Music reviews for Aug. 1, 2013

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Robin Thicke

‘Blurred Lines’

Robin Thicke is having quite a moment.

After spending most of his decade-long recording career as one of R&B’s journeymen—a sensuous crooner with the occasional crossover hit—Thicke has exploded into pop’s consciousness with “Blurred Lines.” It’s the undeniable song of the summer and might turn out to be the single of the year. The Marvin Gaye-inflected, sex-filled dance groove (and its naughty video counterpart) has become a cultural flashpoint, sparking parodies, commentaries, endless radio replays and an unknown number of hookups.

It’s a triumph for Thicke, to be sure—but the tricky part of having success is sustaining it. It’s not something Thicke has managed that well through the years, particularly after scoring with 2007’s smoldering “Lost Without U.” Will “Blurred Lines” end up being a transcendent, but very singular moment for the 36-year-old singer?

If it does, it won’t be because of his music. Thicke has always created cohesive albums that are remarkably underrated; with his sixth album being released as its title track continues on its path to world domination, Thicke finally might get the audience his songs deserve.

With 11 tracks, “Blurred Lines” is tightly woven but still manages to bring different flavors, from electronic dance music to R&B anthems to between-the-sheets grooves. Thicke wrote or co-wrote every track, and while he enlists Pharrell for “Blurred Lines” and has names such as Dr. Luke and will.i.am as contributors, he remains the star.

Thicke charms throughout, whether he’s using a sexy falsetto, smooth tenor or even a few raps, which he does fairly well on the retro-sounding “Top of the World.” He even succeeds when his lyrics fail, like some cringe-worthy attempted come-ons on the disco-ball whirring electrobeat tune “Give It 2 U.” Kendrick Lamar does a much better job with his verses, thankfully.

Thicke usually does romance right, though, and it’s where he shines on the album’s best track, “4 the Rest of My Life,” a gorgeous ode to the lady in his life that seems tailor-made for countless wedding first-dances (and honeymoon playlists).

The song encapsulates everything that makes Thicke’s music so alluring: sexy, perfect-pitch vocals, enticing lyrical foreplay and the music that delivers. With “Blurred Lines,” Thicke’s path to music’s top spot should be clear from now on.

—Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Associated Press

Marc Anthony


Marc Anthony has remained his own man.

He married Jennifer Lopez and never got a stupid hybrid title (no J-Arc or Ma-Lo). He sang “God Bless America” at baseball’s All-Star Game and got Twitter grief for it (“How dare immigrants sing our song?”). But he brushed it off, went on TV, and reminded audiences he was of Puerto Rican descent and born in New York. As a singer, he’s rarely succumbed to slick, gringo pop.

But salsa is where Anthony lives, where he made his bones and where his pointedly expressive voice settles most handsomely. It is thrilling, then, that “3.0” is his first original tropical recording in eons. (He covered salsa sensation Héctor Lavoe for his 2007 film “El Cantante.”)

Make no mistake: There is lush pop in ballads such as “Espera.” For all the beauty of his voice and the rocky romanticism conveyed throughout “3.0,” there is swagger. “Hipocresía” is as gutsy as it is graceful. The guaguanco grooves of “Flor Pálida” open wide for Anthony’s warning—that an untended flower is a dead one. Impresionante.

—A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Glen Campbell

‘See You There’

At 77 and stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, Glen Campbell looks back at a lifetime of work on “See You There.”

He revisits classics such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” with a contemplative, late-night feel, stripping down to small-combo arrangements based on brushed rhythms, gently sustained organ notes and twangy, single-note, electric guitar.

The vocals mostly were recorded a few years ago, around the time Campbell recorded “Ghost on the Canvas,” released in 2011. His voice is pure, strong and as soulful as ever, with only sporadic moments where his tone wavers. “Gentle on My Mind,” for example, finds Campbell’s voice sounding damp and slurred in places.

Overall, though, this is a testament that Campbell has remained a potent interpreter of good songs. Proof comes not only in how he hits the notes of a classic such as “Hey Little One,” but in the emotional layers he brings to songs written in recent years. In “What I Wouldn’t Give” and “There’s No Me Without You” he acknowledges the melancholy of aging while assuring loved ones there is something better beyond this life for all of them.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

Robert Randolph & The Family Band

‘Lickety Split’

“Turn it up to 10 and get loud in here,” Robert Randolph sings early in “Amped Up,” the opening track on “Lickety Split,” his first studio album with his Family Band in three years and his debut for Blue Note Records. It’s a declaration of purpose: “Lickety Split” is an amped-up party album that rarely pauses for breath.

Randolph is a peerless pedal steel player, and his roots in the sacred steel church tradition surface in “Born Again,” a secular love song that crosses classic gospel lyrics with Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.” Throughout the album, Randolph’s leads dazzle, but the songs themselves are secondary, and he’s much more forceful and personable as a guitarist than as a singer, which is less of a distraction heard live than from the studio.

This is an album built for the jam-band circuit, foregrounding rousing blues and funk grooves, from a perky cover of the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” to the note-bending guitar jam “Brand New Wayo,” a track with Carlos Santana.

—Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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