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Jarreau chooses to 'Accentuate the Positive' on new album

Singer-songwriter returns to his mainstream jazz roots on new album, plus other reviews
/ Source: The Associated Press

Al Jarreau moves back to mainstream Jazz with "Accentuate the Positive," Kelly Clarkson is among the artist's lending her talents to "The Princess Diaries 2" soundtrack and the much-anticipated debut album of Scissor Sisters are among this week's new releases.

“Accentuate the Positive,” Al Jarreau
After “moonlighting” for too long in the pop/R&B/smooth jazz field, Al Jarreau makes a welcome return to the rather thin ranks of top-flight male mainstream jazz singers. “Accentuate the Positive” is Jarreau’s first straight-ahead jazz recording since the late ’70s, and the acoustic small group setting creates lots of space to accentuate his masterful jazz vocal technique.

On this CD, Jarreau draws on some of the main influences that have helped shape his own vocal style. He is inspired by Jon Hendricks’ vocalese on such uptempo numbers as Eddie Harris’ funky soul-jazz hit “Cold Duck,” guaranteed to get the feet tapping. He uses his voice as an instrument a la Bobby McFerrin on the title track. And on the slower ballad numbers, such as the delicate bossa nova version of “My Foolish Heart,” his upper register singing evokes Johnny Mathis.

Verve

Jarreau benefits from Larry Williams’ jazzy arrangements which add the right instrumental colorings, whether it is Larry Goldings’ hot Hammond B3 organ accompaniment on Duke Ellington’s “I’m Beginning to See the Light” or Tollak Ollestad’s caressing harmonica on Lionel Hampton’s “Midnight Sun.” There is also a strong supporting cast of first-rate jazz players, including drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Anthony Wilson.

This CD also showcases a lesser known side of Jarreau’s talent — as a lyricist. He wrote the lyrics to five of the 11 tracks, including “Betty Bebop’s Song,” a tender tribute to the late jazz singer Betty Carter, and Don Grolnick’s meditative “Lotus.”

There are a lot of positives to accentuate about this CD. As good as Jarreau gets in scatting his way through Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop burner “Groovin’ High,” into which he unexpectedly drops some lines from the American songbook standard “Whispering,” it’s his sensual romantic renditions of such ballads as “The Nearness of You,” “Midnight Sun” and “Waltz for Debby” that really make this session memorable.— Charles J. Gans

“The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,”
Various Artists
God save the soundtrack to “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” the follow-up to Disney’s sleeper swan hit about an awkward teen (Anne Hathaway) transformed into a princess thanks to a wise and regal figurehead (Julie Andrews).

The only engaging tracks worthy of the king’s ear come from teen acting queen Lindsay Lohan and “American Idol” matriarch Kelly Clarkson. Save a few original songs, most of the material on “Princess Diaries 2” has been heard elsewhere.

Disney

The first track, “Breakaway,” is an elegant display of Clarkson’s vocal range, complete with a catchy chorus. It was co-written by Avril Lavigne, who also provides her “I Always Get What I Want” for the soundtrack, previously only a bonus track on the import of her latest album.

Lohan’s “I Decide” starts with a simple guitar riff that sounds similar to Natalie Imbruglia’s 1990s hit “Torn” but transforms into a rocking declaration of independence. According to the lyrics, little miss Lohan decides how she lives, who she loves and where she goes. But her vocal chords don’t go near Clarkson’s crowning heights.

The second half of the CD descends into Kids Incorporated territory, marrying cliched lyrics with uninteresting beats. Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano’s “Let’s Bounce” is particularly dreadful. “Everybody’s ready to play,” she cheers on the track. “Let’s bounce.”

Let’s not and say we did, Christy.

Although most of soundtrack features girl power, three men chivalrously provide tunes. Jesse McCartney croons about believing in yourself, Jonny Blu moans about having faith in miracles and Smashmouth’s Steve Harwell chirps about having fun in the sun.

The hallmark of “Princess Diaries 2” is a charming duet titled “Your Crowning Glory” with another Disney star, Raven, and Julie Andrews royally rapping about prince love.

But despite a few jewels, “Princess Diaries 2” isn’t fit for a queen unless she’s a die-hard Clarkson, Lohan or Andrews fan.— Derrik J. Lang

“Carencro,” Marc Broussard
Southern singer-songwriter Marc Broussard sings with a heavy heart and a volume of life experiences beyond his twenty-something years on his debut disc, “Carencro.”

It’s immediately apparent on the opening track, “Home,” that Broussard has much to tell, and the depth and soulful sincerity to convey it. In fact, Broussard’s vocal chops are so gut-wrenching one might think that the wrong CD mistakenly found its way into the case, for Broussard sounds more like a wailing Mississippi blues singer than Nick Carter’s beefed up cousin, whom he favors on the cover of his album.

On the upbeat, keyboard-heavy, ’70s-inflected track “Rocksteady,” Broussard’s vocal stylings recall Stevie Wonder. Yet, while Broussard reminds one of Wonder, Charles and even Donny Hathaway, Broussard sings with a presence and personality all his own, most notably when he turns the lights down low on the laid-back ballad, “The Beauty Of Who You Are” and the piano-centric barroom confessional, “Lonely Night in Georgia.”— Kerry Smith

“Scissor Sisters,” Scissor SistersGrab a feather boa. Put on a pair of sparkly sunglasses and platform shoes. Turn up the music and dance. This much-anticipated, self-titled debut from the New York coed quintet Scissor Sisters requires it.

Universal

The Sisters manage a complete throwback to 1970s glam pop without sounding tired. They channel Elton John at his most flamboyant (“Take Your Mama”) a Ziggy Stardust-esqe David Bowie (“Lovers in the Backseat”) and the Bee Gees.

The disc’s first single, “Take Your Mama,” begs to be played over and over again with its catchy, “did-I-hear-him-right?” chorus: “Do it. Take your momma out all night. ... We’ll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne. And we’ll show her what it’s all about.”

But the most daring track is “Uncomfortably Numb.” Yes, a Pink Floyd cover. Purists will be shocked at the nearly unrecognizable classic techno-pop track, complete with “Space Invaders” sound effects and Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” feel. It must be heard to be believed.

The only down side is when the Sisters slow it down. The sleepy ballad “Mary” is just plain boring.— Kim Curtis

“Drivetrain,” 38 Special
38 Special began its career as a North Florida southern boogie band but eventually became a staple on formative-era MTV. Their mainstream success was no accident. For a bunch of “wild-eyed Southern boys,” hits like 1989’s “Second Chance” were smooth as silk and radio-ready. Similarly, 38 Special’s latest recording, “Drivetrain,” combines blue-collar guitar crunch with middle of the road accessibility.

Singers Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant and bassist L.J. Junstrom are the only members remaining from 38 Special’s early ’80s lineup. Of the two singers, Barnes has the more technically skilled voice. “The Play” showcases his glossy vibrato and arena-filling vocal range. On the other hand, Van Zant (who’s the brother of late Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant) gives the record it’s street-cred. His churlish snarl on the love-is-a-drug song “Quick Fix,” for example, is textbook southern rock.

Of course, “Drivetrain’s” themes of good women gone bad, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and global harmony through music are pretty worn out. But that’ll hardly matter to 38 Special fans who will be happy to know that Van Zant and company haven’t lost their whiskey-steeped authenticity or their hooky appeal.— Paul Griffith