record reviews


Album: “Music from Another Dimension!” (Columbia Records)

Grade: C

In the decade since Aerosmith last released an album of new material, the band survived a near-breakup after 40 years as classic rock’s preening and persevering hitmakers, while Steven Tyler became an “American Idol” judge and did Burger King commercials. Said a collective nation: “Sure, why not.”

Now comes “Music from Another Dimension!” — the first Aerosmith output since 2001’s “Just Push Play,” which was forgettable even by the band’s own standard of wringing a handful of singles from each album. “Music” likely won’t fare better on the radio — and even if it does, that’s not necessarily a compliment. But Aerosmith can be mostly proud of this trip down many memory lanes.

There’s a head-bopping rudeness to the dirty riff that kicks off the opener, “LUV XXX,” and “Street Jesus” starts with a strutting Joe Perry lick that harkens back to the band’s creative heyday. That much is explainable: Back for this pseudo-comeback is producer Jack Douglas, who was behind 1970s monsters like “Toys in the Attic” that propelled the band to superstardom.

It’s too bad Aerosmith didn’t stick to rehashing that era. Because borrowing from its overwrought pop ballads of recent years does “Music” no favors, particularly Tyler’s bland country duet with Carrie Underwood on “Can’t Stop Loving You.”

The new album is really just tunes from different Aerosmith eras. The trick is navigating the album to the right ones.

—Paul J. Weber, Associated Press


Album: “R.E.D.” (Motown)

Grade: C

Ne-Yo has said that the follow- up to his coolly received 2010 concept album “Libra Scale” represents a kind of creative retrenchment — an effort “to just get back to the basics,” as the R&B star recently told Vibe Vixen magazine. You get some of that from the first two songs on “R.E.D.,” both of which Ne-Yo co-wrote with Shea Taylor, who also produced. “Cracks in Mr. Perfect” and “Lazy Love” share an up-close intimacy with tunes Taylor has made with Beyonce and Frank Ocean, and the album’s third cut, “Let Me Love You (Until You Love Yourself),” seems designed to remind us of simpler times by recycling a portion of its title from the 2004 Mario hit that was one of Ne-Yo’s first big songwriting successes.

After that, though, “R.E.D.” doesn’t really stick to the idea of less is more. In “Don’t Make ’Em Like You” the singer teams with Wiz Khalifa for a relatively bumptious hip-hop track, while “Forever Now” and “Shut Me Down” extend Ne-Yo’s flirtation with pulsating dance music. Tim McGraw even joins him for a lightly country-fried duet in “She Is,” repaying a favor Ne-Yo did McGraw on the latter’s “Emotional Traffic.” The sound narrows again in “Stress Reliever,” another lovely Taylor production built atop a minimal deep-space drum beat. But it only cleanses your palate for more flavors to come.

—Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times


Album: “Landing on a Hundred” (Vibration Vineyard)

Grade: B

You remember Cody ChesnuTT: He’s the guitar-slinging soul man who came up with the killer riffage on “The Seed,” the deathless track off his 2002 double-album debut “The Headphone Masterpiece” that appeared in altered form on the Roots’ “Phrenology” (and is still a centerpiece of the band’s live show). “Landing on a Hundred” is ChesnuTT’s first full-length album in a decade, and like his debut, it’s a self-released effort by the Atlanta native that genre-blends R&B, soul, and rock, filtered through its auteur’s gruff and sweet vocal maneuvers and his idiosyncratic sensibility. Ten years down the road on a Kickstarter-funded effort that was cut at the Memphis studios where Al Green recorded his hits, ChesnuTT doesn’t come off as forward-thinking as he once did. But the musical questions he asks on the smooth “What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next)” and “Where is All the Money Going?” are timeless.

—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Mid Air” (Essential)

Grade: A

Everything seems to move at a glacial pace in Paul Buchanan’s world. His band the Blue Nile released only four somber, majestic albums between 1984 and 2004, including 1989’s classic Hats, and “Mid Air” is the Scotsman’s first solo release. In contrast to the Blue Nile’s carefully textured, synth-based arrangements, “Mid Air” is a bare-bones affair, just piano and Buchanan’s understated baritone, with strings or distant synthesizer tones gracing a few of the sparse tracks.

These heartbroken love songs contain nearly as much silence as sound: they’re full of pauses and gently fading chords. They share an intimacy and an after-hours sobriety with the sentimental ballads of Tom Waits: they can be maudlin, but they’re earnest. Buchanan is a master of singing slowly, every-so-slightly behind the beat, and “Mid Air” is captivating and commanding in its quietude.

—Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “18 Months” (Columbia/ Roc Nation)

Grade: B

Ne-Yo lends his honeyed croon to “Let’s Go” and manly Brit MC Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah rap with musky aplomb, but where “18 Months,” U.K. producer and composer Calvin Harris’ new album, is concerned, it’s pretty much ladies night.

Harris has a way with the provocative female voice, bathing it in sparkling electro-house rhythms and a consistently shimmering ambience that lights each souped-up arrangement from within. There’s a luster to his shining synth-pop, to his eerily sincere and catchy melodies, that works best with the female voice. It could be the feline purr of Rihanna, whose “We Found Love” gets the right jolt of theatrical floodlight to turn the singer into a modern-day Eartha Kitt. Or the underestimated Kelis, whose stabbing vocal attack is given a strobe-light’s flicker on “Bounce.”

When Harris comes to the operatic Florence (of the Machine) Welch, on “Sweet Nothing,” he cranks the klieg lights to their brightest and removes Flo from her usual noir trappings. And soul slinger Ellie Goulding gets Harris’ full attention on “I Need Your Love.” That’s where he gives his singer the perfect glow-stick sheen and she gives him a vocal melody bolder than the sun.

—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Banks” (Matador)

Grade: B

As sulk-rock throwbacks, the band Interpol ran out of ideas so quickly that all it has taken is a solo hodgepodge to actually make their lead singer sound fresh again. Where the comparative dourness of their indie-band peers the National could be attributed to bad economic times, Banks’ “Banks” was unlikely to have a title track that lambasted Big Corporate. The dryly hilarious “I’ll Sue You” is a surprise, though — maybe the hopeless chap doesn’t just live inside his own head. And this is the poppiest album ever released by a Joy Division habitui; the jingling details of “No Mistakes” and the vaguely ragtime guitars of “Arise Awake” are musical magnetic poetry, much like the Notwist’s Neon Golden. In the song called “Young Again,” the line “jobs are disgraceful” could even be construed as political.

—Dan Weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Out of the Shadows” (Wrinkled)

Grade: A

“Out of the Shadows” is a title that aptly describes what is going on here: This is the debut album by a singer who has made a career, going back to the late ’70s, of being a backup vocalist. It may be a long time coming, but Etta Britt has certainly made the most of her chance.

The Nashville-based Britt shows the kind of versatility that has made her a singer’s singer, while still lending the album a cohesive feel. She goes toe-to-toe with Delbert McClinton as they tear through the roadhouse raveup “Leap of Faith,” but she is equally at home uptown on the more smooth and sensual R&B of “High.” Country-soul comes to the fore on a standout version of “The Chokin’ Kind,” but the set’s rootsy thrust also gives way in a couple of places to elegant piano-and-strings ballads.

Amid writing contributions by Gary Nicholson, Paul Thorn, Michael McDonald, and Harlan Howard, Britt contributes some originals — most notably the poignant and deeply personal “Quiet House” and “She’s Eighteen” — that reveal she is more than just a powerhouse interpreter.

—Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

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