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Brooks & Dunn not true honkytonkers

New album offers trite ballads, wannabe Southern rock
/ Source: The Associated Press

Something for just about everyone this week, though not everything delivers. Brooks & Dunn's "Hillbilly Deluxe" is a disappointment. Old favorites Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, and Wynton Marsalis don't quite deliver this time around. But teenage Rihanna lights up the stereo, and Marty Stuart's new album shimmers.

Brooks & Dunn, “Hillbilly Deluxe”The press release for Brooks & Dunn’s latest recording, “Hillbilly Deluxe,” touts the pair as “four-time entertainers of the year and hardcore honky-tonk denizens.”

It’s hard to argue with the first half of that statement (there’s no accounting for taste), but the second half is asking for a fight. For starters, there’s nary a honky tonk on Brooks & Dunn’s tour schedule— denizens of arenas and amphitheaters is more like it.

Then there’s the fact that “Hillbilly Deluxe” contains not a single shuffle or waltz, two song forms that, from Bob Will’s “San Antonio Rose” to George Strait’s “You Look So Good in Love,” virtually define “honky tonk.”

Its not that every country album should swing (Faith Hill’s latest, “Fireflies,” doesn’t, and its a fine record), but you’d better count off a shuffle every now and then if you’re going to call yourself a honky tonker or a “hillbilly.” “Hillbilly Deluxe,” on the other hand, delivers nothing but trite ballads (“I May Never Get Over You”) and wannabe Southern rock (“Whiskey Do My Talking”).

Why suffer through that when there’s real honky-tonkers out there (singers Robbie Fulks and Dallas Wayne, for example) who remain true to the roadhouse tradition and perform well-crafted songs that don’t merely pander to the lowest common denominator?    —Paul V. Griffith

Eric Clapton, “Back Home”Sure legends die and stars inevitably begin to fade. If you’re Eric Clapton, though, you simply return home. So it is for the 60-year-old British bluesman’s aptly titled “Back Home,” which brings into sharp focus the reflections of a music man of four decades who has grown to value home and family above all else in the twilight of his years.

To make that point, the album’s opening track “So Tired” doesn’t chronicle the bone-deep fatigue a seemingly endless string of show nights would bring. Instead it’s an uplifting melody to accompany a parent’s lament on the daily grind of raising children. Wait a second. Babies and band practice? Has one of the most influential guitarists ever grown soft? Say it ain’t so. The truth is that even the wildest grow timid with years.

And following his reunion last summer with his bandmates from Cream, that 1960’s psychedelic British powerhouse, Clapton has reason to step back and count the blessings his guitar has brought. As much as the album is a reflection, it’s also homage to the songs that move Clapton just as those life-changing blues die.

Stevie Wonder’s “I’m Going Left” and George Harrison’s “Love Comes to Everyone” bookend Clapton’s first original material in five years, even if the recordings sound closer to elevator ditties than soulful biographical ballads. Still, the three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has earned time to ponder where his music has taken him.

The album’s title track and final number does just that. Flush with countrified blues and foot-tapping rhythms, Clapton captures with electrifying sentimentality that road weary moment when going home is more soothing than any melody. Going home and leaving the scene? Clapton has earned that right.    —Ryan Lenz

Herbie Hancock, “Possibilities”Call it the Carlos Santana effect.

On Herbie Hancock’s latest, the legendary pianist goes for a jazz-minded take on the lucrative combination of old legend and young talent. On “Possibilities,” the guests include John Mayer, Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone — as well as vets Sting, Paul Simon and, yes, Santana too.

While Santana’s 1999 “Superstition” was far from the first such duet-heavy disc, it gave the old easy-money formula new prestige after its record Grammy haul — mirrored by the late Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company.”

But Hancock’s pop-fusion has none of the energy that those collaborations did.

The 65-year-old Hancock is not new to pop crossover. After early bop playing, Hancock transferred into funk and synthesizer territory, most notably with the classic album “Head Hunters.”

