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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Janet Jackson, Alan Jackson and more

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 24, 2006

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Janet Jackson “20 Y.O.” (Virgin) **1/2

Janet Jackson tells us as the beginning of her ninth album that “I wanna have fun.” And she’d like for that to be in the sack, if at all possible. Continuing the sex obsession that began with 1993’s “janet.” and blossomed four years later “The Velvet Rope,” “20 Y.O.” — which ostensibly commemorates the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough “Control” album — fi nds Jackson looking for It and as much of It as possible, at least for the fi rst five tracks (even titles such as “Do It 2 Me,” “So Excited” and “This Body” aren’t exactly subtle). Jackson doesn’t exactly abandon that path on the rest of the album, but she does make room for softer and more romantic feelings on songs such as “With U,” the Nelly collaboration “Call on Me” and “Daybreak,” while “Take Care” makes clear that, when her man’s not around, Jackson will gladly do It for herself. Pause here for a cold shower. But while you’re drying off, consider that there are high stakes for “20 Y.O.” 2004’s “Damita Jo” was a stiff, partly due to backlash from Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” but mostly because it wasn’t very good and particularly lacked substantial melodies. “20 Y.O.” is better in that regard. “So Excited” kicks things off with vintage synth blasts and big dance beats — the signatures crafted for Jackson two decades ago by producers Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis and copied by scores of wannabes since. So while the club bang of “Show Me” may sound like any number of her imitators, it’s actually Janet being ... Janet. Jackson and company weave some playful polyrhythms into “Do It 2 Me” and subtle but attention-getting guitar parts into “This Body” and “With You,” lay a tropical flava atop “Enjoy” and gently drive “Take Care” with a gentle, hypnotic electric piano ring. There’s nothing here that ranks with her greatest hits, but “20 Y.O.” succeeds in re-establishing much of the cred Jackson lost two years ago.


Alan Jackson “Like Red on a Rose” (Arista Nashville) ***

Last time (February’s “Precious Memories”) it was gospel, this time it’s ... something else entirely. Jackson continues to veer from his hit-making mainstream country path for “Like Red on a Rose,” recruiting Alison Krauss to produce what was supposed to be a bluegrass outing but morphed into a Don Williamsstyle set of gentle melodies that’s one of the best things Jackson’s done in his 16 years of recording. The songs, mostly about love and the benefi ts of aging, are fi ne fits for his smooth tenor, and Krauss deploys a top-shelf group of players with a subtle touch that never overwhelms Jackson’s vocals but still keeps the songs moving in their own quiet way. “Sometimes less is more,” as Jackson sings in “The Fire Fly’s Song,” and on “Like Red on a Rose” he’s definitely found a path that merits more attention.

New and noteworthy

Ak’sent, “International”

(Capitol) — The debut album from 19-year-old rapper Krystle Johnson includes a duet with Beanie Man and production by Jugganauts and DJ Quik.

Ali & AJ, “Acoustic Hearts of Winter” (Hollywood) — The teen sister duo gets into the holiday spirit, taking their sophomore album in a Yuletide direction.

Al Di Meola, “Consequence of Chaos” (Telarc) — The jazz guitarist’s first new album in four years features top-shelf guests Chick Corea and Steve Gadd, among others.

Farmer Jason, “Day at the Farm” and “Rockin’ the Forest”

(Rhino) — Two more albums of parent-friendly kid’s music by rocker Jason Ringenberg.

George Harrison, “Living in the Material World” (EMI) — A reissue of the late Beatles’ 1973 solo album, with two bonus B-sides and, in the deluxe edition, a DVD fi lled with rare footage.

The Lemonheads, “Lemonheads” (Vagrant) — Evan Dando revives the Lemonheads name for the first time in 10 years, though he’s the only original member left.

Ludacris, “Release Therapy”

(Def Jam) — The moufy rapper offers a veritable intervention thanks to guests like R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell Williams, Seanie Sigel and C-Murder.

Medeski Scofi eld Martin & Wood, “Out Louder” (Indirecto) — A quartet is born as guitarist John Scofield adds his flavor to avant instrumentalists MM&W.

My Morning Jacket, “Okonokos” (ATO) — A welcome two-CD concert set from the Southern rockers known for their potent live shows.

Robert Randolph & the Family Band, “Colorblind”

(Warner Bros.) — The sacred steel wizard gets down with Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews and Leela James on his sophomore album.

Scissor Sisters, “Ta-Dah”

(Universal Motown) — Admirer Elton John helped the New York quintet by co-writing the fi rst single, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.”

Soundtrack, “Open Season”

(Lost Highway) — The Replacement’s Paul Westerberg penned his fi rst fullfledged soundtrack effort for this animated bear fi lm.

Sparklehorse, “Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain” (Astralwerks) — Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse and Tom Waits are among those participating on Mark Linkous’ first new effort since 2001.

Various Artists, “Why the Hell Not ... The Songs of Kinky Friedman” (Lotos Nile) — Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Todd Snider are among the luminaries paying homage to the idiosyncratic Texas troubadour.

Weird Al Yankovic, “Straight Outta Lynwood” (Volcano) — The Weird one parodies Chamillionaire, Rage Against the Machine and Brian Wilson on his first new album in three years.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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