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The Listening Room: Jennifer Hudson, the Strokes and more...
“I Remember Me”
Jennifer Hudson tells us early on her sophomore album that “I’ve been through some things,” and this is no mere hyperbole. Since her 2004 run on “American Idol,” Academy Award-winning turn in “Dreamgirls” and gold-certified debut album in 2008, Hudson has suffered the murders of her mother, brother and nephew, got married and had her first child. Those are indeed “some things.” If those factor into “I Remember Me” in any way, however, it’s felt in Hudson’s vocals — still soulful and powerful and unaffected by her newly svelte physique courtesy of Weight Watchers. She does offer a moment of reflection in the title track, the only song on the album Hudson co-wrote, singing that “we just can’t stop livin,’ scared of what we’ll see,” but mostly the 12-track set finds her showcasing her voice on songs carefully crafted for the pop/R&B mainstream. R. Kelly wrote and produced the ambient, martial-rhythmed first single “Where You At,” but Alicia Keys is Hudson’s most prolific, and successful, collaborator here, delivering the anthemic love song “Angel,” the disco-flavored “Everybody Needs Love” and the bouncy “Don’t Look Down.” Diane Warren’s “Still Here” fills the torchy, orchestrated ballad spot, which Hudson delivers with the same palpable heart she brings to the brassy “Feeling Good” and a dramatic gospel arrangement of country duo Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe.” “It’s a new day,” Hudson declares at another juncture of the album, and while we don’t necessarily hear her doing anything brand new she’s certainly doing things as arrestingly as she always has.
The Strokes, “Angles” (RCA)***
After galvanizing the alt.rock world with three albums in a quick five years, the Strokes put their fans’ patience to the test with an open-ended hiatus, some solo projects and a five-year wait for “Angles” — which the group actually started recording in early 2009, scrapping one version before getting these 10 tracks in order. The return is closer to the raw, buoyant spirit of the quintet’s celebrated 2001 debut “Is This Is It,” right down to the bouncy familiarity of that albums “Last Nite” in “Angles’ “ first single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” and “Gratisfaction. But there are fresh intricacies in the guitar interplay between Albert Hammond, Jr., and Nick Valensi, while the Strokes also touch on reggae (“Machu Picchu”), electronica (“Games”) and even prog rock dynamics (“You’re So Right”) this time out — a few fresh “Angles” that at least partly justify the wait.
New & Noteworthy
Keren Ann, “101” (Blue Note): The Israeli-born singer-songwriter and TV/film composer delivers her sixth solo album — and first in four years.
Richard Ashcroft, “The United Nations of Sound” (Razor & Tie): The Verve frontman teamed with hip-hop hitmaker No I.D. on his first solo album since 2006.
Maggie Bjorklund, “Coming Home” (Bloodshot): The Danish singer, songwriter and pedal steel guitarist gets help from Mark Lanegan, the Pixies’ Jon Auer and Calexico on her first solo album.
Joe Bonamassa, “Dust Bowl” (J&R Adventures): Guitar whiz Bonamassa comes off his all-star Black Country Communion debut with his 12th solo album, which includes guests such as Vince Gill, Glenn Hughes, Blondie Chaplin and others.
Edwyn Collins, “Losing Sleep” (Heavenly/Cooperative Music USA/Downtown): The British singer co-wrote songs on his latest album with members of Franz Ferdinand, the Smiths, Aztec Camera, the Cribs and the Magic Numbers.
Chris Brown, “F.A.M.E.” (Jive): The embattled R&B singer gets help from LIl Wayne, Justin Bieber, Ludacris, Tyga and other on his fourth studio album.
Anthony David, “As Above, So Below” (Purpose Music/Entertainment One): The Atlanta neo-soul artist’s first album in three years includes collaborations with Little Brother rapper Phonte, Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman and singer-songwriter Algebra.
Duran Duran, “All You Need is Now” (S-Curve): The veteran British group delivers a 14-song physical edition of the Mark Ronson-produced album originally released via iTunes in December.
William Fitzsimmons, “Gold in the Shadow” (Nettwerk): The Pittsburgh singer-songwriter has based the songs on his latest album on specific psychological disorders. Let’s just say you won’t mistake it for the new Justin Bieber record.
Green Day, “Awesome as F***” (Reprise): A CD/DVD live set chronicling the punk rockers’ 2010 show in Saitama, Japan, part of its “21st Century Breakdown” world tour.
Charlie Haden, “Sophisticated Ladies” (Emarcy/Decca): The revered jazz bassist and his band team with an all-star gathering of female vocalists, including Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson and more.
Josh Kelley, “Georgia Clay” (MCA Nashville): The Georgia-born country singer wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on his seventh album, making it his most personal and autobiographical yet.
Ke$ha, “I Am the Dance Commander + I Command You to Dance: The Remix Album” (RCA): The pop singer recruited Billboard, Switch, Untold and OutKast’s Andre 3000 to remix a collection of songs from her still-young career.
Adam Lambert, “Glam Nation Live” (19 Entertainment/RCA): The 2009 “American Idol” runner-up’s concert album includes covers of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and T-Rex’s “20th Century Boy.”
Panic! at the Disco, “Vices & Virtues” (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen): The Las Vegas modern rockers drop their first album since a 2009 schism cut the band down to a duo.
Saliva, “Under Your Skin” (Island): The Memphis hard rockers started working on their seventh studio album before guitarist Jonathan Montoya’s departure and ultimately switched producers for the final product.
Raphael Saaadiq, “Stone Rollin’ “ (Columbia): The former Tony! Toni! Tone! leader’s third solo album includes guest contributions from Robert Randolph, Earth, Wind & Fire co-founder Larry Dunn and Japanese singer Little Dragon.
Soundgarden, “Live on I5” (A&M): The recently reunited Seattle rockers’ first concert souvenir hails from the West Coast leg of its 1996 tour, the group’s last before it broke up the following year.
Bobby V, “Fly on the Wall” (Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam): The Mississippi R&B singer’s fourth studio album includes a guest appearances by rappers Plies and Lloyd Banks and a remake of Bobby Brown’s “Rock Wit’cha.”
Yellowcard, “When You`re Through Thinking Say Yes” (Hopeless): The violin-flaunting modern rock quintet returns after a four-year break to regain its equilibrium and try out a couple of side projects.
From the Vaults: Solomon Burke & DeDijk, “Hold On Tight” (UMe); Billy Currington, “Icon” (Mercury Nashville/UMe); Fairport Convention with Sandy Denny, “Ebbets Field 1974” (It’s About Music); Aretha Franklin, “Take a Look: Complete on Columbia” (Columbia/Legacy); Josh Turner, “Icon” (Mercury Nashville/UMe)
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