Music reviews for April 24, 2014

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Gazette wire services
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ray Price, “Beauty Is…”

The late Ray Price titled his final studio recording “Beauty Is…” after an opening duet with Vince Gill that draws on the axiom about the eye of the beholder.

Music is similarly subjective, but it would be hard to imagine anyone not recognizing the sublime beauty of Price’s singing: He owned one of the richest voices and most emotionally expressive styles in country music history.

Price died in December, and when he entered the studio earlier in 2013 with producer Fred Foster, he realized “Beauty Is…” quite likely would be his last. At age 87, he had spent a couple of years battling cancer and other ailments. Live, and on record, Price’s voice had remained a remarkable instrument, yet there are moments on the album where age, for the first time, appears to limit his breath and range.

But Foster arranges these love songs to capitalize on the tonal quality of Price’s voice. Set to string orchestrations accented by country instrumentation, Price sounds like a wise sage with a big heart and a gentle soul on touching songs such as Willie Nelson’s “It Always Will Be,” a romantic duet with Martina McBride on the standard “An Affair To Remember” and a second duet with Gill on the lovely “Until Then.”

Graceful to the end, Price takes a final bow with an elegant collection that nicely caps a great musical legacy.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

Kelis, “Food”

Hungry for good music? Order Kelis’ new album, “Food.”

The R&B-pop-dance-soul singer, who had a breakthrough with the 2003 adventurous hit “Milkshake,” returns with an album full of soulful horns, lush strings and thumping piano keys that feel grand. A huge departure from 2010’s electronic dance album, “Flesh Tone,” Kelis’ latest release shows she’s just as versatile as her Neptunes-produced 1999 debut, “Kaleidoscope.”

With the success of “Milkshake,” it’s fitting that the Le Cordon Bleu-certified chef and saucier finds success with cuisine-themed tunes, as she intertwines her love for food and music. Entirely produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, “Food” is her most mature album-to-date.

Kelis masters a mix of jazz funk (“Jerk Ribs,” “Hooch”), Afrobeat (“Cobbler,” “Change”) and gospel (“Breakfast,” “Biscuits n’ Gravy”) on her sixth album. Her smoky, sultry vocals perfectly match the blues-inspired “Floyd,” where she asks her lover to bring a little more surprise and excitement to romance. “I want to be blown away, blow me away,” Kelis angelically coos.

The remake of Labi Siffre’s “Bless the Telephone” is a welcome departure from the rest of the album, with minimal acoustics and additional vocals by Sal Masekela that channel Simon & Garfunkel.

Kelis, who has launched a line of sauces called Feast, offers musical sustenance with “Food.” She continues to reinvent herself with each album, while refusing to be boxed into one music category. Wonder which genre she will conquer next?

—Stacy A. Anderson, Associated Press

Future, “Honest”

Things move fast in the music business, especially in hip-hop.

So when Future’s follow-up to the game-changing “Pluto” got pushed back four months or so from its original November placement, it raised a lot of questions. The album “Honest” answers some, but it also raises others.

What happened to the first single “Real and True,” which featured Miley Cyrus on vocals? It’s not here. Where is the anticipated “Rockstar” featuring Nicki Minaj? Also missing, reportedly because of sample-clearing issues.

The bigger question, though, is what is Future’s future?

With “Pluto,” he brought back the use of AutoTune in hip-hop, twisting it to create a more space-age sound. He still uses it on “Honest,” but it’s not as striking because so many others have taken it up again.

Future proves to be far more adaptable on “Honest,” bending his flow and his style to his collaborators. He sounds giddy to be playing around with Andre 3000 on “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)” on a very OutKasty track. He sounds ready to join a Dirty South crew on “Move That Dope” with Pharrell, Pusha T and Casino, though he does quickly slip into the background. And the minimalism of “My Momma,” produced by Mike WiLL Made It, owes more to collaborator Wiz Khalifa.

Future holds his own with Kanye West on “I Won,” sure to be an upcoming single and a good sign of his pop-crossover potential. And it raises yet another question: Why doesn’t more of “Honest” sound like this? Like, you know, Future?

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Neon Trees, “Pop Psychology”

Neon Trees conquered the re-creation of the buzz and energy of 1980s new wave years ago, with their smash singles “Animal” and “Everybody Talks.”

But on the Provo, Utah, quartet’s third album, “Pop Psychology,” singer Tyler Glenn and friends graduate to channeling the angst of the time as well.

On the current hit “Sleeping With a Friend,” and for much of the album, there is deeper emotional subtext as well as candy-coated catchiness. Neon Trees also branch out into other retro areas, updating The Strokes in the jumpy “Text Me in the Morning” and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in the lovely “Voices in the Halls.”

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

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