David Bowie’s 26th album, “Reality”, and Erykah Badu’s latest project, “World Wide Underground”, among the new CDs out this week.
“Reality,” David Bowie
David Bowie’s “Reality” is an exercise in introspection, where reminiscences are draped in cloudy allusion and the reality of the moment seeming to be the denouement of his life.
It’s a change for Bowie on his 26th album to cast an eye inward when characters he’s become in performance, namely Ziggy Stardust, have created a barrier between artist and creation.
But on “The Loneliest Guy in the World” and “Never Get Old,” a pulsating, defiant song about aging, the subject is undoubtedly Bowie.
“Bring Me the Disco King,” a subtle jazzy narrative Bowie has struggled for a decade to record, reinforces the theme. In the lyrics, he begs to be allowed to disappear, blind-sided with the end.
The album is not without its edgier moments, the kind of pump-your-fist rock Bowie can bring. The title track, “Reality,” is a charged anthem of youth and unfulfilled expectations.
However, “Reality” isn’t a vehicle for commentary on contemporary times. Instead, it describes an artist nearing 60 and finding the world disappointingly clear and never what it seemed. (ISO-Columbia, $18.98)
— Ryan Lenz
“World Wide Underground,” Erykah Badu
Extended jams and verbal gymnastics make Erykah Badu’s latest album, “World Wide Underground,” feel like a live concert. Although the CD has only eight tracks, plus intro and outro, the project feels full to bursting.
The creativity of past efforts is in full force. “I Want You” finds Badu with a love that “won’t let go” despite trying solutions such as praying, fasting and drinking holy water. A repeated keyboard chord and Badu’s entreaty of “What are we going to do?” make her passion clear.
Turntable scratching and a shouted chorus turn “Woo” into a fun party anthem. The smooth “Back in the Day” is more laid-back, as Badu remembers nights cruising the streets.
“Danger” is raw and urgent, about a woman who waits in fear for her drug-dealing boyfriend, anxious for his life and hers, but unwilling to leave him. The song is one of several that reference sounds and songs from her past albums.
“World Wide Underground” lacks some of the polish and clarity of “Baduizm,” the singer’s glorious 1997 debut. But the CD is enjoyable because of its spontaneity, and tracks such as “Danger” have a pull that earlier projects lacked. (Motown, $13.98)
— Rachel Kipp
“Identity Crisis,” Shelby Lynne
Shelby Lynne’s first post-Grammy album was a bold, overproduced bid for superstardom. “Identity Crisis” sounds like what happens when the party’s over, everyone leaves and you’re left with your dreams and demons.
It will likely be ignored by much of the music industry that looked Lynne’s way after her upset Grammy win as best new artist in 2000. But it’s a truer sign of her artistry than most anything she’s done.
Written and produced by Lynne, it’s a song cycle on something most everyone can relate to - that one relationship that haunts you, infuriates you and motivates you late at night.
How intensely does Lynne feel it? “Oh, if I don’t get you back I’ll fall upon a railroad track,” she sings. “And let the steel wheels cut right through my bones.”
“Identity Crisis” is mostly acoustic guitar and Lynne’s soulful, buttery Southern voice, with a few adornments. She uses that base for musical journeys: “Evil Man” is backwoods blues, “10 Rocks” is gospel and “Lonesome” would feel comfortable on a Patsy Cline record.
It’s not easy listening, and may strike the casual listener as too quiet. But 2 a.m., alone with your thoughts, is rarely a loud time. It’s a time for ransacking your soul, and that’s what Lynne does. (Capitol, $18.98)
— David Bauder
“So Damn Happy,” Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin is not happy. If you think there’s a hint of attitude in the title of her new CD, “So Damn Happy,” just wait until you hear the lyrics.
The album opens with a cheerful guitar-and-organ arrangement and Franklin singing, “Woke up this morning to a perfect day...” By the end of the first chorus, though, “the only thing that’s missing is you.” What happened?
By the third track, “Holdin’ On,” Franklin’s defiant tone is set in stone. With drama queen Mary J. Blige on backup, Franklin counsels strength and patience in the face of life’s inevitable troubles. It gets more real on the next song, “No Matter What,” as Franklin warns off all “haters” over a head-nodding beat that could have been produced by P. Diddy.
