record reviews


Album: “Deconstructed” (Sub Pop)

Grade: B

Alabama-born gospel-reared rocker Lee Bains spends a time thinking about Southern identity on the excellently titled “Dereconstructed.” You might not immediately notice the soul-searching nature of songs like “The Weeds Downtown” and “The Kudzu & The Concrete,” however. That’s because Bains, a former member of the Dexateens, rocks with such bracing abandon, as he brings howling garage-punk intensity to the Southern rock lineage that runs from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Alabama Shakes. The sonic assault can be too undifferentiated from track to track, but Bains’ best intentions, in singing songs as a proud Southerner horrified by the bloodstained past of the land he loves, still comes ringing through.

-Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Brass Tacks” (Clang)

Grade: B

It was a nervy move by keyboardist and founding member Terry Adams to take the NRBQ name for his own group a few years ago. The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet had built up a loyal following and cherished legacy over more than four decades of smart and freewheeling music-making.

This new iteration manages to retain a lot of the old NRBQ flavor. Naturally it all starts with Adams: He still exudes a shaggy charm as he blends pop classicism and virtuosic musicianship with an offbeat lyrical perspective, while also taking the occasional detour into jazzy meditations (“Places Far Away”) or the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook (“Getting to Know You”). Guitarist Scott Ligon also has a sure touch for effervescent pop, as he shows right out of the box with the opener, “Waitin’ on My Sweetie Pie,” and new bassist Casey McDonough provides a bracing slab of twang-fueled country with “Fightin’ Back.”

What’s still missing is the boisterous bar-band side of the old ’Q. (For many fans, that rock-and-roll aspect was best personified by swashbuckling guitarist Big Al Anderson, who left more than 20 years ago.) But when this version gets down to “Brass Tacks,” there’s lot to like.

-Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Nobody’s Smiling” (Def Jam)

Grade: B

Common, one of hip-hop’s most socially conscious lyricists, seldom takes it easy on his chosen targets. Along with mistrust of the justice systems that bind and deny us, Common is a pragmatic (if not romantic) equal-opportunity critic in all matters. Everyone is innocent. Each is guilty. With Nobody’s Smiling, Common looks homeward - to Chicago - with laser focus and slick, honest imagery.

The album is singularly produced by longtime collaborator No I.D. It’s no little feat, in this age of multiple-producer songs (let alone albums), that “Smiling” has a unifying sonic flow - “Diamonds” sounds like “Blak Majik” sounds like “Real” - without being samey. That ambience helps focus Common’s look into the social ills that plague Chi-Town (lousy school system, black-on-black violence, drugs). “Lay it down for the world, for Chicago I stand,” muses Common on “Speak My Piece.” Alone or with the vocal aid of Cocaine 80s, Jhene Aiko and Vince Staples, Common looks at Chicago’s grim realities (“The Neighborhood”) without giving up hope (“Hustle Harder.”)

-A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Open Carefully, Message Inside” (Crossroads Music)

Grade: A

If you count compilation albums, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver have recorded more than 40 albums in the group’s 35 years.

“Open Carefully, Message Inside” is the 20th gospel album, meaning roughly half of the band’s music is bluegrass gospel.

The seven-time International Bluegrass Music Association vocal group of the year, the new album measures up to high standards.

All six members of the band sing and they all get a chance to join in on “Get On Board,” an a capella number that’s one of the highlights of the album. Lawson and Quicksilver are known for their quartet singing and “Lead Me To That Fountain” is a great example.

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