J.J. Cale, “Roll On”Even with a Grammy Award win for “The Road to Escondido,” his 2006 collaboration with good pal Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale is still best known as the guy behind such rock staples as “After Midnight,” “Cocaine” and “Call Me the Breeze.” The Oklahoma singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist raises eyebrows from the get-go on his 16th solo outing, dipping into jazz for the gently swinging “Who Knew” and the self-effacing “Former Me.” Like their neighbors on “Roll On,” those songs follow into Cale’s trademarked understatement, the Tulsa Soul sound, if you will, with everything falling neatly into a pocket and low-pitched vocals strolling along just behind the beat. Cale does kick up a little more dust on “Oh Mary,” the sinewy “Where the Sun Don’t Shine” and “Roll On,” which features a requisite guest appearance by Clapton.
Jonas Brothers, “Music From the 3D Concert Experience”Necessarily free of the movie’s eye-popping 3-D visuals, this soundtrack to the Jonas Brothers’ new concert film makes do with another kind of spectacle: the screams and squeals of an arena full of freaked-out tweens. The 14-song track list draws about equally from the trio’s self-titled 2007 disc and last year’s “A Little Bit Longer,” with a handful of extras thrown in, including “This Is Me,” Joe Jonas’ duet with Demi Lovato from “Camp Rock”; a version of Taylor Swift’s “Should’ve Said No” featuring Swift; and a typically zippy cover of Shania Twain’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” that didn’t actually make the movie but fits in here nonetheless.
Shemekia Copeland, “Never Going Back” Shemekia Copeland is, at this point in her career, a blues artist of the first magnitude. But rather than debut with her new label by methodically working the groove that got her here, she has cut a dozen tunes that suggest she’s ready to crunch a few genres. Copeland also shows a willingness to get topical, as evidenced by the opener, “Sounds Like the Devil,” in which she takes on jive politicians and religious mercenaries. “Broken World,” a quiet tune with a soulful feel, expresses a wish to fix “a small part of this broken world.” Copeland departs bluesville in covering Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow,” slipping convincingly into Oliver Wood’s jazz-inflected arrangement. Yet another highlight is “Never Going Back to Memphis,” a shadowy tale with a low-key swamp rock vibe that suits Copeland as perfectly as any song on the album.
Chris Isaak, “Mr. Lucky”It seems impossible that it’s been seven years since Chris Isaak’s last set of all-new songs. But “Mr. Lucky” makes up for lost time with 14 gems that showcase his sharp vocal stylings, particular brand of countrified pop music and (given his sex appeal) hard-to-believe preponderance of romantic heartbreak. The Isaak who sings about the woman who done him wrong in “Cheater’s Town” sounds as pained and remorseful as the guy who sings about the woman he done wrong in “We Let Her Down.” These tracks are rich in sonic detail and lyrical nuance, riding through the classic C&W lope of “We’ve Got Tomorrow,” the rockabilly stomp of “Mr. Lonely Man,” the soaring country rock of “Best I Ever Had,” the Western swing of “Take My Heart” and the bluesy swagger of “Big Wide Wonderful World.”
Lamb of God, “Wrath”This veteran Virginia metal act has been steadily working its way out of the underground for the last decade, earning a Grammy Award nomination for a track from 2006’s “Sacrament” and opening for Metallica on the latter’s American arena tour late last year. The benefits of that increasing mainstream renown can be heard on the band’s third major-label disc in the form of a production job more elaborate than on any previous release. Cuts like “In Your Words” and “Grace” cover an impressive amount of sonic ground, from delicate acoustic atmospherics to full-on rhythmic pummeling. Yet with frontman Randy Blythe’s guttural growl — not to mention his bile-soaked lyrics about religious hypocrisy — this is hardly a bid for a commercial radio breakthrough. Resolutely uncompromising.
Jake Owen, “Easy Does It”“I don’t want to be a guy with a song on the radio that no one knows,” Jake Owen recently told Billboard. With the release of his sophomore set, he is well on his way to achieving his goal. The album is a refreshing mix of thoughtfulness and testosterone. The first single, “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” is a soulful story of loving when love is all you have. On songs like “Easy Does It,” Owen gives a nod to hero Conway Twitty. The most interesting offering is “Green Bananas,” a tale about never knowing when one’s life may end (“I don’t buy green bananas, ‘cause I don’t plan that far ahead”).
The Idan Raichel Project, “Within My Walls”Idan Raichel, the Israeli singer-songwriter who broke ground by collaborating with Ethiopian artists and seamlessly fused Western pop with Middle Eastern sounds, travels to new places with his latest international release. “Within My Walls” functions as a sort of gallery of poetic songwriting and captivating vocals from such places as Colombia (through Marta Gomez), Cape Verde (from Mayra Andrade) and Rwanda and Uganda (with Swahili vocals by Somi). Another standout is the searing Arabic track “Min Nhar Li Mshiti” by Moroccan-Israeli singer Shimon Buskila. The beauty of this album is that, rather than feeling like an earnest collection of postcards from around the world, the music is filtered through Raichel’s lush, moody, modern aesthetic.
Various artists, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro”This first complete recording of what was one of the few entries in the Rodgers & Hammerstein oeuvre to be less than wildly successful is a delightfully entertaining and academically intriguing work. The musical debuted in late 1947, and in less than a year had essentially vanished. This new recording has been carefully guided by the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, and, featuring some of the grandest voices in modern musical theater and opera, is as close to artistic and technical perfection as imaginable. Historical quibbles over precisely where and how the musical perhaps stumbled, as well as soared, seem arcane and irrelevant today. Hammerstein’s book and lyrics are touching as ever, and Rodgers’ music runs a gamut from lighthearted to majestic. Both men were in peak, impeccable command of their craft.
Vetiver, “Tight Knit”Working with collaborators like the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Jenny Lewis and Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson has certainly left its carbon footprint on the music of Andy Cabic and his band Vetiver. On its Sub Pop debut, the group aims to shed the “freak folk” misnomer once and for all with a gorgeous collection of rustic folk rock. The album fits perfectly alongside the recent work of labelmates Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes, particularly with the British folk charm of “Rolling Sea” and the pastoral beauty of “Down From Above.” Fuller and warmer than past efforts, “Tight Knit” also features more uptempo numbers like “More of This.” It’s the sound of a beautiful start to a promising new year of hope.