Franklin’s vocals are powerful and convincing as ever. The down-tempo music is a pleasing blend of contemporary R&B and tracks reminiscent of Franklin’s glory days — organs and pianos swelling beneath her humongous crescendos. But you’d hope that some 30 years after “Think” and “Respect,” Franklin would have found something upbeat to sing about.
Despite the depressing subject matter, even those who haven’t been kicked around by life should find something to like on this album. To paraphrase Franklin on the poignant “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” a little bit of her sweet voice “is a whole lot better than none.” (Arista, $13.49)
— Jesse Washington
“On Your Way Home,” Patty Loveless
“On Your Way Home” features a mournful fiddle, vocal yodel and reference to honky-tonkin’ - and that’s just in the first few bars. On her 18th and latest album, Patty Loveless remains about as country as country gets these days.
“Home” makes more commercial concessions than her 2001 release, “Mountain Soul,” a captivating return to her Appalachian roots but not a big seller.
This time there are drums, an electric bass and electric guitars. Radio embraced the first single, the rocking “Lovin’ All Night,” faster than any Loveless song in a decade.
None of that means the coal miner’s daughter has crossed over to the sellout side. There’s still an earthy twang to her marvelous vocals, her band provides stellar support without showboating, and her taste in tunes - by writers such as Rodney Crowell, Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller and Matraca Berg - remains impeccable.
The set climaxes with the goose bump-inducing finale, “That Ain’t the Grandpa That I Know,” a ballad that’s sentimental, sad and funny, too. In other words, country music. (Sony, $18.98)
— Steven Wine
“Parading in the Rain,” Chalee Tennison
After two albums that won her a loyal following but disappointing airplay, Chalee Tennison has hit her stride on “Parading in the Rain.” It’s a good choice of story songs well told, melded with producer James Stroud’s intuition for tunes that are likely to please country radio.
The result is an album that’s slick while highlighting Tennison’s country roots - and her country voice. She ranges from a gritty Tanya Tucker sound in “I Am Love” to a rocking toe-tapper reminiscent of Trick Pony’s Heidi Newfield on “Lonesome Road.”
Other songs - including the three she wrote on the 11-track CD - are frequently autobiographical.
While most tell of failed relationships, “Easy Lovin’ You” is a touching ballad of making a go of teenage motherhood. Her 16-year-old daughter Tiffany, born when Tennison was 18, sings harmony for a poignant addition.
Her vocals are supported by excellent arrangements ranging from the weepy pedal steel and fiddle on “Peace” to the Hammond B3 on “Believe” for a diverse and very listenable album. (DreamWorks, $17.98)
— Tom Gardner
Bob Dylan catalog
“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blonde on Blonde,” “John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline,” “Planet Waves,” “Blood on the Tracks,” “Desire,” “Street Legal,” “Slow Train Coming,” “Infidels,” “Oh Mercy,” “Love and Theft”
From cherubic newcomer channeling Woody Guthrie to folk-rock innovator, born-again Christian and crusty old man, the 15 Bob Dylan albums remixed, remastered and released in the new SACD format capture the singer wearing all his most famous musical masks.
The key question is whether to buy the new ones and pitch the old copies, most of which were released in the 1980s when the CD boom first hit. The unequivocally answer: Yes. The benefits increase, depending on your sound system. All 15 discs can be played on either SACD or regular CD players.
Remember what it was like to hear your favorite album on CD for the first time? It’s like that. A piano bit here, a guitar strum there, a vocal intonation previously buried, all come to the front.
The improvements are particularly notable on the groundbreaking albums from the mid-1960s, which sound like a layer of dirt has been lifted without marring the original underneath.
Those with an SACD player will benefit from even more enhanced sound, as will those who have surround-sound systems. Five of the releases were mixed in 5.1 surround sound.
But for most who will plop the discs into standard CD players, the payoff is more than worth it, even without any bonus tracks. (Sony, $19.99 each)
— Scott Bauer