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Music reviews for July 18, 2013

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July 18, 2013

Ciara

'Ciara'

When Ciara charged onto the charts with the one-two punch of "Goodies" and "1, 2 Step" in 2004, she seemed destined for R&B superstardom.

But after her follow-up "Ciara: The Evolution" cooled, Ciara sort of disappeared, eventually getting mired in public battles with her record label. All that seems silly after one listen to "Ciara," which reunites her with L.A. Reid and a posse of talented songwriters and producers all working to put CiCi back on top.

And they will succeed. "Ciara" is packed with the kind of sweet, sexy-but-not-raunchy R&B that always seems to work. It feels like the upbeat, poppy album fans have been wanting Janet Jackson to make for years.

Nicki Minaj should help Ciara land another combination of hits with their collaborations. The hard-hitting "I'm Out," where Nicki lets the insults fly and Ciara coos seductively about making this an anthem for women moving on after bad breakups, is already making an impact, while the uplifting "Livin' It Up" is destined to become a club anthem.

However, it might be the catchy "Body Party," which smartly recasts the Ghost Town DJs' classic "My Boo" as a sultry ballad, that will have the most staying power. Ciara reaches to the top of her register, breathily declaring, "Your body is my party."

As likable as all of "Ciara" is, she still takes some chances. On the smooth "Super Turnt Up," credited to Ciara "featuring Ciara," she does double duty as both the singer and the rapper, showing that her time out of the spotlight has been spent wisely.

-Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Booker T. Jones

'Sound the Alarm'

"Sound the Alarm" marks the return of Booker T. Jones to the recently revived Stax Records, where in the '60s he got his start with his band Booker T. and the MGs and where he played his Hammond B3 organ with soul greats too numerous to list.

But compared to his last two albums, 2009's excellent "Potato Hole" (with the Drive By Truckers) and 2011's even better "The Road from Memphis" (with the Roots), this one is less Stax-like and, sadly, less satisfying.

"Sound the Alarm" focuses on contemporary urban soul, and although he had a hand in writing all the songs, Jones often takes a backseat to young singers such as Mayer Hawthorne, Jay James, Anthony Hamilton, Kori Withers (Bill's daughter) and Estelle. They acquit themselves nicely, though one can't help but want Jones to play a more prominent role. The five instrumentals are the standouts, especially "Father Son Blues," with his son Ted Jones on guitar, and "Austin Blues Idea" with guitarist Gary Clark Jr. mining Steve Cropper licks.

-Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mac Miller

'Watching Movies with the Sound Off'

When Mac Miller released 2011's "Blue Slide Park," which debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart, the Pittsburgh rapper did more than just rack up points for indie-label hip-hop. He rang the big bell for white-boy party rap, the very thing the Beasties fought for, long before Miller and Asher Roth made for a stoner's delight.

Old-school in the best way, Miller's lean, unadorned sound was perfect for his mad tales of beer, babes and bongs.

Strange, then, that "Watching Movies" is a more experimental album than its predecessor. Not because someone with such success shouldn't alter his formula or fortune; rather because Miller never even hinted at anything outré, let alone ruminative, before this.

There's still much simple sonics, dumb fun and even awkward misogyny. Yet, throughout, Miller plays well with other MCs, such as Earl Sweatshirt, something that didn't happen on "Blue Slide Park." Miller rides comfortably atop oddball rhythms and crabby atmospheres provided by avant-hop producers Flying Lotus ("S.D.S.") and Diplo ("Goosebumpz"). Mainly, on tracks such as "Aquarium" and "Objects in the Mirror," Miller looks inside himself-selflessly and selfishly-rather than looking for the next party.

-A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Robert Pollard

'Honey Locust Honky Tonk'

Robert Pollard unleashes music at an alarming rate. He's indefatigable, and he expects the same untiring commitment from his fans, although even the most ardent among them must find it a challenge not to suffer from Pollard Fatigue.

Since the beginning of last year, the recently reactivated Guided By Voices, one of the classic cult bands of the last two decades, released four albums and an EP, and now comes another Pollard solo album, his third in the same period, and by some counts his 23rd solo set. "Honey Locust Honky Tonk" is yet another example of Pollard's strengths, with surprisingly few diversions into his weaknesses.

The 17 brief songs are lyrically cryptic and musically direct, with 44-second fragments ("I Have To Drink"), fitful ballads ("Circus Green Machines") and full-fledged anthems ("Flash Gordon Style") with few half-baked lo-fi diversions. It's no radical departure, but the already converted will find it another satisfying collection from indie-rock's most prolific hero.

-Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Various artists

'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County'

As you can gather from the title, the Stephen King-John Mellencamp stage musical "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" is not exactly "The Sound of Music." And the Mellencamp-penned songs on this soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett and performed by a collection of stars and cult favorites, grippingly reflect the haunting, gothic nature of the show while being able to stand on their own apart from the book.

Blues and folk, elemental and evocative, underpin the music here, from Elvis Costello's oozing charm and menace as a devil figure in "That's Me" to the slide-guitar bite of Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey's "Brotherly Love," the swamp groove of "And Your Days Are Gone" with Sheryl Crow and Phil and Dave Alvin, and the gospel-flavored fervor of Taj Mahal's "Tear This Cabin Down."

Neko Case offers a dose of attitude with "That's Who I Am," while Rosanne Cash betrays matriarchal melancholy on "You Don't Know Me" and Kris Kristofferson, with his seriously weathered voice, is a natural as the tortured patriarch on "How Many Days."

Mellencamp himself appears only at the end, to sum it all up with "Truth," and cap what proves to be a successful new career move.

-Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer



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