Music reviews for April 10, 2014

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Gazette wire services
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Christina Perri, “Head or Heart”

Perri has had a charmed career, with TV and movie exposure giving extraordinary boosts to her early singles “Jar of Hearts” and “A Thousand Years.”

It’s the honest, vulnerable timbre of her voice that makes Perri’s songs so cinematically suited and turns her second album into a fetching tone poem. Whether on the simple, almost Celtic plaint of “Trust,” the bouncy pop duet “Be My Forever” with Ed Sheeran or the satisfyingly anthemic “I Don’t Wanna Break,” Perri sings with stirring emotional sincerity.

—David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Luther Dickinson, “Rock ‘n Roll Blues”

Tennessee-born guitarist Luther Dickinson has a new album out, and he also is part of the all-star Southern Soul Assembly.

Son of Memphis studio legend Jim Dickinson (on recordings by such as Dylan, the Stones and Aretha), Luther earned his own studio fame with R.L. Burnside and the Replacements before kicking out the jams with the Black Crowes, the North Mississippi Allstars and his own blunt-force country-blues solo albums.

“Rock ‘n Roll Blues” is a slice of good-old-fashioned Americana soaked in spooky backwater harmonies (“Goin’ Country”) and Kentucky bluegrass openness (“Bar Band”). But, like those songs, the rest of Dickinson’s latest has its wild variations on familiar, even stark themes (as on “Vandalize”). That’s his thing.

On acoustic tracks, Dickinson sounds as if he just happened onto a lawn party and stayed to boogie, soft and sweetly (“Mojo, Mojo”), hard (the country swing of “Yard Man”) and harder (his distorted acoustics on “Some Ol’ Day”).

Most impressive is Dickinson’s storytelling: He fills this album with tall tales, silly asides and seemingly personal moments, forlorn and loving, as on the record’s finger-picked, waltzing closer, “Karmic Debt,” featuring winsome lyrics of deep romance and respect.

—A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Martina McBride, “Everlasting”

Of all contemporary country singers, Martina McBride seems the most well-suited to interpret classic soul tunes. The four-time Country Music Association female vocalist of the year has shown repeatedly that she can wail with sass and find the depth in emotionally complex material.

Still, on her new album, “Everlasting,” McBride begs comparison with such giants as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke by taking on their most potent performances and material. Working with producer Don Was, who brings an understated R&B pulse to the songs, McBride leans on vulnerability and purity of tone rather than the growling, rapturous release of the originals.

McBride presents several impressive performances, turning Little Walter’s “My Babe” into a funky, sexy love song and Fred Neil’s “Little Bit Of Rain” into a tender treatise on separation that lightens the dark tones of versions by Linda Ronstadt and Karen Dalton.

That said, these takes lack the fierceness of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” or the ecstatic joy of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” and Diana Ross on The Supremes’ “Come See About Me.”

McBride offers up pleasantly listenable versions of baby boomer standards on “Everlasting,” an album that will please her fans and spice up her concerts but won’t replace any of the originals on the mixtapes of R&B fans.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

The Baseball Project, “3RD”

If there is a limit to how many terrific songs it can mine from the national pastime, the Baseball Project hasn’t hit it yet.

This band of well-established rockers and diamond fanatics—frontmen Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills—continue to hit for a consistently high average. And while this third album is as infectiously tuneful as the first two, it also rocks harder in places.

On “3RD,” the Baseball Project revels in all kinds of stories, from “The Babe” to the tragically flawed Lenny Dykstra (“You gotta fly high to fall this far”) and down to the obscure “Larry Yount,” whose story is the album’s most poignant. The rockers also celebrate scrappy underdogs (“They Are the Oakland A’s”), the joy of reading (“Box Scores”) and the further adventures of a Pirate who infamously pitched a no-hitter on LSD (“The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads”).

As steeped as they are in the game’s history, these musicians also excel at baseball as metaphor: “Extra Inning of Love” is a seductive, Philly-style soul ballad that’s all about going well beyond first base.

—Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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