record reviews


Bonnie Raitt

Album: “Slipstream” (Redwing Records)

Grade: B

It takes Bonnie Raitt less than a minute into her new album before she belts out these lyrics: “Now you’re mystified / Standing with the rest of us / Who used to rule the world.” It’s a fitting open to her first studio album in more than six years and a not-so-subtle declaration that before big-voiced singers like Kelly Clarkson and Pink, there was Raitt.

“Slipstream” is infused with the blues. Raitt plays her trademark slide guitar on some of the best tracks — from that opener “Used to Rule the World” to the Dylan cover “Million Miles” and another new song, “Split Decision.”

Befitting a blues album, nearly all the songs contain the word “love” and feature simple beats that have you bobbing your head and tapping your toes after just a couple listens. Quite a few of the songs were written years ago, after Raitt’s last studio album, “Souls Alike.”

The nine-time Grammy winner never overreaches with her voice and smartly lets the music breathe throughout. She sounds less interested in turning back the clock to her multiplatinum “Luck of the Draw” days than she does with sharing the wisdom she’s gathered in a career that’s lasted more than four decades.

— Rob Merrill, Associated Press

Alabama Shakes

Album: “Boys & Girls” (ATO)

Grade: A

Alabama Shakes have gotten a lot of hype over the last year, driven mostly by its live show and YouTube presence. Sweeping the United States and Europe on a mostly sold-out tour and teasing new fans with the much-played lead single “Hold On,” the quartet has a lot of advance praise to live up to with debut album “Boys & Girls.”

Thankfully, the Athens, Ala., rock band delivers. It helps that the album kicks off with “Hold On,” which features the same bluesy Southern drawl that helped make Kings of Leon a multi-platinum success. Except in this case, the powerful vocals come from Brittany Howard, the band’s frontwoman.

On “Hang Loose” the band couples the optimistic lyrics “We’re all right / We’re gonna be all right” with a riff that has a bluegrass feel. And “Goin’ to the Party” is stripped down to a simple guitar tune. Paired with Howard’s voice, it conjures up images of a party in the summer.

“Heartbreaker”’ turns the tone of the album to a soulful lament. Showing she can use her voice to convey any emotion, Howard angrily moans, “How was I supposed to know you was a heartbreaker?”

Luckily for the listener, the mood lifts once again for the album’s conclusion with the crashing percussion on “I Ain’t The Same” and the rocky guitar on “On your Way.”

— Sian Watson, Associated Press

Monica

Album: “New Life” (RCA Records)

Grade: C

After the success of her last album, 2010’s “Still Standing,” Grammy-winner Monica returns with a soulful yet less-than-impressive collection of R&B tracks.

The album’s first single, “It All Belongs To Me,” has deservedly attracted the most attention of all the songs on the album. Possibly the most-talked about musical reunion of the year, it features Monica and Brandy with another powerful duet, 14 years since their 1998 classic “The Boy Is Mine.” This one is an anthem for the ladies, all about giving the boot to a no-good man.

But there aren’t a lot of songs as electric as that one. “Daddy’s Good Girl” has a strong beat but lyrically seems out of place, with lines such as “Shopping sprees might make me smile for now but what about later?” “Big Mistake” is emotional and full of passion, but while it briefly grabs the listener’s attention, it doesn’t hold it. The same can be said for “Take A Chance” featuring Wale. Expectations are high, but a little more oomph is needed.

Among the highlights of “Still Standing” is “The Man Who Has Everything,” a risky song where Monica experiments with a reggae beat, and pulls it off.

Showing off her vocal range on “Without You,” Monica reminds us why she’s still relevant, and she takes it further on the sad and sophisticated “Until It’s Gone.” The raw pain in her voice hits home to give you goosebumps all over.

Vocally, Monica has never disappointed: Her voice is powerful and pure. But the album sounds uneven and underwhelming, perhaps due to the large number of producers, including past collaborators Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox and Missy Elliott, along with new blood like Salaam Remi and Rico Love.

— Bianca Roach, Associated Press

Trampled By Turtles

Album: “Stars and Satellites” (Thirty Tigers)

Grade: A

SDLqPalomino,” the last album from Duluth, Minn., acoustic rockers Trampled By Turtles, was the perfect distillation of punk, rock and bluegrass, a hard-core declaration of war that caused a joyously spontaneous, if gentle, mosh pit to breakout during the band’s stellar show last year in Nashville.

The band’s sixth album, “Stars and Satellites,” is a very different record, cut with a diamond drill rather than forged by hammer. Its 11 songs are written from a different set of emotions — a winter album to the summer ramble of “Palomino.” The song titles tip the band’s hand: “Midnight on the Interstate,” “Alone,” “High Water,” “Risk” and “Widower’s Heart.”

Songwriter Dave Simonett casts the mood in opener “Midnight,” a song about coming home and finding things a mess. Then comes “Alone” and its wordless chorus that invites all those lone wolves out there to join in. Two songs later Simonett matches his voice to a plaintive fiddle line on “High Water.”

“Stars and Satellites” is the kind of album you write when you reach a point when you’re thinking deeply about the mysteries of life — childbirth and family, love and loss, life and death. There are a handful of uptempo tunes, including the fiery instrumental “Risk,” but even these seem touched in some way some by sadness.

“Stars and Satellites” is more proof TBT should be mentioned in the same breath as other roots rockers such as Old Crow Medicine Show or Mumford & Sons, who are doing something very different with those old sounds they’ve found.

— Chris Talbott, Associated Press

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