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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Wyclef Jean, Blake Lewis and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, December 3, 2007

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Wyclef Jean, “Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant” (Ruffhouse/Columbia) ***

Nobody does album as Event quite like Wyclef Jean. The former Fugee has rapper’s dilection guest-filled spectacle but mixes that with a musician and producer’s touch for sophisticated melody and songcraft. The result over the course of five previous solo albums has been a body of work that hops between global consciousness and matters of the heart and flesh (not necessarily exclusively), managing to instill a sense of positive vibration even if it doesn’t reach quite the same creative heights as personal heroes such as Bob Marley and Santana. “Carnival Vol. II,” a sequel of sorts to Wyclef’s 1997 solo debut, is another star-studded affair, with memorable collaborations such as the loping “Fast Car” with Paul Simon, the soulful “What About the Baby” with Mary J. Blige, the unabashed pop of “Any Other Day” with Norah Jones and the smooth, Middle Eastern flavored “Welcome to the East” with Sizzla. “Riot” with Sizzla and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian melds funky rap-rock with Arabic overtones, while Shakira — who benefited from Wyclef’s production prowess on her 2006 hit “Hips Don’t Lie” — provides guest vocals on reggaefied club track “King & Queen.” “Hollywood Meets Bollywood (Immigration)” is an exciting stew of styles accented by Chamillionaire’s raps, and “Slow Down” is a beatnik-styled piece that gives us platinum MC T.I. a different setting for his skills. About the only thing that doesn’t work on the disc — which includes a five-track bonus CD — is “Touch Your Button Carnival Jam,” a lengthy workout with just a few too many dynamic shifts and an arrangement that feels more chaotic than loose. Otherwise, Wyclef has served up another winner, and an album that lives up to the Event it aspires to be.


Blake Lewis, “Audio Day Dream” (Arista) **1/2

On the cover of his debut album, “American Idol’s” sixth season runner-up looks like electronic artist bt — a personal idol — while on the back panel he affects a Justin Timberlake look, fedora and plaid pants included. The set’s 16 tracks sit between the two, and echo a wealth of other pop touchstones, as well. You expect him to bust into Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” during “Gots to Get Her,” a new vamp on “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” while Lewis sounds like the lost member of Maroon5 on the funky rockers “Hate 2 Love Her” and “What’cha Got 2 Lose?” and member of the lost tribe of ’80s synth bands on “Surrender.” These derivations, of course, work as much against “Audio Day Dream” as they do for it, and the overall impact is that despite some charisma (which is diluted over 16 tracks) Lewis — who cowrites and co-produces nearly every track — might be more potent as a behind-the-scenes creator than an artist in his own right. He does keep good company here with collaborators like Ryan “Alias” Tedder of the rock band OneRepublic, J.R. Rotem, bt, Mike Elizondo and David Hodges and S*A*M & Sluggo, as well as guest Lupe Fiasco, but there’s still some work to be done in finding his own identity.


Trace Adkins, “American Man: Greatest Hits Volume II” (Capitol) — The country singer ditched his eighth studio album but tosses three new tracks on this retrospective.

Ben’s Brother, “Beta Male Fairytales” (Relentless/ Virgin) — The debut set from the British quintet best known at this point for “Stuttering (Kiss Me Again)” from the Dentyne Ice “frog kiss” commercial.

The Breakup Society, “Nobody Likes a Winner”

(Get Hip) — The sophomore from this Frampton Brothers spinoff features guest vocals by Young Fresh Fellows and R.E.M. touring band member Scott McCaughey.

Daft Punk, “Alive 2007”

(Virgin) — The concert set recorded in the electronic group’s native Paris gets a terrestrial release after its online unveiling last week.

DJ Drama, “Gangsta Grillz” (Grand Hustle/Atlantic) — The Philadelphia DJ’s debut album is loaded with top-shelf guests, including T.I., OutKast, Young Jeezy, Busta Rhymes, GUnit and many more.

Ghostface Killah, “Big Doe Rehab” (Def Jam) — Wu Tang Clan mates Method Man, Raekwon, U-God and Masta Killa join their homeboy on this warmup to the Wu’s own new album, which drops later in the month.

Godsmack, “Good Times, Bad Times: 10 Years of Godsmack” (Republic) — A new recording of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” highlights this overview from the Boston headbangers.

Kylie Minogue, “X” (EMI) — Samples of songs by Visage and Serge Gainsbourg pop on the Australian singer’s first album since here 2005 breast cancer diagnosis.

N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton (20th Anniversary Edition)” (Priority) — Rap fans will celebrate the 20th birthday of this incendiary set — even if the police don’t.

Scarface, “M.A.D.E.” (Asylum) — The Houston MC reaches album No. 11 with help from Lil Wayne, T.I., Wacko and more.

Soundtrack, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”

(Columbia) — John C. Reilly sings the 15 songs that represent the “greatest hits” of the fictional (and hysterical) Cox.

Styles P, “Supa Gangsta, Extraordinary Gentleman”

(Koch) — The Lox member’s third solo album features collaborations with Akon, Swizz Beatz, Ghostface Killah, the Roots’ Black Thought, Ray J and Max B. Styles.

Various Artists, “Live Earth — The Concerts For a Climate in Crisis” (Warner Bros.) — Another November Internet release rolls into stores featuring a sampling of performances from this summer’s global music event.

Rufus Wainwright, “Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall” (Geffen) — A chance for everyone else to hear Wainwright’s 2006 recreation of Judy Garland’s famed 1961 show in New York City.

Lucy Walsh, “Lost in the Lights” (Interscope) — The debut album from Joe Walsh’s daughter, a former Ashlee Simpson backup singer.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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