Album: “O.N.I.F.C.” (Atlantic)
There’s much to love about Wiz Khalifa. His stoner soliloquies are works of art, to say nothing of his cocky, loping flow. Yet for all his communal weed-screeds, there’s something lazily exclusionary about “Only N — In First Class” (“O.N.I.F.C.,” for short.) Set against a groggily hypnotic wall of sound, his raps seem half-baked, his clever wordplay on vacation.
Money and all it buys is hip-hop’s princely province. Here, it’s tedious currency. The sentiment of “Work Hard Play Hard” is solid, but its lyrics (“I got so much money/I should start a bank”) are dull. “The Plan” is so lyrically inert, it almost moves backwards. And Wiz, don’t call a song “Fall Asleep” unless you’re waking us up.
Problems aside, “O.N.I.F.C.’s” winning moments are so stunning they nearly override its sloth. Wiz’s duet with the Weeknd, “Remember You,” is moody, subtle, and teasingly romantic. “It’s Nothin’” (with 2Chainz) is vibrantly violent.
Cash and weed made Wiz apathetic, but those songs prove that artful aggression makes good bank.
—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
MIGHTY SAM MCCLAIN
Album: “Too Much Jesus [Not Enough Whiskey]” (Mighty Music)
“Too much Jesus, not enough whiskey” is not the kind of sentiment you expect to hear from a classic, gospel-rooted soul man. And that’s what Mighty Sam McClain is. The song, however, really seems to be a nuanced cautionary tale that takes a different view — “Jesus is the only way,” Mighty Sam declares.
That same mix of gritty, preacherly fervor and unvarnished funk also infuses other numbers, notably the calls for justice and peace in “Can You Feel It?” and “Stand Up!” But the 69-year-old McClain, who co-wrote all 14 songs, also can play the silky-smooth love man with seductive charm. Even here, though, he can find reason to invoke the divine: “I believe God planned it this way,” he purrs on the strings-kissed “So Into You.” “He put us together.”
— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE
Album: “Buddy and Jim” (New West)
Based on their respective bodies of work, you’d have to think this was a dream pairing even before you heard a note. And that’s indeed what it turns out to be.
Buddy Miller is an in- demand guitarist and producer who’s perhaps best known for his work with Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant and others, while Jim Lauderdale is an exceedingly prolific songwriter who excels at country and bluegrass. They begin in a country and folk vein, with Lauderdale taking the lead on their own “I Lost My Job of Loving You” and a recharged version of the traditional “The Train That Took My Gal From Town.” But they don’t stay there. Miller steps up on the sublime, soul-tinged ballad “That’s Not Even Why I Love You,” co-written by the duo and Miller’s wife, Julie, and Lauderdale charges through the rock-fueled atmospherics of “Vampire Girl” before the set concludes with a couple of R&B chestnuts.
Nothing underscores the duo’s compatibility quite like their vocal harmonies, which are showcased throughout the album but perhaps to no better effect than on the penultimate number, a strutting take on Joe Tex’s “I Want to Do Everything for You.”
— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “The Very Best of Vince Guaraldi” (Concord)
In the modern history of jazz, it’s rare for a player to enter the national consciousness. The late Bay Area pianist Vince Guaraldi succeeded where few have gone, embedding his music into Christmas via the Charlie Brown TV specials.
Guaraldi, who often described himself as a reformed boogie-woogie player, was far from a technical wizard. But he knew the way into wistfulness, and he achieved the highest level of jazz, which is to compose memorable songs and be a recognizable soloist.
The joy of these 14 sides is that they release him from the elevator and capture him in more unbridled, improvised moments. The Christmas chestnuts are included, like the famed “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time is Here.” But Guaraldi is working the bandstand here, stretching tunes from the film “Black Orpheus” and veering wildly from Latin to a rockish New Orleans thing on “Treat.” The recording is tinny at times, but there’s no doubting the heart.
— Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer
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