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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: T.I., Natasha Bedingfield and more...

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, December 5, 2010

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“No Mercy”

Grand Hustle/Atlantic


The “whoops” moment comes early on T.I.’s seventh studio album, during the first single “Get Back Up.” Amdist Chris Brown’s vocal hooks, the Atlanta rapper — who recorded the album after a 10-month prison sentence on federal weapons charges — proclaims that “I accept responsibility for all the wrong I’ve done” and promises “never again, partner/you can bet my life on that.” Now he’s back in jail, along with his wife, for associating with a convicted felon. “No Mercy” shows that he didn’t waste his time between incarcerations, however; the 14-track set is a typically confident party with an A-list of guests and producers, boasting a bit of wisdom gained from T.I.’s first jail stint along with the more typical conventions of the genre. “Get Back Up” does cut the deepest, of course, with its declarations that “I’m only human” and heartfelt proclamations that “my road to redemption has no GPS” and “it’s hard living life in the spotlight/trying to dodge the haters same time as the cop light.” But there’s no real sense that T.I. (real name Clifford Harris) would like to avoid that spotlight, either, especially not on booty calls such as “Strip” (with Young Dro and Trey Songz) and the electro-flavored “Lay Me Down” (with Rico Love) or on the loping party song “Poppin Bottles,” during which Drake gets to make his umpteenth shout-out to mentor Lil Wayne. Kanye West and Kid Cudi chime in on the album-opening “Welcome to the World,” while Eminem is in fierce form during his two verses on the slinky “That’s All She Wrote.” The-Dream helps T.I. thump his chest on the epic-sounding title track, Pharrell serves as sparring partner on the playful (if lengthy) “Amazing,” Mitchelle’l and Scarface channel gangsta sentimentalism through the ’70s blaxploitation homage “How Life Changed” and Christina Aguilera’s sweet melodicism balances T.I.’s righteous self pity on “Castle Walls.” A fresh prison stay will likely inspire even more material, but “No Mercy” will keep fans good company during T.I.’s absence.


Natasha Bedingfield, “Strip Me” (Epic) **

Don’t be deceived by the title of the British songstress’ third album; this is not a set of titillating Britney-styled come-hithers. Instead Bedingfield takes these 14 tracks in a variety of directions, although this time there’s less sonic fluff and a greater synthesizer-heavy club influence on “Touch” and the Kevin Rudolf-sampling “All I Need.” But Bedingfield slides through torchy ballads such as “Try” the “Recover,” ambient anthems like “Can’t Fall Down” and “Unexpected Hero,” a bit of rock with “Little Too Much,” soul with “Run, Run, Run” and buoyant pop pieces like “Neon Lights” and “Weightless.” Her big, confident voice unifies it all, making it appealing but hard to separate from her fellow pop divas.

New & Noteworthy:

Atom Tom, “The Moment” (Universal Republic): The Brooklyn rockers’ debut rolls out in hard copy after a July release online.

Daft Punk, “Tron: Legacy” (Walt Disney): Who better than this French electronic duo to put a fresh sonic sheen on this cinematic revisit to a future virtual reality?

Deadmau5, “4x4=12” (mau5trap): The Canadian electronic whiz’s third compilation includes dance music collaborations with SOFI, Chris Lake, Wolfgang Gartner and Greta Svabo Bech.

Fiest, “Look at What the Light Did Now” (Cherrytree): The Canadian singer-songwriter delivers a live CD/DVD set to tide us over until her next studio album is ready.

Flyleaf, “Remember to Live” (Octone): The Texas headbangers’ seven-song stop-gap seven-song EP includes early-career songs such as “Believe in Dreams” and “Amy Says” as well as a version of “Arise” remixed by We Are the Fallen’s Ben Moody.

Hedley, “Go With the Show” (Universal): The Canadian rockers’ first live album includes the unreleased track “Beautiful.”

Hinder, “All American Nightmare” (Universal Motown): The Oklahoma rock group’s third studio album seeks to rebuild the momentum of its triple-platinum 2005 debut.

Wyclef Jean, “If I Were President: My Haitian Experience” (Columbia): The former Fugee’s failed attempt to run for president of Haiti has yielded “Election Time” and five more songs for this EP.

Eric Johnson, “Up Close” (Vortexan): The Texas guitar hero’s first studio album in five years features guest appearances by Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, Jonny Lang and Sonny Landreth.”

Juanes, “P.A.R.C.E.” (Universal): In case you were wondering, the title of the Colombian singer-songwriter’s fifth studio album is an abbreviation Medellin term parcero, which means friend.

Christian Kane, “The House Rules” (Bigger Picture): The actor (“Dawson’s Creek,” “Las Vegas,” “Leverage”) and musician releases his first formal album after a pair of independent sets, an EP and some soundtrack contributions.

Adam Lambert, “For Your Entertainment Acoustic Live!” (RCA): The 2009 “American Idol” runner-up’s five-song EP features unplugged treatments of songs from his debut album.

Mumford & Sons with Laura Marling, “EP” (Glassnote): The British artists team up with each other and the Indian collective the Dharohar Project for a four-song EP that reworks Mumford’s “To Darkness” and Marling’s “Devil’s Spoke.”

Plain White T`s “Wonders of the Younger” (Hollywood): The “Hey There Delilah” crew’s sixth album was recorded in the basement studio at frontman Tom Higgenson’s Chicago home.

Redman, “Reggie” (Def Jam): The rapper’s seventh studio album features guest appearances by longtime partner Method Man as well as Bun B, Faith Evans, Kool Moe Dee and more.

Soundtrack, “127 Hours: Music From the Motion Picture” (Interscope): The “Slumdog Millionaire” team of composer A.R. Rahman and director Danny Boyle reunite for the latter’s latest film. Rahman teams with Dido for the new song “If I Rise.”

Robin Trower, “The Playful Heart” (V-12): The British guitar hero recorded his latest album with his touring band and longtime collaborator Livingston Brown producing.

Various Artists, “Live From Studio A2, Vol. 3” (107one): In-studio radio performances by Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco and others populate the latest release from Ann Arbor’s 107.1, with proceeds benefiting the Michigan Theater.

Various Artists, “Disney Jazz Volume 1: Everybody Wants to be a Cat” (Walt Disney): A crew of jazz luminaries, including Dave Brubeck, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove and Esperanza Spalding, take on favorites from the Walt Disney film canon.

Charlie Wilson, “Just Charlie” (Jive): Former “American Idol” champ Fantasia is the primary guest on the latest solo album by the Gap Band frontman and Snoop Dogg uncle.

From The Vaults: Abba, “Gold: Special Edition” (UMe); Latimore, “It Ain’t Where You Been” (Tartare); James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera, “Celebrating 40 Years at the Met” (Polygram)

New Holiday Albums: Perry Como, “The Complete Christmas Collection” (Collector’s Choice)

New Music DVDs: Elvis Costello, “Spectacle: Season 2” (VMI); “Lennon NYC” (A&E); Graham Parker & the Figgs, “Live at the FTC” (Image)

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