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The Listening Room: "Sparkle" soundtrack, Joss Stone and more...
"Sparkle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"
Five and half months ago, this soundtrack was a big deal because it would be the first new Whitney Houston recordings in three years. Now it's notable for housing the last two songs she recorded before passing away on Feb. 11. The irony, of course, is that Houston is only featured on two of its 11 tracks -- a husky rendition of the gospel standard "His Eye is on the Sparrow," backed by Detroit's Voices of Praise choir, and on the buoyant, R. Kelly-written single "Celebrate," a duet with co-star Jordin Sparks who performs the kind of vocal swoops that used to be Houston's trademark. Sparks, however, isn't Houston. Nor is she Aretha Franklin, who recorded the Curtis Mayfield-written songs for the original 1976 version of the film. Nevertheless, the "American Idol" champ comes off as matured and capable, if not exactly divalicious, here, whether recreating some of the Mayfield songs -- "Jump," "Hooked on Your Love" and "Something He Can Feel" with co-stars Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter -- and the torchy "Look Into Your Heart" -- or delivering Kelly's emotive "One Wing" and the sultry "Love Will." Cee-Lo Green gets things started on a good note with the brassy "I'm a Man," and Goapele's "Running," another Kelly-written track, has an urgency that brings a bit of contemporary sheen to a decidedly old school party. It sparkles in more than a few spots, but it doesn't really shine.
Joss Stone, "The Soul Sessions, Vol. 2" (Stone'd Records/S-Curve): ***
In 2003, Joss Stone made jaws drop with the powerhouse vocals that delivered the initial "Soul Sessions" album, which established her as an original voice as well as an ace interpreter. She returns to the concept here, digging deep for gems from the catalogs of the Chi-Lites ("Stoned Out of My Mind"), Womack & Womack ("Teardrops") and the Dells ("The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind)") and even surprising with a girl group-styled rendition of Broken Bells' "The High Road." Her gospel-flavored take of Toussaint McCall's "Nothing Takes the Place of You" is a highlight, and she gives Sylvia's "Pillow Talk," one of only a couple of actual hits Stone covers here, more muscle than the original. With Ernie Isley on guitar throughout and guests such as Delbert McClinton and Betty Wright, Stone's abundant soul sounds just as good in this second batch of "Sessions".
New & Noteworthy:
Alchemist, "Russian Roulette" (Shady/eOne): The California rapper and producer crafts a hip-hop concept album with guest appearances from Detroit's Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson, Evidence and others.
Celtic Thunder, "Voyage II" (Decca): The vocal troupe take son "Danny Boy," "The Dutchman," "Hallelujah" and other staples and originals on its latest conceptual release.
Randy Crawford and Joe Sample, "Live" (PRA): The onetime Crusaders partners join forces on a concert set with Steve Gadd on drums and Sample's son Nicklas on bass.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, "CSN 2012" (CSN): A two-CD and DVD career-spanning chronicle of the venerable trio on stage in the present day.
Neil Diamond, "Hot August Night (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)" (UMe): The icon's most iconic album is celebrated with a new edition that adds four unreleased bonus tracks ot the original offering.
Nigel Dupree, "Up To No Good" (Fontana): The son of Jackyl's Jesse James Dupree debuts with a rowdy set that stays true to his familial roots.
Gaelic Storm, "Chicken Boxer" (Lost Again): The Los Angeles group continues to mind the Celtic sound that's yielded two consecutive No. 1 albums on Billboard's World Music chart.
Gloriana, "A Thousand Miles Behind" (Emblem/Reprise/Warner Bros.): The country trio had to return to the studio to re-record its sophomore album after the departure of fourth member Cheyenne Kimball.
Nona Hendrix, "Mutatis Mutandis" (Righeous Babe): The funk-rock singer and former LaBelle singer returns with her first full album in 20 years and plenty of politically potent content.
Jackyl, "Best In Show" (Fontana): The raucous Southern rockers cover Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" and Run-D.M.C.'s "It's Tricky" on its seventh studio album.
Leela James, "Loving You More...In the Spirit of Etta James" (Shanachie): The Los Angeles R&B singer adds a pair of original songs to the nine Etta James (no relation) tunes she covers in tribute to her memory.
Joey + Rory, "His & Hers" (Sugar Hill): The CMT "Can You Duet" contestants deliver a new album just before launching their own show for RFD-TV.
La Coka Nostra, "Masters of the Dark Arts" (Fat Beats): The third full-length album by the rap supergroup comprised of members from House of Pain, Limp Bizkit, Special Teamz and Non Phixion.
Pitbull, "I Am Armando" (Sony Latin): The Miami-based rapper/entertainer reboots his 2010 Spanish album "Armando" with two new tracks and a bonus DVD.
Ponderosa, "Pool Party" (New West): The Southern rock quintet from Atlanta takes a psychedelic turn, partly thanks to producer David Fridmann of Flaming Lips.
Joshua Radin, "Underwater" (Mom+Pop): The singer-songwriter is backed by a sharp set of players, including Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers and the iconic drummer Jim Keltner, on his fourth album.
Reel Big Fish, "Candy Coated Fury" (Rock Ridge): The ska punk group's seventh studio album includes covers of songs by the Wonder Stuff and When In Rome.
Rick Ross, "God Forgives, I Don't" (Maybach/Def Jam): The Florida-born rapper teams with Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, OutKast's Andre 3000, Usher, Drake and more on his fifth studio album.
Christian Scott, "Christian a Tunde Adjuah" (Concord Jazz): The hot young jazz trumpeter was prolific for his second album, spreading 23 tracks across two CDs.
Shovels & Rope, "O` Be Joyful" (Dualtone): The South Carolina duo recorded most of its new album at home, with a couple of overdubs made in hotel rooms along its touring route.
Testament, "Dark Roots of Earth" (Nuclear Blast): The thrash rockers return after a four year break with mid-90s drummer Gene Hoglan back in the fold.
thenewno2, "thefearofmissingout" (HOT): The modern rock group led by the late George Harrison's son Dhani apparently didn't fix its space key during the interim between its first two albums.
Pat Travers, "Blues On Fire" (Purple Pyramid): The veteran guitar hero takes on classics by Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others on this covers set.
Kenny Tudrick, "Kenny Tudrick" (Fountain): The Detroit veteran of Big Block, Bulldog, Cannon and Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker makes his solo debut with 19 songs spread across this two-disc set.
Bebe Winans, "America America" (Razor & Tie): The Detroit-born gospel great gives voice to his patriotic side on this collection of songs.
From The Vaults: Glen Campbell, "Live Anthology 1972-2001" (Cleopatra); Elvis Presley, "I Am An Elvis Fan" (RCA/Legacy); David Sanborn, "Then Again: The David Sanborn Anthology" (Rhino); Frank Zappa, "Hot Rats," "Uncle Meat," "We`re Only In It For the Money," other reissues (Zappa)
New Music DVDs: Slipknot, "(Sic)nesses Live at Download" (Eagle Rock)
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