To hear a once so ambitious musician cover the Bono/B.B. King blues song “When Love Comes to Town” with Joss Stone and Jonny Lang, one feels almost embarrassed. Is this a soon-to-be Gap commercial? Actually, more likely an ad for Starbucks — whose label, Hear Music, helped produce “Possibilities.”

Hancock’s playing is smooth, but usually reserved to second fiddle, as on Mayer’s “Stitched Up.” His collaboration with Sting on “Sister Moon” is overdone, but grooves more than anything else here.

At its best, “Possibilities” is a decent cabaret album — probably suitable background noise for cappuccino sipping.    —Jake Coyle

Rihanna, “Music Of The Sun”It’s not too late for a summer getaway after all. That’s because with her debut album, “Music Of The Sun,” new artist Rihanna brings us the sultry dancehall and R&B sounds of the Caribbean islands.

The 17-year-old green-eyed cutie, born in the Barbados, made a splash onto the summer scene with her dancehall smash single, “Pon De Replay.” The party-starter has Rihanna requesting the DJ to turn the music up, over absolutely infectious clap-heavy dancehall grooves. The uptempo vibes continue with the seductive R&B pop track, “Let Me.”

Here, the sweet songbird makes sure a certain boy recognizes her efforts on the dance floor. Later, Rihanna’s R&B vocals are aptly paired with the unique sounds of rapper Kardinal Offishall, who is of Toronto/Jamaican heritage. The bass-heavy sound of the song alone would make a welcome addition to any DJs play selection at a club.

Def Jam Records

Rihanna sheds an up-tempo style and demonstrates her ability to manipulate melody on, “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No). The track cleverly samples Dawn Penn’s original classic of the same name. Rihanna breaks down the mid-tempo track by methodically crooning with an assist from reggae rapper Vybz Cartel. While the serious ballad, “Willing To Wait” exhibits Rihanna’s better than average R&B vocals, the track feels forced, as opposed to the aforementioned cuts which showcase the young stars creativity and zeal. The same can be said for, “Now I Know,” an overcooked, dramatic ballad which has Rihanna reaching to deliver triumphant vocals. While the song provides balance, it buries Rihanna’s musical charm.

Fortunately, listeners already in love with “Pon De Replay” will be pleased to hear the song’s remix featuring dancehall igniter Elephant Man, close out the album.

Overall, “Music Of The Sun” is an appealing feel-good first outing from Rihanna.    —Mark Lewinwalla

Marty Stuart, “Souls’ Chapel”
To tout “Souls’ Chapel” as the best gospel record this year gives it short shrift, because Marty Stuart’s latest work ranks with the best 2005 albums in any genre.

The songs shimmer, and not just because of the tremolo guitars. Stuart’s exploration of twangy, bluesy Delta gospel has produced 12 tunes filled with faith, love and humor that will play well even beyond the Bible Belt. Call it souls music.

The material is far from staid: One tune swings, another rocks, and “Move Along Train” (with guest Mavis Staples) does the bump and grind. The well-chosen covers include two Pops Staples compositions, a Steve Cropper-William Bell song and Albert E. Brumley’s 1958 gem, “Lord, Give Me Just A Little More Time.”

Just as inspired are the original tunes. The instrumental closing title cut features surf guitar, “Way Down” benefits from a “Green Onions”-style organ vamp, and “Come Into The House of the Lord” is elevated by a classic couplet: “In my dissipation, I had a revelation.” Putting “Souls’ Chapel” over the top are the vocals, with Stuart and his band producing four-part harmonies pure as a prayer.

Stuart makes a compelling case: Jesus loves you, so crank it up.    —Steven Wine

Wynton Marsalis, “Amongst the People: Live at the House of Tribes”
Wynton Marsalis’ latest release captures the sound of people having a good time, and it’s really annoying.

On “Amongst the People,” there’s hooting and hollering, rhythmic clapping and lots of laughter. Recorded in 2002 at a cozy Manhattan theater, the sextet’s six tunes are full of marvelous riffs, but each is punctuated with whoops of approval from the audience.

In a concert medium, it’s great. In a medium designed for repeated playback, it’s going to grate.    —Steven Wine