America (Burgundy Records)
Grade: A
America is back. Yes. THAT America. "A Horse With No Name." "Ventura Highway." "Muskrat Love."
The duo's first studio release in more than 20 years, "Here and Now," is a two-CD set. One features newly recorded live versions of their hits, which sound as wonderful as they did in the 1970s. A raucous version of "Sandman" is a standout.
The other CD offers 12 songs of new material, and if you liked Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell's old stuff, you'll enjoy this. The band brought in James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne as producers.
But if you're expecting to hear what Jack White did for Loretta Lynn or what Rick Rubin did for Johnny Cash, you'll be disappointed.
These hip, young musicians don't update America's sound so much as remind us it's still relevant.
Most of the tracks are classic America -- sweet, poppy songs that should be schlocky, but somehow manage to not cross that line.
"Chasing the Rainbow," "All I Think About is You" and "This Time," could've fit right in on a 1972 set list.
"Ride On," the disc's strongest new track, is the closest America comes to showcasing an updated sound.
Ryan Adams plays guitar and Ben Kweller plays piano.
The CD's closing track, "Walk in the Woods," with a whistling Bunnell, who now lives in the Wisconsin woods, sounds like exactly that -- a walk in the woods.
Kim Curtis, Associated Press
John Waite (Rounder)
Grade: B
John Waite's new CD finds the infectious if precious singer-songwriter looking forward and looking back. He trots out some new stuff, such as the Fifth Avenue romance of "St. Patrick's Day," and puts a fresh coat of paint on a number of old favorites, harking all the way back to his '70s days with the Babys ("Isn't It Time" and others).
Alison Krauss joins him for a subtly countrified touch-up of his 1984 smash "Missing You."
But the real shocker here is a snarling cover of "Highway 61 Revisited" that is more Thorogood than Dylan.
Waite's clinging vine of a voice still sounds best on ballads such as "In Dreams" and "New York City Girl," although there is no rust evident on any of this material.
With this collection, Waite has taken a promising tack: neo-nostalgia.
David Hiltbrand, Philadelphia Inquirer
Mos Def (Geffen)
Grade: D
When Mos Def kick-started his hip-hop career with that Talib Kweli Black Star collaboration and Black on Both Sides, it was a one-two artist statement along the lines of Orson Welles' back-to-back triumphs "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." Def's debuts featured strongly masculine, un-gangsta-ish raps done up in aptly muscular musicality.
But that was 1998 and '99. What's Def done for me lately?
Musically, not much.
On "True Magic," Def is nearly faceless -- rapping, ranting and rambling against shockingly generic soundscapes, adding little but laziness to tracks from Juvenile's UTP and GZA, writing dull rhymes. Even the CD cover is bland.
Still, Mos croons through the too-catchy "There is a Way" with crazy intensity, jazzes up "Sun, Moon, Stars" like the experimentalist we know he can be, and makes "U R the One" simmer sexily and smartly. Maybe he's waiting for his next record to do something great.
Stop waiting, Mos. Do it, Def.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

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