record reviews


MIRANDA LAMBERT

Album: “Four the Record’ (RCA Nashville)

Grade: B

“Baggage Claim,” the first single from Miranda Lambert’s fourth album, finds the 27-year-old Texas native at her feisty best, delivering a kiss-off to her cheating man with a tart vocal that’s as tough as the music accompanying it.

That spitfire side of Lambert shows up elsewhere on “Four the Record,” her fourth solo album, sometimes to good effect (”Same Old You,” another kiss-off) and sometimes not (the femme-fatale clich s of “Fastest Girl in Town”). It’s a style that flirts with redneck cartoonishness, but Lambert always has been careful not to let it totally define her, and she does it again here.

Not that everything hits the mark: “Fine Tune” trades on automotive double entendres that are as tired as the song’s tempo, and “Safe” sounds like generic rock. But “Dear Diamond” and “Nobody’s Fool” show Lambert can be as vulnerable as she is combative; “Better in the Long Run,” her duet with her husband, fellow country star Blake Shelton, is a rarity — a decent power ballad; and “Easy Living” is a tangy slice of country blues whose spare, acoustic-based arrangement recalls those on Lambert’s excellent side project from earlier this year, the Pistol Annies.

—Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Album: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Soundtrack”

Grade: B+

Though the saga has had four different directors interpret how the stories should look, there has been only one music supervisor to determine how the movies should sound — Alexandra Patsavas.

As influential as the soundtracks of John Hughes movies were over teenage musical tastes in the ’80s, the “Twilight” sound, as meticulously chosen by Patsavas, practically has created its own genre in the 21st century.

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Soundtrack” (Chop Shop/Atlantic) adds to that reputation, even bending already established artists to its power. The first single, Bruno Mars’ stately “It Will Rain,” sounds less like Mr. “Grenade” and more like a soul-infused Death Cab for Cutie. The “Wedding Version” of Iron & Wine’s “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” adds a bit more heft to its considerable beauty.

That’s the hallmark of a “Twilight” song, a strong inner core surrounded by ethereal production. It means the charming brother-sister duo the Belle Brigade get tougher than usual on the bluesy “I Didn’t Mean It,” and it means Noisettes turn their “Sister Rosetta” into something more lighthearted.

If the “Breaking Dawn” soundtrack gets to use its hit-making powers for good, it will turn Belle Brigade and the chipper Welsh band the Joy Formidable into Paramore-like household names and drop indie rockers the Features and soulful Theophilus London onto more “Twilight” fans’ radar. Those discoveries should tide them over until the next “Twilight” installment arrives.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Joe Nichols

Album: “It’s All Good” (Show Dog-Universal)

Grade: B

Joe Nichols always has shown two aspects of his persona: There’s the guy who ranks among the best traditional country singers of his generation, and the one who sings humorous ditties and sentimental family fare aimed at getting radio play.

Both sides rise up on Nichols’ sixth studio album, “It’s All Good.” The album is aptly named, as the 10-song collection features some of the best hard-core country music heard this year and a few lighthearted tunes that manage to be witty without being corny.

On the traditional side, the title cut is a sweetly swinging fiddle-and-steel tune that proves once again that Nichols is as good as George Strait at blending tone and rhythm to perfectly deliver a timeless country song.

On the contemporary side, Nichols brings a wink to the macho swagger of upbeat, guitar-and-drum cuts like the lusty “The More I Look” and the recent hit “Take It Off,” which suggests letting go of worries by bringing the convertible top down, putting the boat in the water and losing some clothes as the day goes on. Even better, his deep, easy vocal style ideally fits a modern love song like “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO

Album: “Weather” (Naive)

Grade: B

The mercurial singer/songwriter/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello has moved from pop to jazz to funk with abandon; her albums have been unpredictable, and she long ago ceased attempting to repeat the top-40 success she had back in 1993 dueting with John Mellencamp on a cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.” “Weather,” her ninth album, is another twist: It’s understated and soulful, a quiet storm of moodiness and atmosphere.

Credit in part goes to producer Joe Henry, who has a knack for dusky soul and creeping tension (heard also on his own excellent new record, “Reverie”). Credit also to the focus on her gentle singing, often in her upper register, that gives Weather a brooding intimacy, whether on covers from Leonard Cohen or the ’70s Stax band the Soul Children or on songs she’s co-written (including one, surprisingly, with industrial rocker Chris Connelly).

—Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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