's "RM Blues" and Little Anthony & the Imperials' "I Miss You So" like well-crafted compositions, usually throwing in a three-man brass section for some added punch. But Vaughan can bring the heat when he wants to; check out Lonnie Brooks' "Roll, Roll, Roll," with its sharp guitar and saxophone solos, the wiggly rendition of Roscoe Gordon's "Just a Little Bit" and a soulful take of Little Richard's "Send Me Some Lovin' " sung by Lou Ann Barton, who also appears on four other tracks. "Blues, Ballads and Favorites" also marks the final recordings by keyboardist Bill Willis, a King Records alumni who's been with Vaughan for the past 15 years and, in addition to his organ playing, also sings lead on the album-closing version of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away." A lot of time has slipped away since Vaughan's last release, but this set certainly makes up for it.
Ed Kowalczyk, "Alive" (Soul Whisperer) **1/2
Like a lot of frontmen who go solo, Live's Ed Kowalcyzk faces a double-edged sword on his first album outside the group. To be creatively successful it needs to sound like something he could not have done with the band, but it can't be so foreign that his established fans won't buy in. To that end, "Alive" is basically a Live album under Kowalczyk's domain; there are subtle differences, including the funkier groove of "The Great Beyond" and the soulful mood of "Fire on the Mountain, but it's still primarily a showcase for the same kind of earnest lyricism and ebb-and-flow dynamics he's mined so heartily in the past. There's certainly no shortage of passion on these 11 tracks, but "Alive" is more a reminder than a reinvention.
New & Noteworthy
Big Boi, "Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty" (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam): The OutKast member's solo debut sports collaborations with his partner Andre 3000 as well as Jamie Foxx, Janelle Monae, B.o.B, Gucci Mane, George Clinton and more.
Capleton, "I-ternal Fire" (V.P.): The Jamaican dancehall star continues to balance peace and provocation on his latest album.
How to Destroy Angels, "How to Destroy Angels" (Null Corporation): The debut six-song EP by the new band formed by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and his wife, West Indian Girl's Mariqueen Maandig.
Enrique Iglesias, "Euphoria" (Universal Republic): The son of Julio takes a bilingual course on his ninth studio album, with guest appearances by Usher, Pitbull, Akon, Nicole Scherzinger and others.
Juvenile, "Beast Mode" (UTP/E1): The New Orleans rapper is still "Cocky and Confident" on his ninth album, for which he's gone surprisingly guest-less.
Kelis, "Flesh Tone" (will.i.am Music Group/Interscope): The R&B/dance diva's fifth album, and first in four years, is already making some "4th of July (Fireworks)" with its second single.
Brian Lopez, "Rojo" (Funzalo): The first of three planned live EPs from the Mostly Bears frontman.
Bret Michaels, "Custom Built" (Poor Boy): The recently incapacitated Poison frontman and "Celebrity Apprentice" winner's third solo album is a mixed bag of new songs — a duet with Miley Cyrus on "Nothing to Lose" and a cover of Sublime's "What I Got" — and re-recordings, including a country version of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."
Kylie Minogue, "Aphrodite" (Astralwerks): The Australian songstress returns to her dance club roots on her 11th album, with help from Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters and Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane.
Steve Poltz, "Dreamhouse" (98 Pounder): The San Diego singer-songwriter who mentored Jewel continues to navigate his own pop music waters blending characteristic wit and pathos.
The Rescues, "Let Loose the Horses" (Universal Republic): The debut album from the Los Angeles-based rock group that's already landed five songs in "Grey's Anatomy" episodes.
Johnny Richter, "Kottonmouth Kings Present...Laughing" (Suburban Noize): The indie rap 'n' rock troupe member takes the spotlight on this new outing.
The Stone Foxes, "Bears & Bulls" (self-released): The vintage rock-leaning San Francisco quartet's sophomore album surfaces in hard copy after an iTunes release last week.
Trailer Choir, "Tailgate" (Show Dog Nashville/Universal): The second album from the Nashville country comedy trio signed to Toby Keith's Show Dog Nashville label.
Walter Trout, "Common Ground" (Provogue): The blues and rock guitarist assembled an A-team — from producer John Porter to hot backing to players — to record his 20th album.
Various Artists, "Despicable Me: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Star Trak/Interscope): Pharrell and Robin Thicke contribute new material to a companion album that also features '70s disco hits by the Bee Gees and the Sylvers.
Various Artists, "NPR Discovers Songs: Soul Revival" (Shout! Factory): An R&B overview that blends acts both old (Ann Peebles, Bettye LaVette, Chaka Kahn with Mary J. Blige, Thelma Houston) and new (Eli Paperboy Reed, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings)
From The Vaults: Jerry Lee Lewis, "Essential Sun Records Country Hits" (Varese Fontana); Various Artists, "The Best of New Latin Quarter, Jazz & Blues, Volume 1" (Omni/Select-O-Hits)
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