This CD cover image released by Blue Chair Records, LLC / Columbia Nashville shows "Life on a Rock," by Kenny Chesney. (AP Photo/Blue Chair Records, LLC / Columbia Nashville) Purchase photo reprints »
Patty Griffin Purchase photo reprints »
She & Him Purchase photo reprints »
Patty Griffin Purchase photo reprints »
PJ Morton Purchase photo reprints »
Talib Kweli Purchase photo reprints »
George Strait Purchase photo reprints »
Trace Adkins Purchase photo reprints »
New West; $10
Patty Griffin bookends her seventh album “American Kid” with two songs about the death of her father, opening with the wistful, spiritually open-hearted “Go Wherever You Wanna Go.” The song features a series of poetic images conveying to a loved one that it’s OK to let go and pass to the other side. She closes with the sweetly mournful “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” which blends old jazz chords set against a background of haunting, sustained keyboards.
Typical of Griffin’s artful and searching work, she eschews autobiographical narratives for oblique references to nature and the joy, pain and transcendent values of everyday life, all delivered with her powerful, subtly emotional voice. “American Kid” is unlike Griffin’s past work. She’s not prone to repeating herself and this is another gem in her catalog.
She’s backed for much of the album by Cody and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, a group that opened for Robert Plant’s Band of Joy that included Griffin as a member. Plant’s taste for modal folk music can be heard on “Ohio,” on which he harmonizes with her. But “American Kid” is wholly Griffin’s — a poignant collection that probes personal and spiritual issues about the most important aspects of life.
She & Him
Merge Records; $9.99
Is there any limit to Zooey Deschanel’s creativity?
With her comical hit show, “New Girl,” it’s hard to work out when she would have the time to write music. And the new album “Volume 3” from her duo, She & Him, with singer-songwriter M. Ward, definitely doesn’t sound like an album that’s been made on the side.
Their third record bursts to life with the bluesy “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” and Deschanel’s tone is dulcet. It’s the kind of song you imagine being played on the jukebox in a 1950s diner.
The lyrics throughout the album are dreamy and full of unrequited love, but sung in an almost theatrical way. In “Never Wanted Your Love,” Deschanel adopts a Texan drawl. The addition of Ward’s voice on “Baby” creates a beautiful harmony with Deschanel’s tone, and an electric guitar riff adds a rock ‘n’ roll spin to the record.
The album’s only weak moment is the cover of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl,” which comes off flat. Otherwise, She & Him has a winner.
!!! (Chk Chk Chk)
Warp Records, $9.99
Sometimes to appreciate a band you have to experience them live: hear the instruments in a raw form, immerse yourself in the energy onstage, smell the musty air, see the sweat dripping from the band members’ faces and feel the warmth of bodies jumping around you.
!!!, pronounced Chk Chk Chk, can put on a remarkable live show, and “Thr!!!er,” their fifth studio album, cleverly captures their talent.
The nine-track set is a merry-go-round of quirky psychedelic dance beats with vocalist Nic Offer at the helm. The happy “Even When the Water’s Cold” transports you to a sunny festival for a singalong, while “Get That Rhythm Right” puts you back in the club with its piano groove and saxophone.
The electronic beats step up a notch on “Slyd,” while the guitars on “Expect Death” will have you punching your fist in the air. “Careful” is an infectious dance floor anthem — this one is a sure club hit.
Press play for fun times
Dear Bo Jackson
Serpents and Snakes, $8.99
Here’s more proof Nashville, Tenn., is saving rock ‘n’ roll one band at a time: The Weeks.
The mostly Mississippi quintet moved to Nashville a few years ago after putting out a few promising albums, signed with Kings of Leon imprint Serpents and Snakes Records, and have been polishing the music and enhancing the songs on “Dear Bo Jackson” till they shine.
The only real knock against them was that lead singer Cyle Barnes sounded waaaayyyy too much like KOL frontman Caleb Followill. “Dear Bo Jackson” mostly dispenses with that issue with 11 flavor-packed songs that show a band unafraid to embrace — and update — its Southern rock roots with the kind of love that’s mostly missing from today’s scene.
Five or six listens in and “Dear Bo Jackson” is still offering new delights from keys, pedal steel and strings that were initially obscured by the country funky, groove-oriented heart of each song. The Weeks rocked harder on earlier albums, but show they’ve grown into a band with the ability to stun on slow, emotional tracks like “Ain’t My Stop,” a song that stays with you awhile, “Gobi Blues” and “Chickahominy.”
Life on a Rock
Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville, $11.88
Kenny Chesney opens his new album “Life On A Rock” with the hit “Pirate Flag,” a rowdy beach-bum anthem reminiscent of his many fun-in-the-sun party songs of the last dozen years.
While most of the rest of “Life on a Rock” references island life, instead of rocking out, the songs are about unplugging from the chaos of the daily grind and reflecting on quieter pleasures.
Writing four songs by himself, and co-writing four more, this is the East Tennessee singer’s most personal album since 2005’s “Be As You Are (Songs From A Blue Chair).” There are light moments, as in the duet with Willie Nelson on “Coconut Tree,” but the focus is on off-beat, real-life characters (“Lindy”) and on taking a moment to count one’s blessings (the title song).
It’s a bold move, considering that a new crop of country rockers are selling millions of albums modeled on Chesney’s pounding arena rock sound. But, to his credit, Chesney follows his muse and offers up an album that exposes his weathered soul. The result is as appealing as it is surprising.
From The Rib/RED; $9.99
With her first studio album in 11 years, Eve returns with an unimpressive, unfulfilling new offering, “Lip Lock.”
The rapper’s rhymes lack passion, her wordplay is too simple, her hooks come across as mundane and she fails to find a musical identity on the 12-track album — particularly on single “She Bad Bad” and “EVE,” featuring Miss Kitty.
The album includes top producers like The Neptunes, Swizz Beatz and Rico Love, but even they were unable to save this poor album.
The bright spots are the guest appearances that include Snoop Dogg (“Mama in the Kitchen”), Missy Elliott (“Wanna Be”), Dawn Richard (“Keep Me From You”), Chrisette Michele (“Never Gone”) and Gabe Saporta (“Make It Out This Town”). But each talented guest overshadows Eve in every way.
On “Grind or Die,” Eve reminds critics she’s been banking millions of dollars internationally from Belgium to Japan despite not releasing a studio album since 2002. She won a Grammy and ventured into television and movies, but fell into music irrelevance after two disappointing singles in 2007.
She may need to go back to the drawing board after this lackluster display.
Young Money Entertainment; $9.99
PJ Morton’s major label debut, “New Orleans,” offers an introspective take on his life and internal desire to return to the roots of the music that made him happy years ago. To that end Morton has made the album he set out to make.
Still, it falls short in terms of songwriting and depth. Tracks featuring Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and the legendary Stevie Wonder offer a little bit of zest to an otherwise middling R&B album. Levine’s vocal turn on “Heavy” is a high note. And Wonder’s brief harmonica work on “Only One” is instantly recognizable and enjoyable on the album’s best track.
Most of the other songs, like “Trade It All,” wear a patina of artistic regret. We find Morton singing about achieving recording industry success, but questioning his artistic path. Those questions would be fine fuel for better songwriting with fewer hit-seeking hooks and more texture.
As it stands, Morton has treated his complex feelings rather routinely on “New Orleans.”