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The Listening Room: A$AP Rocky, The Tenors and more...
A$AP Rocky, “Long.Live.A$AP,” (Polo Grounds/RCA) ** 1/2
Like urban music kindred spirits such as Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky is a different and not entirely easy sell. His verbal flow can be idiosyncratic and seemingly random, while he and his producers have their own unique way of cutting up beats and samples. It’s original, in other words, and it’s established Rocky not only one of the most intriguing figures on the rap scene but made “Long.Live.A$AP.” — the New York MC’s first full-length album and the follow-up to 2011’s vaunted “Live.Love.A$AP” mixtape — as anxiously awaited as Ocean and Lamar’s 2012 releases. A clap of thunder opens the 12-song set as Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) tells us he “thought I’d probably die in prison.” Instead he’s living the good life, with a lyrical focus (fixation?) on fashion and cool, while a spare sonic aesthetic frames and fortifies his raps — in both his regular voice and a treated, deepened delivery that appears in several of the songs. “Goldie,” which came out more than eight months ago, is abundantly familiar, but “Long.Live.A$AP” has plenty of surprises, including “Phoenix,” Rocky’s cinematic teaming with Danger Mouse, and the album-closing “Suddenly,” an autobiographical beat poem that digs deeper than most of the album’s other fare. The tag-team approaches of “F****n’ Problems” (with Drake, 2 Chainz and Lamar) and “1 Train” (Lamar, Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T., Detroit’s Danny Brown and others) are enjoyably energetic, while Santigold’s vocal hook on “Hell” plays well off Rocky’s laconic affect. He’s playful at times, riffing on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” during “Pain,” while Rocky and Skrillex effectively mash together reggae and laser-sharp EDM synths on “Wild For the Night.” Rocky’s experimentation sometimes seems a bit willful and forced, but it tends to work more often than not.
The Tenors, “Lead With Your Heart” (Verve) **
They were the Canadian Tenors last time out, in 2008, when they topped the classical charts. Now, however, the game plan is for a more general (and generic?) appeal aimed at the kind of pop crossover enjoyed by Il Divo, Il Volo and the ilk. So “Lead With Your Heart” is the province of hitmaking producer-writers such as Robbie Buchanan, Bob Ezrin and Walter Afanasieff and features the troupe’s takes on proven covers such as Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” a Celtic-tinged “Amazing Grace” and Barbra Streisand’s Bee Gees-written “Woman in Love,” translated into Spanish — along with originals designed for crossover appeal. The best of the latter is the solemn title track, but it’s the quartet’s vocals that stand out in these smooth, tasteful arrangements, which run from tag-team exchanges to rich chorales. The songs themselves may not stay with you, but the performances will surely resonate.
New & Noteworthy:
Ananda Project, “Beautiful Searching” (Nite Grooves): A wealth of guest singers, mostly female, fill out the fourth album, and first in full years, by Chris Brann’s electronic neo-soul project.
Antimatter, “Fear of a Unique Identity” (Prophecy): The domestic release of the British goth rockers’ latest album, which came out across the pond in November.
Katie Armiger, “Fall Into Me” (Cold River): The Texas country singer co-wrote all 14 tracks on her fourth album.
Blaudzun, “Heavy Flowers” (Krian): The U.S. debut by Dutch musician Blaudzun (Johannes Sigmond) was named Album of the Year in his homeland by the 2VOOR12 public broadcasting network.
Blue Cactus Choir, “Once in a Bluegrass Mood” (Porgy): The debut outing from the teaming of roots musicians Marty Atkinson and Katy Boyd.
Jason Castro, “Only a Mountain” (Word): Life events — including marriage and the birth of a daughter — are among the topics that inspired the dreadlocked “American Idol” alumnus’ latest release.
Mark Egan, Karl Latham and John Hart, “Unit 1” (Wavetone): This “power trio” of jazz all-stars explores funk, rock, Brazilian and other styles on its first outing.
Pete Escovedo, “Live From the Stern Grove Festival” (Concord Picante): The former Santana percussionist and father of Sheila E. leads his band through a hot set in San Francisco.
Fen, “Dustwalker” (Code666): The third full-length outing by the black metal group from Britain’s East Anglia region.
Juliet & the Lonesome Romeos, “No Regrets” (Tree O Records): The first release from a band that shows Boston is capable of spawning good country music, too.
Sean Lennon, “Alter Egos” (Chimera): This soundtrack/solo album features the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono exploring a number of styles, with occasional help from Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori.
Patti LuPone, “Far Away Places: Live at 54 Below” (Broadway): The Broadway star (“Evita,” “Gypsy”) is captured in an intimate 2012 performance recorded during the summer of 2012.
Ziggy Marley, “In Concert” (Tuff Gong Worldwide): Bob Marley’s son covers two of his father’s songs on his first-ever live release.
Christopher Owens, “Lysandre” (Fat Possum): The solo debut from the San Francisco-based singer, songwriter and former frontman of the band Girls.
Red Baraat, “Shruggy Ji” (Virtual): The Brooklyn Banghra band continues the World party on its third album, adding funk, New Orleans and Go-Go styles to its mix.
Dawn Richard, “Goldenheart” (101): The veteran of Danity Kane and Diddy’s Dirty Money delivers her first full-length album in nearly eight years.
Michael Schenker, “Temple of Rock: Live in Europe” (MVD): This album/video set captures the Scorpions and UFO alumnus in full, raging guitar hero mode captured during a May 2012 show in the Netherlands.
2Cellos, “In2ition” (Sony Masterworks): The Croatian duo struts its stringed stuff on its first proper album, which features guest appearances by Elton John, guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, Italian vocalist Zucchero and classical pianist Lang Lang.
Various Artists, “West of Memphis: Voices For Justice” (Legacy): Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, Patti Smith and others contribute songs both for and inspired by the latest film about the West Memphis Three crime and punishment saga.
Yo La Tengo, “Fade” (Matador): For its lucky 13th full-length album, the Hoboken modern rock trio tempts fate by flipping to a new producer for the first time in nearly 20 years.
From The Vaults: Jeff Black, “B-Sides and Confessions Vol. 2” (Lotos Nile); Jack Dejohnette, et al, “Special Edition” (ECM); Teena Marie, “Beautiful” (Motown/UMe)
Soundtracks: Orbital, “Pusher” (Silva America); Original Cast, “Backbeat: The Musical” (Rhino); Various Artists, “Music From the Showtime Series ‘Californication’ Season 6” (eOne)
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