Foo Fighters, ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace’ On their sixth album, Foo Fighters have renewed their membership in the “if it ain’t broke” school of songwriting. And essentially, there’s nothing wrong with that. “Echoes” hosts plenty of the Foos’ usual soft-louder-loudest “radio friendly unit shifters” (to borrow a phrase from frontman Dave Grohl’s old band): Lead single “The Pretender” and “Let It Die” start with near-whispers before kicking into giddily catchy, fuzz box-driven hollered hooks, while “Erase/Replace” chugs with shouts and power chords from the top. Amid a brace of undifferentiated midtempo rockers and a couple of quieter pieces (hence “Echoes, Silence ...”), the only truly disappointing track is the treacly strings-and-piano closer, “Home.” Meanwhile, the brooding, melodic “Stranger Things Have Happened” and “Summers End” stand out for their delicious sundown grooves.
Gloria Estefan, ‘90 Millas’Gloria Estefan’s newest is an homage to her Cuban roots. But don’t expect a vintage album, nor a purist one. “90 Millas” is a collection of new tracks, which right away gives it a contemporary edge. Although its vast array of guests include Arturo Sandoval, Chocolate Armenteros, Paquito D’Rivera and the late Generoso Jimenez, it also turns to the pop sounds of Jose Feliciano and Carlos Santana, seeking to place one foot in Cuba but another most decidedly stateside. The results are far more lush and produced than your typical Cuban album, notwithstanding the slow son beat and soulful trumpet on “Te Odio” and the call and response of the single “No Llores.” Best are tracks like “Morenita,” which marry folklore with brash brass and traces of rock, truly blending two worlds.
Will.i.am, ‘Songs About Girls’Will.i.am has spent time producing Fergie, Chrisette Michele, Common and Sergio Mendes, but now it’s finally his turn on “Songs About Girls.” Showing off his own frat-boy humor, the tracks also betray his eclectic musical influences, from electronic to Brazilian. “Songs” has no stereotypical hip-hop joints, but it’s chock-full of fun pop and lounge-ready singles. “Impatient” is a jazzy house track that sounds like a lost Jamiroquai jam, while “Invisible” displays Will’s talent for melody. First single “I Got It From My Mama” comically exposes Will’s love for older women (particularly an attractive girl’s mother) atop a fun guitar lick and a repetitive chorus. “Songs About Girls” is a diverse album that’s perfect for that last beach day.
Steve Earle, ‘Washington Square Serenade’“Goodbye, ‘Guitar Town,”’ Steve Earle sings in “Tennessee Blues.” That opening track of his New West debut is an ode to New York, his new hometown. The city is also the focus of “Down Here Below,” the wittiest, most sardonic song you’ll ever hear about the impact of Wall Street wealth on New York real estate; and “City of Immigrants,” featuring New York-based Brazilian roots band Forro in the Dark. There are love songs as pretty as any Earle has ever recorded (“Sparkle and Shine” and, with wife Allison Moorer, “Days Aren’t Long Enough”), but “Serenade” is most compelling when Earle snarls in his irrefutable way at Middle East warmakers (“Jericho Road”) and rural drug pushers (“Oxycontin Blues”). On “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete),” he recommits himself to Pete Seeger’s fight-for-justice principles.
Bettye LaVette, ‘The Scene of the Crime’Bettye LaVette’s resume is a peculiar one, mostly because of the 40-year gap in the middle of it. Now 61, she smirkingly recounts her sideways trip through the record business on “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)” from this new disc, a swampier, groovier ride than its predecessor. That’s a bit of a surprise, given LaVette’s choice of hammering Southern-rock all-stars the Drive-By Truckers as her backing band. But despite her co-conspirators, LaVette proves again that she’s the star of the show. When she lets her perfectly ragged pipes tear into meaty rockers like “Take Me Like I Am,” shattered-soul ballads like “I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now” and bruised narratives like her cover of Elton John’s “Talking Old Soldiers,” the startling effects work in any decade. The comeback continues.
Ricky Skaggs and the Whites, ‘Salt of the Earth’Though Ricky Skaggs and the Whites have worked together from time to time through the years, they’ve never recorded an entire album together until now. “Salt of the Earth” was worth the wait. The collection features a mix of such classic hymns as “Farther Along” and “The Solid Rock” and newer fare like “Love Will Be Enough” and “Homesick for Heaven.” Sharon White’s lead vocal on the latter track is perfection. Skaggs sings lead on the title tune, and the Whites (Sharon, sister Cheryl and father Buck) contribute those gorgeous family harmonies to the Jim Rushing/Ronnie Scaife composition. They also revive the Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper classic “Wreck on the Highway” with Buck singing lead. The combination of great songs and heartfelt performances make this a project sure to be embraced by fans of country and Christian music.
Nellie McKay, ‘Obligatory Villagers’From its opening line, “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor” (“Mother of Pearl”), through the closing snarls and growls courtesy of the living dead (“Zombie”), Nellie McKay’s “Obligatory Villagers” is a brief (by her standards) near-32-minute rush of cheeky social commentary set to a boisterous and playful jazzy cabaret soundtrack. McKay’s biting wit shines through here as on previous efforts, as she takes jabs at everything from male chauvinism to identity theft and just plain life in general. On the strength of her self-penned arrangements, the set moves effortlessly from chilled-out lounge jazz to disco and theatrical pop.