'THE EMANCIPATION OF MIMI'
Island/Def Jam, ss 1/2
Mariah Carey's close confidants, apparently, call her Mimi. So, the title of her ninth album refers to her alleged personal liberation, at age 34, from "constraint, control, oppression, or the power of another," as the CD sleeve puts it. (Haven't we heard this before? Didn't she break up with record mogul Tommy Mottola in 1997?)
In any case, it's balderdash. If "Emancipation" has any overriding philosophy, it's not to be true to oneself: It's to bite the style of Beyonce and Alicia Keys in a last-ditch effort to get one's career back on track after hitting the skids with "Glitter" in 2001.
The surprising thing is, it works.
There's nothing fresh about "Emancipation" It rounds up the most familiar R & amp;B and hip-hop producer suspects -- Twista, Jermaine Dupri, Kanye West -- as well as guest rappers including Nelly and seriously overexposed canine Snoop Dogg, who seems to be finally running out of witticisms, rhyming "this track by the Neptunes" with "go with me to the rest room" in "Say Somethin'."
And yet, what the disc lacks in originality it makes up in sleek dependability. The album is heavy on midtempo club tracks, but the Neptunes' cuts in particular pack some pop, and on "Mine Again," a collaboration with Philadelphia neo-soul guru James Poyser, Carey wisely cuts back on rococo vocal embellishment to concentrate on putting the hurt across.
'COOL JAZZ: THE COCKTAIL HOUR'
The title implies cocktail jazz, but the contents would kick the behind of any background music, and provide a good introduction to the riches held by this Conshohocken, Pa., label.
The cocktail theme is shattered by five Sun Ra cuts, including a bellowing, saxophone-bleating "Plutonian Nights," featuring the full majesty of the late bandleader's unique approach.
The opening "Pippin" is a fusion-soul effort torched by tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and pianist Ed Kelly. Sun Ra alum and New Orleans trumpeter Michael Ray leads the Cosmic Krewe in a Tabasco-laced rendition of the earthy ditty "Beans and Rice."
Capitol, sss 1/2
In Fischerspooner's world, style is substance. The group began as a performance-art project by the New York duo of Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner and has evolved into a living, breathing commentary on pop-culture production and consumption, with input from Susan Sontag and David Byrne, both of whom contributed lyrics to the album.
Of course, you don't have to know any of that to bask in the Day-Glo rays of their synthetic electro-pop. Such songs as "Just Let Go" and "Everything to Gain" ride throbbing bass lines and fluttering, new-wave keyboard melodies as Spooner detachedly talk-sings about -- well, nothing in particular.
The album climaxes with a cover of the Boredoms' "Circle" that drizzles spacey synthesizer cheese all over its churning, mantralike core. Serious art or guilty pleasure? Who cares!
'WHAT COMES AFTER THE BLUES'
Magnolia Electric Co.
Secretly Canadian, sss
Fully embracing the role of alt-country bard, Magnolia Electric Co.'s Jason Molina surrounds himself with an Americana wrecking crew featuring Philadelphia's go-to steel guitarist, Mike Brenner, and singer-guitarist Jennie Benford of Jim & amp; Jennie & amp; the Pinetops.
Benford contributes one of the album's better tracks, a weary hymn called "The Night Shift Lullaby," and Brenner's steel work adds needed color when the flannel-and-denim drabs creep in, as on the hackneyed highway travelogue "Leave the City."
Molina, who formerly recorded as Songs: Ohia, is best at tapping time-tested resources -- Buffalo Springfield in the flailing opener "The Dark Don't Hide It," Hank Williams for the acoustic finale "I Can Not Have Seen the Light" -- to frame his warbling voice and his verse cycles about redemption, hindsight's clarity and other stuff that usually comes after the blues.
'SONGS FROM THE LONGLEAF PINES'
'YOU GOTTA DIG A LITTLE DEEPER'
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver
Rounder, sss 1/2
Charlie Daniels' belligerently reactionary stances have sometimes overshadowed the musical talent of a once-hip dude who helped pioneer Southern rock and played with Dylan. "Songs From the Longleaf Pines" is a bracing reminder of how good this veteran can be. With Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs and other notable guests, Daniels delivers a set of bluegrass gospel that pumps raw new life into familiar tunes, from the humble grace of "How Great Thou Art" to the headlong rush of "Walking in Jerusalem" and the bluesy bite of "I'm Working on a Building."
Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker are the only members of the Jordanaires remaining from the days when the influential singing group backed Elvis, its most famous affiliation in a country and pop career of more than five decades. But the quartet's smooth four-part harmonies are heard to stirring effect on the bluegrass hymns of "Believe." The musical accompaniment is rather perfunctory, and the a cappella renditions of "Angel Band" and "Dig a Little Deeper" make you wish the foursome had taken that route more often on this two-CD-plus-DVD set.
Last year, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver reaffirmed their greatness in bluegrass gospel with "Thank God." For "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper," the quintet returns to secular bluegrass. The songs cover standard string-band territory, but elder statesman Lawson and his brethren take the album's title to heart: The music and harmonies bristle with undeniable energy and spirit, making the tradition-bound sound as vital as any new music.
'MICAH P. HINSON AND THE GOSPEL OF PROGRESS'
Micah P. Hinson
On his shimmering debut, Micah P. Hinson passes through moonlit country scenes as he addresses personal disasters in lush folk-rock fashion.
Cigarettes and hardship have weathered the songwriter's Memphis drawl, but Hinson's work does not suffer. His hopeful mantras ("Close Your Eyes" and "At Last, Our Promises") challenge predictable sing-along structure with unexpected, apocalyptic peaks of organ and strings. Texas-based psych popsters the Earlies, whom Hinson calls his Gospel of Progress, back his acoustic revelations with orchestral arrangements.
Experiments such as "Patience," a shouted climactic jewel significantly stronger than the whistle-heavy Guns N' Roses joint of the same name, sound deceptively downtrodden. But this is not the soundtrack of defeat; it's progress.