Will Smith
Interscope, ss 1/2
On his ninth CD, Will Smith takes on the intersection of Hollywood and Philadelphia as if jovially taking on another amiable movie role. Mostly, it's business as usual.
The stutter-tronic "Switch" is the party track. In accordance with hip-hop law, Snoop Dogg appears. "Here He Comes" features a patented Smith sample gleaned from our childhood, the "Spider-Man" TV cartoon theme, with chunky beats by ex-partner Jazzy Jeff.
Big Willie makes merry about getting dissed by Eminem, blabbing happily about getting reamed by rap radio. So what, right? With more than one reference to making "20 mil," you can't help but think that Smith is giggling all the way to his broker.
But listen harder. Smith ain't feeling quite so jiggy.
"Sometimes y'all mistake nice for soft, so before I go off ..." spits Smith on "Mr. Niceguy," taking on haters through bucking rhythms with the sort of veiled threats his "Shark Tale" costar Bob De Niro usually proffers. When not busy taking the offensive on being defensive, Smith wails on religious hypocrisy, star-stalkers, and the rap game's relentless copycatting (from Smith, yet, goes the boast of the title track) with a sneer to match his cheer.
Sure, he's ham-fisted. Smith may not show the brilliant flow of Ludacris or the foul functionality of 50 Cent. But at least he acts the part nicely.
Everything But The Girl
Atlantic/Blanco y Negro, sss 1/2
Someday, perhaps, there'll be a new Everything But the Girl album. Until then, aficionados of Tracey Thorn's smoky, sensual purr of a voice will have to settle for this delicious set of remixes.
To recap: Vocalist Thorn and guitarist (and now DJ) Ben Watt emerged from Britain as a haircut band in the 1980s, then suavely evolved into masters of chilled-out electronica after Todd Terry's remix of "Missing" became an international hit in 1995. "Adapt or Die" gathers a decade's worth of reinterpretations of the duo's fetching pop songs, with DJ Jazzy Jeff and King Britt among the knob twiddlers, along with Terry, Adam F, Brad Wood and others.
It works perfectly, with Watt and Thorn's compositions -- plus a seductive version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado" -- reinvented but not unrecognizable, and Thorn's soulful, contemplative vocals leaving you yearning for more.
Okkervil River
Jagjaguwar, sss
Okkervil River's "Black Sheep Boy" takes as its inspiration Tim Hardin's 1967 folk song of the same name and turns it into a song-cycle of sinful violence and redemptive epiphanies. The fourth album by the Austin, Texas, band is full of songs that crescendo from quiet, ruminative beginnings into rough, informal symphonies.
"Song of Our So-Called Friend" begins with Will Sheff's aching, creaky voice atop a lonely acoustic guitar. A shuffling drumbeat is added, then funereal horns, and then backing vocals from guest Amy Annelle plus some atmospheric electronics, with each layer ratcheting up emotion.
Elsewhere, mournful lap steel, wheezy pump organ, and ghostly mandolin mingle with bursts of electric guitar, swelling strings, or falsetto choirs, resulting in an album that's spooky and dreamlike, but also grand and cathartic.
--Steve Klinge
Daft Punk
Virgin, ss 1/2
Finished with cribbing Chicago house and Jersey garage for their Vocoder-voiced disco, the duo Daft Punk found something more daft from their past for this animatronic album: '80s kitsch.
It's not just that Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem have hyper-nicked the spirit of Survivor and Hall & amp; Oates -- thick syn-drums, chintzy rock-out guitars, squiggle-tronic arrangements -- celebrated on "Robot Rock" and the title track. The obviousness of that decade is pervasive, threatening campy tedium and triteness. It's fun, just not Daft-quality fun.
But the duo saves the day by offering thumping discord ("The Brainwasher") and barely-there bliss-outs ("Make Love") for a subtler, rounder affair. Phew -- that was close.
Sean Costello
Artemis, sss
Though he started out as a precocious blues-guitar hotshot -- releasing his first album at 16 and backing fellow up-and-comer Susan Tedeschi before he was 20 -- Sean Costello seems more interested in emulating Eddie Hinton than Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Hinton was the great Muscle Shoals session guitarist who was also a superb singer and songwriter. Like the late Hinton, the 25-year-old Costello has a soulfully rough-hewn voice and is mostly content to make his guitar just one element of a taut, earthy R & amp;B sound.
Here he covers Al Green and Bob Dylan, among others, but for the first time he focuses on originals. From the punchy soul of "No Half Steppin' " and "Hold on This Time" to the roadhouse urgency of "I've Got to Ride" and the anguished balladry of "Don't Pass Me By," Costello shows that his lyric-writing skills are catching up to his formidable musical talents.
Precious Bryant
Terminus, sss
In 2002, at age 60, Precious Bryant released her first full-length album, a revelatory set of solo country blues called "Fool Me Good."
For "The Truth," the rural Georgian focuses mostly on full-band blues and R & amp;B. Bryant, however, takes the same warm, unaffected approach, giving these performances the weight of, well, the truth.
She sounds at home knocking out such secular chestnuts as "You Can Have My Husband," but the emotional heart of "The Truth lies in such Bryant originals as the full-band "Dark Angel" and the just-guitar title cut, plus such gospel-charged traditional fare as "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray" and "Sit Down Servant."
Bill Cunliffe/Bob Sheppard
Torii Records, sss
A few cats with Philadelphia roots conspired to produce this sweet and straight-ahead recording.
Coproducer Reed Kotler wrote these dozen, mostly winsome, tunes. The Philly native, now based in the Bay Area, created Transkriber Software to aid in transcribing jazz solos.
Coproducer and pianist Bill Cunliffe, an associate professor of jazz studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, is an amiable and beguiling presence throughout, supporting the positive aura, and saxophonist Bob Sheppard is a Trenton, N.J., native who produces an ethereal lightness on soprano and lots of clean, combustible energy on tenor.
The quintet recording is an airy affair that projects an up vibe without overdoing it. Kotler is at his best on the slinky cut "On a Warm Summer Night," which suggests film noir possibilities.
The relentlessly pleasant feel gets old by the end. Yet the opening "All My Love's for You" shows off the kind of happy groove that makes this set a keeper.
Mick Rossi
Omnitone, sss
It doesn't take long for the listener to dig Trenton, N.J.-born pianist and composer Mick Rossi as a rollicking cat worth listening to.
A student of the late jazz guru Dennis Sandole (a teacher of John Coltrane's), Rossi is a regular at New York's arty Knitting Factory. He has backed folks from Carly Simon to Hall & amp; Oates, and composed scores for TV movies.
Now a keyboardist and percussionist for the Philip Glass Ensemble, Rossi has created a disc with a carnival atmosphere and wide opportunities for improvisation.
"Page X" is a compelling starter, leaving acres of adventurous space for trumpeter Russ Johnson. The marvelously rolling opening of "Henry and Ribsy" allows Andy Laster to get pleasantly forceful on baritone.
"I Gotta Go to Bed" is intriguing for its many changes and maddening for its B-movie cacophony. Still, Rossi avoids the intellectual dryness of much art-house jazz. The session is quirky, but at least humor is in the mix, and Rossi shows a unique, freewheeling style that can hook listeners.

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