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album reviews

Various Artists

Country Funk II 1967-1974 Light in the Attic
7

Country has always drawn from African-American music, but as part two of this Southern-fried funk compilation series shows, that cross-genre impulse got wildly amplified in the Sixties and Seventies. Dolly Parton sings “Gettin’ Happy” with a gospel choir, pedal steel and an amped-up, sample-ready drum beat; Kenny Rogers gets all funky outlaw on “Tulsa Turnaround” (“Oooh, Lord, I wish I had never been stoned. . . .”). Even Willie Nelson (&ldquo... | More »

Riff Raff

Neon Icon Mad Decent
2

Houston meme machine Riff Raff is a free-associative goof-ball who raps in a put-on deep-Southern drawl – call it swagger or minstrelsy, your choice. The lyrics on his latest album are nonsense masquerading as new-age ("I can throw a BB through a Frosted Cheerio") or dumb masquerading as self-aware ("You should practice martial arts/The way you karate-chop my heart"). There are punk, country and EDM experiments that sound like Nineties novelty act the Bloodhound Gang without the... | More »

Kitten

Kitten Elektra
5

This L.A. act's debut LP sounds great when 19-year-old singer Chloe Chaidez is delivering huge, dramatic hooks over New Wave-styled jams like the breathless opener, "Like a Stranger." It falters when the band indulges in out-of-nowhere rap verses or misplaced filtered vocals. When they get it right, it's not hard to imagine Kitten playing to a screaming arena, as with the fuzzed-out highlight "Kill the Light" – but way too many of these songs try way too hard to be notice... | More »

Body Count

Manslaughter Sumerian
6

The fifth record from Ice T's metal group is easily its best since its 1992 debut. There’s nothing as incendiary here as that year’s "Cop Killer," but Manslaughter does feature the band’s smartest musical leap in decades: evolving from its original sloppy mix of thrash and punk to lean, contemporary extreme metal. Over precise doublekicks and lurching metalcore riffs, Ice sounds like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years – ragin... | More »

Robin Thicke

Paula Star Trak/Interscope
5

If Robin Thicke needed a lesson in the consequences of disrespecting a woman’s boundaries after his controversial 2013 hit "Blurred Lines," here it is. The blue-eyed-soul singer named his new LP after his estranged wife, Paula Patton, and he spends much of it croon- ing about lost love in a weepy timbre or making bluesman appeals on hyperliteral tracks like "Get Her Back." His soft falsetto is sumptuous, but too many tracks veer into uncomfortable parod... | More »

July 8, 2014

Sia

1000 Forms of Fear RCA/Monkey Puzzle
8

In the four years since Australian powerhouse Sia's last LP, her sound has become ubiquitous, even if her face hasn't. She's written hits for Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Rihanna – the vocal dips and midtempo melancholy of "Diamonds" are Sia's signatures – and this album will likely be just as ubiquitous. Her knack for heart-swelling choruses shines through on a set of tracks you might play while winning a marathon: There's triumph in her tiniest ti... | More »

La Roux

Trouble in Paradise Cherrytree/Interscope
7

Elly Jackson is the best kind of cyberdiva – brassy, hooky, nearly invulnerable. On La Roux's second LP, her vintage synth-pop magnificence (see 2009's hit "Bulletproof") has warmed into the sort of electro-disco drama you imagine the Daft Punk robots blasting as they cruise down Highway 1. "Paradise Is You" is a Phil Spector-ish evocation of Sixties girl-group ache; "Sexotheque" rides wiry Nile Rodgers-style funk guitar. The track that most recalls Jackson's debut w... | More »

July 1, 2014

Old Crow Medicine Show

Remedy ATO
6

On their eighth album, this roots-music party band still acts as if electricity was never invented: In "Doc's Day," street musicians toss their amps and drums after being scolded by an old hillbilly. But every time the group appears to be degenerating into cliché, singer-songwriter Ketch Secor throws a curveball – about the sad state of modern political discourse or the funeral of a soldier friend – and drags Appalachia into the present. And as they did with "Wagon Whe... | More »

June 24, 2014
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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

More Song Stories entries »
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