BRIAN ENO AND KARL HYDE
Album: “High Life” (Warp Records)
In the same way that there’s no such thing as a terrible Pablo Picasso painting, it’s hard to imagine Brian Eno releasing a record worthy of dismissal, let alone contempt.
Some of his 50-odd solo and collaborative albums may be more difficult than others. A few may require you abide by the composer’s request that listeners experience them as background music. Still others, like “High Life,” his new collaboration with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, succeed through monumental propulsion, more concerned with textures than with the gymnastic hooks of his early rock classics “Here Come the Warm Jets” and “Taking Tiger Mountain ... By Strategy.”
The team weaves electronic tones, human voice and hypnotic rhythms to create a beefy work designed for maximum volume - one that pauses at the end to conclude with the open-air bliss of “Cells & Bells.”
“High Life” takes its name in part from a style of western African pop featuring shimmering guitar lines and danceable rhythms, a philosophy that drives big chunks of the record’s six songs. But from the first ringing guitar riff of “Return,” the Eno-Hyde filter channels myriad influences, including the classical minimalism of Steve Reich and the techno minimalism of electronic dance music.
The best track, and an essential Eno work in the larger scheme, is “Lilac.” Describing a lilac door “made of something like light, but not,” the piece is nine-plus mesmerizing minutes that roll along the same speedy groove, a meditation that seems to fly by in seconds.
—Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Old Crow Medicine Show
Album: “Remedy” (ATO)
“We’re talking happiness here,” banjo wiz Critter Fuqua says as an aside a few minutes into “Remedy,” which neatly sums up the latest album from Old Crow Medicine Show. Lickety-split tempos and kitchen-sink arrangements make for a set that’s foot-stomping, thigh-slapping and grin-inducing.
The string band’s wide range of influences ensures plenty of variety. “Brave Boys” recalls the Pogues, “Doc’s Day” is hillbilly blues, and a composing collaboration with Bob Dylan results in “Sweet Amarillo,” which would fit on “The Basement Tapes.”
All are terrific, as are songs about a fallen vet, hating on haters and a certain creek one goes up without a paddle. The hilarious “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” is a celebration of liberation, while “The Warden” offers a darker perspective on prison in lovely five-part harmony.
Five-part is nothing — all seven band members sing on a couple of tunes, and the result is a glorious chorus. In fact, from start to finish “Remedy” creates a mighty roar.
—Steven Wine, Associated Press
Album: “Paula” (Interscope)
It’s easy to fall in line with the crowd that believes Robin Thicke’s attempt to win back his wife by calling his new album “Paula” is desperate and ridiculous.
In some ways it is.
But if we’re judging strictly on the music — and not on the over-the-top, awkward and somewhat creepy public pleas by Thicke everywhere from the BET Awards to the Billboard Music Awards — Paula Patton might want to reconsider.
The 14-track “Paula,” where Thicke spills his feelings, confesses his sins and insists he’s a changed man, is a return to Thicke’s R&B roots. It is also a reminder that he was a talented, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter pre-“Blurred Lines” hysteria.
The sexy number “You’re My Fantasy” helps the album start on the right foot, and the piano mixed with Thicke’s aching voice on “Still Madly Crazy” is impeccable. “Lock the Door” is dramatic and theatrical, while the horn-heavy “Love Can Grow Back” is a winner.
Thicke ditched the glossy electro beats and catchy hooks on last year’s “Blurred Lines” for a more stripped-down, acoustic and simple sound on “Paula” — a much better fit for the 37-year-old crooner.
“Blurred Lines” made Thicke an international star and helped him tap into a younger audience that constantly streams music, buys digital tracks and can determine today and tomorrow’s next pop star. But the song has also been a bit of a curse: It has pigeon-holed Thicke, propelled him to one-hit-wonder status (despite having success in the past) and alienated the singer from the R&B fans who help him reach platinum status. And the tracks on “Paula” don’t sound like songs that will play on Top 40 radio per se.
“Get Her Back,” the smooth lead single, has yet to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, but the song is still a winner: Even if he doesn’t get Paula back, his old fans will return.
—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press
Album: “Thanks For Listening” (Average Joe’s)
Country music’s pre-eminent singer/rapper Colt Ford is out with his fifth studio album, “Thanks For Listening,” a release thick with featured vocals from other artists and a keen ear toward the caricature of the country lifestyle.
This is mostly good old boy territory, with an occasional hip-hop backing beat thrown in for good measure. “The High Life,” featuring Chase Rice alongside Ford, says as much. There’s football-watching, hard-drinking and late-night living to be had, and Ford’s having it all at high speed.
“Cut Em All” also delivers a mean country swagger, replete with four-wheeling and hunting. It even has featured vocals from Willie Robertson of the hit TV series “Duck Dynasty.” It begins with a duck call and continues with a rapped laundry list of things that, for better or worse, define the American South. There’s not much storytelling to it, but perhaps Ford fans don’t require as much.
Ford’s lyrics aren’t always the meatiest, but his approach is not to dwell too deeply on the human condition. He’s here to have fun and let us all know how he had it.
Mission accomplished, Colt Ford.
—Ron Harris, Associated Press