Album: “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” (Rostrum)
When Mac Miller released 2011’s “Blue Slide Park,” which debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart, the Pittsburgh rapper did more than just rack up points for indie-label hip-hop. He rang the big bell for white-boy party rap, the very thing the Beasties fought for, long before Miller and Asher Roth made for a stoner’s delight. Old-school in the best way, Miller’s lean, unadorned sound was perfect for his mad tales of beer, babes, and bongs.
Strange, then, that “Watching Movies” is a more experimental album than its predecessor. Not because someone with such success shouldn’t alter his formula; rather because Miller never even hinted at anything outre, let alone ruminative, before this. There’s still much simple sonics, dumb fun, and even awkward misogyny. Yet, throughout, Miller plays well with other MCs, something that didn’t happen on Blue Slide. Miller rides comfortably atop oddball rhythms and crabby atmospheres provided by avant-hop producers Flying Lotus and Diplo. Mainly, on tracks such as “Aquarium” and “Objects in the Mirror,” Miller looks inside himself — selflessly and selfishly — rather than for the next party.
— A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “One True Vine” (Anti-)
At 73, Mavis Staples remains a nonpareil vocalist who sounds able to blow a building down by simply exhaling. What’s nice about “One True Vine,” the second Staples solo album produced by fellow Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, is that it resists the temptation to put all that industrial-strength power to nonessential use. Instead, the 10-track set, which includes three songs by Tweedy, as well as songs by Low, Nick Lowe, and George Clinton, takes a deeply relaxed, richly comforting approach in which the singer says as much with a whisper as a shout, and the band — which consists of Tweedy and his son Spencer — moves forward in an understated saunter.
—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “Getting There” (SuperStar)
“Sitting in with B.B. King and Buddy, that stuff doesn’t happen every day,” blues guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan marvels on “Things I Won’t Forget.” Especially when you’re just 14 years old, and not only have you traded licks with those two blues titans, but also Buddy Guy has declared that “players like him come once in a lifetime.” “Getting There” is aptly titled, as Sullivan’s debut reveals a prodigious but still developing talent. The recent middle-school graduate moves easily between authoritatively heavy blues-rock and material with a more melodic pop touch.
—Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “Sound the Alarm” (Stax)
The recent reactivation of Stax Records has brought organist-producer Booker T. Jones back to the label that featured his sound on so many great recordings of the 1960s and ’70s, including those by Otis Redding and Sam & Dave as well as his own albums, fronting Booker T. & the MG’s. This album, produced chiefly by Jones and / or the Avila Brothers, has the hallmarks of those great Memphis sessions of yore — sultry organ work, a lithe rhythm section and lots of meaty horn accents — with touches that bring it comfortably into the 21st century. Jones draws several guests into the spotlight — singers Estelle, Anthony Hamilton, Mayer Hawthorne, Luke James, Jay James and instrumentalists Gary Clark Jr., Raphael Saadiq, Sheila E. and the retro rock-R&B band Vintage Trouble.
—Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times