Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole
Just how much Nat King Cole inspired George Benson is evident on the opening track of “Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole” — a 1951 recording of an 8-year-old Benson singing “Mona Lisa,” accompanying himself on ukulele.
Like Cole, Benson first established himself as a highly regarded jazz instrumentalist before enjoying crossover pop stardom once he began singing.
Benson shows off his jazz vocal chops with some scat singing on a fast-paced, brassy big band version of “Just One Of Those Things” and a Latin-flavored arrangement of “Unforgettable,” with Wynton Marsalis contributing a smooth trumpet solo.
He harmonizes beautifully with Broadway leading lady Idina Menzel on “When I Fall In Love” and rising star Judith Hill, recently eliminated from “The Voice,” on “Too Young.” Other highlights include a bluesy “Route 66” and a retro-style “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” with a hard-driving guitar solo — both done in a small combo setting.
But Benson misses an opportunity to put his distinctive stamp on the Cole repertoire by letting his guitar take a backseat to his voice. The result is that some tracks such as “Nature Boy” and Mona Lisa,” which also use Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for Cole’s recordings, can sound derivative rather than fresh.
Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella; $11.99
It’s hard to digest all of Kanye West on his new album.
“Yeezus” is the rapper’s darkest, eeriest and most erratic album of his six solo releases. He is in militant form on the 10-track set, rapping over beats that are artsy, electronic and gloomy. It’s a far stretch from the contemporary rap and pop success he achieved with more than a dozen Top 10 hits, including “Gold Digger,” “Stronger” and “Heartless.” But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Yeezus” continues on the dark and emotive path he set on 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “808s & Heartbreak,” which was released two years earlier. The production throughout “Yeezus” is exceptional, with Rick Rubin, Daft Punk, No ID, RZA and more helping out. The album flows nicely, with songs including layered vocals and transitions that elevate them to great heights: “On Sight” starts the album with the right energy and West gets an epic and soulful assist from Charlie Wilson on the closing track, “Bound 2.” It’s a classic Yeezy effort and arguably the album’s best track.
Lyrically, though, West isn’t always at his best. The album lacks deep storytelling from the 36-year-old, which he powerfully delivered on past albums. He sounds random and frustrated at times, and at others, he’ll frustrate you (he raps of an oral sex act from a nun on “I’m in It”). Really? FOR-REALZY YEEZY?
West raps about religion a good amount on “Yeezus,” which is his Jesus-like moniker. “If I don’t get ran out by Catholics, here come some conservative Baptists,” he says on “Black Skinhead.” And on “I Am a God” — well, you get it.
But religious folks won’t be the only ones upset with the album: While West has promoted “Yeezus” with performances on “Saturday Night Live” and video projections to match the album’s wild sound, he’s releasing it without a huge single on radio or on the charts. There isn’t even an official music video. While he charted new territory on “Twisted Fantasy,” that album was sprinkled with radio-ready anthems like “All of the Lights.”
For the performer with the largest voice in rap — and sometimes in all of music — he deserves praise for not conforming to mainstream and radio rules like other pop stars. He may lose some fans because his new sound isn’t easy to digest, but he’ll likely gain others, too.
Ice on the Dune
Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun’s new album opens with the instrumental track “Lux,” using drums of epic grandeur to build the anticipation for a record we have waited five years to hear.
That’s followed by “DNA,” a surefire single and the strongest track on “Ice on the Dune.” The voice of lead singer Luke Steele — who has co-written songs for Usher and Beyonce — blends nicely as he sings “be my DNA” over a brilliant beat, which results in a pounding chorus
The Australian electronic duo’s sophomore album and follow-up to 2008’s “Walking on a Dream” is polished. It seems like almost every song could be a summer anthem.
The lyrics are loved up, and even in the slower moments on the record, Empire of the Sun gets it right. The title track is dreamy and smooth, as Steele sings: “Let’s go running away, we can always be together,” and “I’ll Be Around” hits you with Fleetwood Mac style.
Wherever you dance this summer, you will be dancing to this record.