The New Pornographers
I'm not saying the New Pornographers' songs don't make any sense. I'm saying that when the super-charged indie pop confections of A.C. Newman and his subordinate Dan Bejar are galloping, soaring and whooshing by at their most irresistibly infectious, I couldn't care less if they did. "10,000 dancing girls kicking cans across sky/No reason why," Neko Case sings in "These Are the Fables." And there doesn't have to be a reason, not when the melody is harnessed to Case's powerhouse voice, or when a chorus is as hummable as that of the intricately structured showstopper "Sing Me Spanish Techno." Unfortunately, not everything on the NP's third album is so unstoppable, and though "Twin Cinema" is mighty snappy, it isn't quite such an adrenalized hook fest as 2003's "Electric Version."
'TIME WELL WASTED'
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Brad Paisley opens his fourth album with "The World," a fast-paced, twang-fueled declaration of love and devotion, and then moves on to "Alcohol," which is clever, tongue-in-cheek, and on its way to being a monster hit.
In other words, the 32-year-old West Virginia native is following the commercially and artistically successful pattern of his earlier records: He alternates seriousness and sincerity with a sly wit, while maintaining a musical allegiance to country. So, the straight-up "She's Everything" segues into "You Need a Man Around Here" ("to kill the spiders, change the channel, and drink the beer"), and the solemn duet with Dolly Parton, "When I Get Where I'm Going," runs into the gleeful honky-tonker "Easy Money." And there's another dazzling instrumental -- "Time Warp" -- that shows off his guitar prowess.
At 65 minutes, "Time" is long for a country album, but Paisley makes sure little of it is wasted.
Carly Simon, whose early '70s hits included "You're So Vain" and "Haven't Got Time for the Pain," takes on jazz standards for this string-laden confection of a recording.
The attempt shouldn't be surprising. Simon has done three previous recordings of standards: 1981's "Torch," 1990's "My Romance" and 1997's "Film Noir." Plus she is part of a trend of elder rockers swinging standards -- as Rod Stewart and Paul Anka have done. And where's a singer ultimately going to go for the best material?
The trouble is, Simon's voice sounds darker and more lived in. And while she professes to love the songs of Cole Porter and other progenitors of the Great American Songbook, the approach here is so pedestrian. Her take on "Alone Together" courses along at a mild Latin pulse that leaves little emotional trace. Porter's "In the Still of the Night" nearly collapses from a rhythm section that sounds canned, a common problem throughout. Maybe she's better off complaining.
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Many reggae artists are content to just make us dance and groove to their carefree music.
That does not apply to I Wayne. He brings reggae back to its essential roots riddims via tranquil vocals on "Lava Ground." The Jamaican uses the album's lead single, "Can't Satisfy Her" to pull listeners in. Then, once he has their attention, he opens up and discusses darker subjects affecting his island, such as crime and poverty.
"Can't Satisfy Her," has I Wayne begging listeners to scratch beneath the surface. As much as the track presents a singsong catchy flow, it narrates the full circle and harsh reality of life as a prostitute. "One man can't satisfy her, she need more wood for da fire. Sex price getting higher, ah more money she require," Wayne sings on the hook.
On, "Life Seeds," I Wayne croons about the sad state of violence in Jamaica. "Blood shedding more and more, I still get a fight though I am living pure," I Wayne observes on the track's chorus. "See war and crime, lot a skull a bore. Mankind get vile, they have love no more."
Throughout most of the album, listeners will feel like they're alongside I Wayne, sympathizing with Jamaica's struggles. With dancehall artists like Sean Paul and Beenie Man targeting the clubs with their music, it's refreshing to hear more socially conscious reggae artists like I Wayne delivering a message.
'TWILIGHT OF THE RENEGADES'
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There's never anything simple about Jimmy Webb. Even when composing hits for Glen Campbell, Richard Harris and the Fifth Dimension, Webb alone worked a melodic complexity and a lyrical eccentricity unparalleled among '60s pop scribes. This strangely beautiful, battered vision -- to say nothing of Webb's crusty tenor -- makes "Twilight" a slowly twisting page-turner.
Whether seasoned by quickly-lifting verses and sultry strings ("Time Flies") or loaded with pastoral jazzy bridges, fluid pianos and ambitious literal storytelling ("Paul Gauguin in the South Seas"), Webb creates an ambitious listen that never pushes you away. He might try to cram too many florid arrangements and ideas into too tiny a space, but he didn't call this "Twilight of the Plebes," did he?
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