LeAnn Rimes, “Family”It took personal experience for LeAnn Rimes to get to the point where she could write, record and release “Family,” the sum of an extraordinary, still young life. But just because it’s a personal album doesn’t mean it doesn’t speak to the masses. The title cut is a rocking and defiant warning that no matter what happens, her family stands together. First single “Nothin’ Better to Do” is a down-and-dirty tale of a young woman who knows how to toy with the boys. “We Ain’t Doin’ Nothing Wrong” with Marc Broussard is playful and sexy, while “Pretty Things” is a tender description of a mother-daughter relationship. Two bonus cuts, “Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore” with Bon Jovi and “When You Love Someone Like That” with Reba McEntire, are icing on an immensely satisfying collection.
Van Zant, “My Kind of Country”That veteran Southern rockers Johnny (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Donnie (.38 Special) Van Zant are releasing their second country album should surprise no one. They didn’t come to country — country came to them. One only need scan the country charts to realize how much they’ve influenced today’s country sound. But the rock legends don’t rest on their laurels with this fine second effort. The title cut, which sings the praises of camouflage and Johnny Cash, is a down-home anthem, while “These Colors Don’t Run” is a proud testament to American patriotism. “We Can’t Do It Alone” is rocking affirmation to belief in a higher power, and the single “Goes Down Easy” is a feel- good thumper in the tradition of .38 Special.
Beirut, “The Flying Club Cup” Beirut leading man Zach Condon was not shy about the concept of his recent effort. Each song is inspired by a different city in France, the packaging featuring sepia photos from a bygone era. Condon’s melodramatic, dreamboat voice evokes romance and nostalgia, punctuated with the sounds of a street horn ensemble, strings, accordion, layered vocals and all the carnival-esque charm that earned his debut set, 2006’s “Gulag Orkestar,” so much attention. It’s difficult at times, though, to pick out one song from another, and some tracks are too familiar or too heavy-eyed for a second glance. But compositions like “Cliquot,” “In the Mausoleum” and the excellent opener, “Nantes,” make an impression thanks to a strong rhythm presence, while “Forks and Knives (La Fete)” is packed with whimsy and a killer verse melody.
Los Temerarios, “Recuerdos del Alma”The duo of siblings Adolfo and Gustavo Angel is the top-selling contemporary romantic Mexican grupo, known for original ballads that blend a grupero vibe with pop-leaning arrangements. But this first studio album in three years veers into territory previously covered by the brothers on “Veintisiete,” a covers album of ranchera standards. Some purists may take issue with arrangements that are gentler than traditional ranchera. But this is the very factor that will allow first single “Sin Que lo Sepas Tu” to get onto pop and regional Mexican radio. Gustavo’s voice can rise to the occasion, even on such rowdier tracks as “Me Cai de la Nube,” while giving them a welcome interpretative twist that’s less about bravura and more about subtlety.
Vanessa Carlton, “Heroes & Thieves”Left-field thrill-seekers hoping for a hip-hop makeover on Vanessa Carlton’s debut for Irv Gotti’s The Inc. stand to be disappointed by “Heroes & Thieves.” Nowhere on her third album does the 27-year-old piano-pop princess rap, and only once, on the drum-line-assisted “Nolita Fairytale,” does a beat threaten to overshadow keys or strings. Fans of Carlton’s indelible white-chick anthem “A Thousand Miles,” on the other hand, have plenty to be excited about: “Heroes” presents another batch of appealingly wistful reflections on life and love. As “Nolita” and “Spring Street” suggest, the new album documents Carlton’s recent (mis)adventures in her adopted home of New York with ex-boyfriend (and producer) Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind. Don’t skip “The One,” on which Carlton duets with Stevie Nicks, whom she probably wouldn’t mind becoming.
Alter Bridge, “Blackbird”Alter Bridge has been determined since its inception to be its own band instead of a Creed legacy — no easy task considering that three of its members hail from the latter outfit. But “Blackbird” documents a surprising evolution. Opening track “Ties That Bind” shows that the incorporation of singer Myles Kennedy as a songwriter and guitarist has pushed Alter Bridge into more aggressive and dynamic territory. Themes of positivity remain (”Before Tomorrow Comes”), along with introspection (”Rise Today”) and healing (the somber title track). Having bought itself out of its Wind-up contract and funded “Blackbird” with its own money, Alter Bridge has invested in its future. We think it’s money well spent.