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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Jordin Sparks, Amy Winehouse and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007

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Jordin Sparks, “Jordin Sparks” (19 Entertainment/J) ***

Jordin Sparks seems in many ways like a perfect “American Idol” champ, young and unformed enough at 17 for the label to have its way and mold her into whatever the powers that be want her to become. The good news is that the platoon of A-list writers and producers working on “Jordin Sparks” — proven hitmakers such as StarGate, the Underdogs, Eman, Sam Watters and Robbie Nevil — steer the Season 6 winner all over the stylistic map, a strategy that largely works with her surprisingly bold and flexible voice. Wisely, nobody’s trying to mold Sparks into a fly ‘ho or a torchy diva; these 13 songs sound like exactly what she should be singing at this age and at this juncture in her career, showing off her chops without pushing them to the point where she becomes an ungenuine ingenue. The overall effect is sophisticated teen pop marked by innocent good cheer and harmonyladen vocal arrangements, although the synthesizer and drum machinedominated tracks work better in some cases (“Tattoo,” “One Step at a Time,” “Now You Tell Me”) than in others (“Shy Boy,” “Young and In Love”). “No Air,” Sparks’ duet with Chris Brown, has plenty of hit potential, while “Now You Tell Me,” with its swelling arrangement and muscular chorus, is the album’s gem. This is indeed her “Now,” and it generates some interest for Sparks’ next.


Amy Winehouse, “Frank” (Republic) **1/2

Know that this is not the upstart British diva’s new album but rather a reissue of her 2003 debut, which went roundly ignored on these shores. And those looking for something that sounds similar to this year’s platinum “Back to Black” might be disappointed by this looser, jazzier and considerably more emotive set, which definitely has a formative artist flavor amidst the pre-tattoos, pre-bouffant Winehouse’s vocal gymnastics. But she also planted some strong, sophisticated roots on “Frank” that she would later refine, from the club-tinged take on James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood For Love” to grooving soul tracks such as “In My Bed,” “October Song” and the bonus track “Mr. Magic.” “Frank’s” nascent innocence is still charming, and it also helps us appreciate just how accomplished “Back to Black” really is.


Anberlin, “Lost Songs” (Tooth & Nail) — The Florida alt rockers’ second release of the year gathers 18 covers, acoustic performances, demos and other rarities.

Sebastian Bach, “Angel Down”

(MRV) — The former Skid Row frontman’s first solo album in six years features Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose on three tracks and a cover of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle.”

David Banner, “Greatest Story Ever Told” (Universal Motown) — The Mississippi MC’s fifth studio

album features guest appearances by

Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, Akon, Lil’

Wayne, Yung Joc and Jim Jones.

British Sea Power, “Krankenhaus?” (Rough Trade) — Five new songs and a pair of videos populate this EP to prep fans for the 2008 release of BSP’s third album, “Do You Like Rock Music?”

Daft Punk, “Alive 2007” (Virgin) — The electro-house group recorded its first-ever live album in June in its native France.

Melissa Etheridge, “Awakening Live” (Island) — A CD/DVD of Etheridge’s New York Hard Rock Cafe show to support her new album should hold fans until she hits the road herself in 2008.

Freeway, “Free at Last” (Roc-AFella) — Fans of the Philadelphia MC have been waiting four years for the release of his sophomore album.

Genesis, “1983-1998” (Rhino); “Live Over Europe 2007” (Rhino) — Anyone jonesing for some more Genesis

after this year’s reunion tour is in luck

with a lavish box set and a souvenir of

the European leg of the trek.

Gorillaz, “D-Sides” (Virgin) — The cartoon group’s latest is a catch-all of B-sides from its sophomore album, “Demon Days,” along

with demos and other rarities.

Led Zeppelin, “The Song Remains the Same” (Rhino) — The soundtrack to the rock titans’ 1976 concert film features five songs not on

the original. (An expanded DVD version comes out the same day.)

MercyMe, “All That is Within Me” (INO) — The sixth studio album from the popular Texas contemporary

Christian sextet.

nine inch nails, “Y34R Z3RO R3MIX3D” (Interscope) — This collection of remixes from “Year Zero”

represents nin’s purported final effort

for a major label.

OneRepublic, “Dreaming Out Loud” (Interscope) — The debut set from the Colorado rockers who were

also part of Timbaland’s “Shock Value” earlier this year.

Phish, “Vegas 96” (Jemp) — A three-disc document of the group’s first Las Vegas performance, complete with

four Elvis impersonators and yodelers.

U2, “The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition)” (Island) — The Irish group celebrates its biggest album’s 20th anniversary with a bonus disc of rare material and a DVD featuring concert and documentary footage.

Keith Urban, “Greatest Hits: 18 Kids” (Capitol) — The Australianborn country hottie adds a cover of Steve Forbert’s “Romeo’s Tune” atop all of his No. 1 hits.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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