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Music reviews for Wednesday, July 3, 2013

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July 3, 2013

Mavis Staples

'One True Vine'

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. The band-which consists of Tweedy and his son Spencer-moves forward in an understated saunter. "I reached the point in time where I want to be real," the gospel great sings, sounding utterly at ease on "I Like the Things About Me," a song co-written decades ago by her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples. Wonderful stuff.

-Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

J. Cole

'Born Sinner'

J. Cole continues to live up to the hype he initially got from rap great Jay-Z, delivering an assortment of quality songs on his sophomore album, "Born Sinner."

Like his 2011 debut album, the 28-year-old primarily produces his new offering with some help from No I.D. and Elite. Cole shows improvement as a producer and lyricist, spitting rhymes with honesty and clarity throughout the 16 tracks, which include two entertaining skits and two interludes.

The North Carolina native raps about temptation and commitment struggles on several songs such as "Trouble," "Runaway" and "She Knows," which effectively co-stars Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors.

Cole raps about the stronghold of lust on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted "Forbidden Fruit," which samples jazz organist Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew." It could be the album's best track if Lamar had been featured on more than just the hook.

On the title track, featuring singer-producer James Fauntleroy, Cole talks about the brutal music industry and trying to be the best person possible despite his flaws. "Let Nas Down" carries a jazzy tune with Cole recalling how he fell short of pleasing idolized rapper Nas, who hated his first hit single, "Work Out," which samples part of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" and Kanye West's "The New Workout Plan." Cole is also enjoyable with Miguel on the single "Power Trip."

Overall, "Born Sinner" is a treasure: Cole paints pictures with his superb rhymes and sets the mood nicely with his solid production.

-Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press

Empire of the Sun

'Ice on the Dune'

Empire of the Sun's new album opens with the instrumental track "Lux," using drums of epic grandeur to build the anticipation for a record we have waited five years to hear.

Up next is "DNA," a surefire single and the strongest track on "Ice on the Dune." The voice of lead singer Luke Steele-who has co-written songs for Usher and Beyonce-blends nicely as he sings "be my DNA" over a brilliant beat, which results in a pounding chorus

The Australian electronic duo's sophomore album and follow-up to 2008's "Walking on a Dream" is polished. It seems like almost every song could be a summer anthem.

The lyrics are loved up, and even in the slower moments on the record, Empire of the Sun gets it right. The title track is dreamy and smooth, as Steele sings: "Let's go running away, we can always be together," and "I'll Be Around" hits you with Fleetwood Mac style.

Wherever you dance this summer, you will be dancing to this record.

-Sian Watson, Associated Press

Quinn Sullivan

'Getting There'

"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. He's fortunate to be working with a top-notch producer, writer and drummer in Tom Hambridge, who helps ensure that Sullivan's dazzling chops are used in the service of tight, solid songs. The recent middle-school graduate moves easily between authoritatively heavy blues-rock and material with a more melodic pop touch.

Sullivan's voice, understandably, still has a youthful callowness. If or when it catches up to the depth and strength of his playing, then he will have fully arrived as a bluesman.

-Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer



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