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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Talib Kweli, M.I.A. and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2007

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Talib Kweli, “Ear Drum” (Blacksmith/Warner Bros.) **1/2

Talib Kweli declares that “you can’t please everybody” at the start of his latest album, and he probably understands that better than many of his peers. The Brooklyn MC and Black Star principal hit big with his first two solo albums but stumbled a bit on 2004’s unfocused “The Beautiful Struggle” — and suffered the requisite backlash. But he quietly regained his footing with the 2005 mix tape “Right About Now” and last year’s collaboration with Madlib, “Liberation” and brings it all home on “Ear Drum.” Like Kweli’s best previous work, the album is extremely musical and high on conscience, from the trancey social commentary “My Weather Report” to the socioeconomic treatise “More or Less” and his continuing exploration of religious ambivalence on the quick-spitting “Hostile Gospel,” while guest Jean Grae busts a verse on the will.i.am-produced club anthem “Say Something.” The Pete Rock-helmed “Holy Moly” pays tribute to fallen rap stars, including Motor City auteur J Dilla. But Kweli, who apparently didn’t get the memo about the N-word being laid to rest in Detroit last month, has his fun, too, particularly on the lushly woven “Country Cousins” with UGK and on the smooth playa pose of “Soon a New Day,” which features a cameo by Norah Jones. Musiq, meanwhile, lends a musical lilt to the churchy “Oh My Stars.” If “Ear Drum” has a flaw, it’s its length — 20 tracks crammed to capacity on a single CD, a stultifying package that tends to overwhelm its best material. Kweli does dazzle with his dexterity, and the different feels and flows keep things relatively fresh, but some judicious pruning could have made this an even more convincing return to form.


M.I.A., “Kala” (XL/Interscope) ***

After the ear-catching success of her 2005 debut “Arular,” Sri Lankan/British singer/MC M.I.A. could have chosen a more conventional route — a Kanye West, say, or a Timbaland (who appears on one track here) — for her follow-up. Instead, she takes a more daring course, traveling the world to pick up beats and samples from India and Africa, Trinidad and techno, Britain and Baltimore, all of which she and cohorts Switch and Diplo stir into a category-defying swirl of sound that’s a genuine world party and has the political underpinnings to make it a statement you can dance to. It’s safe to say there’s nothing else quite like “Bamboo Banga,” “Birdflu,” “Boyz” or “Paper Planes” out there. Tribal drums meet elephantine synthesizer blasts, and references to the Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner” and the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” only add to the pastiche of a set that starts out good and only sucks you in deeper with each successive listen.


Bedouin Soundclash, “Street Gospels” (SideOneDummy) — The ska rockers’ third album was produced by Bad Brains’ Darryl Jenifer and features Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark on keyboards.

Joe Bonamassa, “Sloe Gin” (Premier Artists) — The guitar prodigy again teams with producer Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes) for his seventh album.

Cartel, “Cartel” (Epic) — The Atlanta rockers deliver the follow-up to their buzz-generating 2005 debut “Chroma.”

Galactic, “From the Corner to the Block” (Anti-) — The New Orleans funkateers team with a corps of rappers, including Boots Riley, Lyrics Born, Digable Planets’ Lady Mecca and more on this edgy concept album.

Nathaniel Mayer, “Why Don’t You Give It to Me?” (Alive) — Members of the Black Keys and a coalition of Detroit garage rockers (including Outrageous Cherry, the Dirtbombs and the Sights) help longtime Motor City soul singer/garage rock incarnate Mayer on his fourth album.

Little Mo’ McCoury, “Little Mo’ McCoury” (McCoury Music) — A bluegrass album for the whole family, orchestrated by Del McCoury’s son and collaborator Ronnie.

Joe Nichols, “Real Things” (Universal South) — The fourth album from the comely country singer features 13 tracks, from lovelorn paeans to barroom brawlers such as “My Whiskey Years” and “Let’s Get Drunk and Fight.”

Patrick Park, “Everyone’s in Everyone” (Curb Appeal) — After a four-year wait, the Colorado singersongwriter delivers his fourth album.

Dax Riggs, “We Sing of Only Blood or Love” (Fat Possum) — The former deadboy & the Elephantmen member goes solo but stays in the same bluesy rock vein as the band.

Rilo Kiley, “Under the Blacklight” (Warner Bros.) — The Los Angeles alt.rockers put their solo projects aside for their fourth group album and first in three years.

Josh Ritter, “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter” (SonyBMG) — The Idaho singer-songwriter’s fourth CD imagines Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale and Calamity Jane stuck together in the belly of a whale. And then it gets interesting. ...

Nikki Sixx, “The Heroin Diaries” (Eleven Seven Music) — The Mötley Crüe leader delivers a soundtrack, not to a film but to his upcoming book about being strung out in 1986-87.

Soundtrack, “Halloween” (Hip-O) — A new version of “Mr. Sandman” by Nan Vernon hangs out with ’70s and ’80s hits by Alice Cooper, Peter Frampton, Rush and Blue Öyster Cult for Rob Zombie’s remake of the horror classic.

Swizz Beatz, “One Man Band” (Motown) — Best known for producing, the Swizz man takes a moment to do his own thing, with help from Coldplay, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, DMX, Kanye West and others.

Travis Tritt, “Storm” (Category 5) — The country star teams with “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson for an album that shows more of his soul side.

The Waterboys, “Book of Lightning” (Decca) — The British group’s ninth album washes up on these shores after a successful launch in its homeland.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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