‘BLACK PANTHER THE ALBUM’
Artists: Various, curated by Kendrick Lamar
Grade: 3 stars (out of 4)
At times, the Kendrick Lamar-curated “Black Panther” album feels like a stand-alone set, only loosely related to the Marvel film for which it’s named. But the album is a solid, entertaining listen that, in places, has its power.
There’s the opener and title track, in which Lamar seems to be speaking for himself, the Compton native, while also channeling T’Challa, the Marvel character who reigns over the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and protects it in his secret role as superhero Black Panther. “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland/King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we living again.” Lamar raps, establishing the connection between himself and the film, and perhaps making Lamar fans feel a little closer to the powerful figures they’re set to see in theaters.
Lamar is reflective, too, rapping about struggles on and off-screen, the natural tragedies and the man-made, on the poignant “Pray for Me,” featuring The Weeknd. “Who need a hero?/ You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero,” Lamar rhymes.
But neither Lamar, nor his lyrics, are what make “Black Panther The Album” remarkable. Instead, it’s all the layering – of artists, styles, sounds – and even language, like on the somber “Seasons,” which opens with a verse from South African rapper Sjava, whose bars need no translation to be felt.
Things get super impressive with “Bloody Waters,” featuring Ab-Soul, in which Lamar has somehow married together the “Yes, Lawd!” high energy of Anderson .Paak with the melancholy depth of English singer James Blake.
For some, “Black Panther The Album” will stand as just another star-stacked compilation piece instead of a masterful album matching the intensity of the highly anticipated film. Certainly, the argument could be made. But for the ones who are excited about the film – its diversity, symbolism and vision – they’ll find what they’re looking for.
—Melanie Sims, Associated Press
I’m With Her
Album: “See You Around”
Grade: 3 stars (out of 4)
Feels like fate must have brought together three already successful alt-folk musicians whose angel voices blend as seamlessly as their strings. The lovely sounds of I’m With Her – the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan and Sara Watkins – are on splendid display in the group’s first full-length album, “See You Around.”
The product of a marathon songwriting session in a Vermont barn and recorded mostly live, the album has a warm, intimate feel even when the undertones are melancholy.
On 12 tunes, the trio swaps lead vocals and guitar instrumentals in tales of love won, lost and in between. Jarosz’s soulful mandolin, a stellar fiddle from Watkins (Nickel Creek) and subtle synth and piano from O’Donovan (Crooked Still) add layered texture.
Jarosz opens the title track in her clear, earthy soprano, a beautiful breakup song with lilting, lush harmonies that make this the one to put on rewind.
Another standout is Gillian Welch’s “Hundred Miles,” a hardship road tale that has Watkins starting off starkly a cappella, her bandmates and instruments joining in at a typically languid Welch pace.
That pacing continues on “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree),” a more upbeat story of summertime pleasures punctuated by O’Donovan’s breathy rasp-tinged voice.
The bluegrass-y instrumental “Waitsfield” opens with a jaunty fiddle and raises a question: Might the title refer to the bucolic Vermont village of the same name? Maybe it was even where the ladies ventured to replenish their supply of Heady Topper beer – the only time, the liner notes say – that they left their songwriting seclusion.
—Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press