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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Maxwell, LMFAO and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, July 6, 2009

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Maxwell, “BLACKsummers’night” Columbia) **1/2

There’s been enough male R&B music during the past eight years that you might not have noticed we haven’t heard from Maxwell in that time. But he’s planning to make up for lost time — “BLACKsummers’night” is the first entry in a trilogy that will cover the next three years or so — and hearing the Brooklyn-born singer and songwriter again serves to remind us of not only how good he is, but how necessary his real-deal, old school-steeped brand of soul is amid all the soundalike neo post-New Jacks who don’t quite know how to strike the right balance between the heart and the libido. “BLACKsummers’night,” which is said to be the darker and more mainstream R&B set of the trilogy, finds Maxwell mostly on his knees, lamenting lost loves in “Pretty Wings,” the first single, as well as in “Bad Habits” and “Fist Full of Tears,” and women who’ve done him wrong in “Cold” and “Playing Possum.” He knows how to twist that pain into aural pleasure, however, whether iyered, intertwined vocal and horn arrangements of “Pretty Wings,” the jazzy touches of “Bad Habits” and “Cold” or the languid lightness of “Playing Possum.” “Love You” lays a careful melody, with Maxwell’s best vocal performance of the album, atop a syncopated drum tattoo, while the socially conscious “Help Somebody” is the set’s uptempo jam, complete with a Motown-flavored chorus and instrumental “Phoenix Rise” closes things with a loose weave of clubby synthesizers and fluid polyrhythms. “BLACKsummers’night’s” problem: after eight years, this is all we get — nine songs in less than 38 minutes and one of them an instrumental? It’s hard not to feel like there should be more, as if it’s, well, just a piece of a larger whole. In that regard, how we ultimately view “BLACKsummer’s Night” will have to wait until we hear “blackSUMMERS’night” and “blacksummers’NIGHT.” For now, however, we can bide our time with this welcome, if not entirely satisfying, return.


LMFAO, “Party Rock” (will.i.am/Party Rock/Interscope) **

We’re interested in LMFAO because this uncle-nephew duo had a hit remix of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” fills club floors every time a DJ spins its single “I’m in Miami...” — and because Redfoo and Sky Blu are the son and grandson, respectively, of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. “Party Rock” is not your parents’ Tempts ‘n’ Tops, however; this is club music of the moment, laying electro influences from Europe under libidinous, hip-hop-styled lyrical flows. It’s big dumb fun with an emphasis on the big, engaging the booty far more than the brain and bringing in crunk master Lil Jon for some high-velocity spitting on the track “Shots.” The new single, “La La La,” is a bona fide hit waiting to happen, and the rest works as long as you’re not expecting a high level of intellectual engagement.

New & Noteworthy:

The Alchemist, “Chemical Warfare” (E1): The hip-hop DJ and producer’s second artist album features vocals by Maxwell, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Three 6 Mafia, Twista and, of course, his soloyer Eminem.

Jay Brannan, “In Living Color” (Nettwerk): The Texas-born singer-songwriter follows up his 2008 debut with a pair of originals and covers of songs by Bob Dylan, the Verve Pipe, Joni Mitchell, the Cranberries and others.

Kiss Kiss, “The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left” (Eyeball): The string section-fed New York group’s sophomore album comes after myriad lineup changes and a nearly year-long production process.

The Lovell Sisters, “Time to Grow” (self-released): The rootsy sibling trio’s third release includes their “Distance,” a grand prize winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and the International Songwriting Competition finalist “Time to Grow.”

Cass McCombs, “Catacombs” (Domino): The fourth album from the highly literate lyricist who’s hopped from his native California to New York and back again, with a Chicago stop in between.

The Minus 5, “Killingsworth” (Yep Roc): R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and his touring partner/Venus 3 bandmate Scott McCaughey add most of the Decemberists for the latest set with their other other band.

R.E.M., “Reckoning Songs From the Olympia” (Warner Bros.): A digital-only four-song EP previewing a full-length live album the group has coming.

Kate Schutt, “The Telephone Game” (Artistshare.com): The sophomore album from the Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist — a Harvard grad, no less, — was funded entirely by fan donations.

Son Volt, “American Central Dust” (Rounder): Former Uncle Tupelo principal Jay Farrar continues a fertile period (three albums in four years) with his latest effort, whose “Cocaine and Ashes” is a grinning but respectful tribute to the Rolling Stones’ stalwart Keith Richards.

Soundtrack, “Hannah Montana 3 — Songs From the Hit TV Series!” (Walt Disney): More Miley (Cyrus) for ya, including collaborations with “American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta, Corgin Bleu of “High School Musical” and “Hannah Montana” co-star Mitchel Musso.

stellastar*, “Civilized” (Bloated Wife): Fans have been waiting four years for the New York indie rock quartet’s third album.

Those Darlins, “Those Darlins” (Oh Wow Dang): The debut full-length of twangy power pop from this all-female Nashville trio.

Tiny Vipers, “Life on Earth” (Sub Pop): The sophomore album by Seattle musician Jesy Fortino continues the trancey, avant-garde vibe of her 2007 debut “Hands Across the Void.

Young Fresh Fellows, “I Think This Is” (Yep Roc): The Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey has been a busy boy, and he enlists Robyn Hitchcock, who he backed as part of Venus 3, to produce the first new YFF release in eight years.

From the Vaults: The Jayhawks, “Music From the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology” (American/Legacy); Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan, “In Session” (Stax); Various Artists, “Factory Records: Communications 1978-92” (Rhino)

New Music DVDs: Yellowjackets, “New Morning: The Paris Concert” (Heads Up International)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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