Radiohead, “In Rainbows”What a revelation to wake up one morning and download a new Radiohead album that had only been announced 10 days earlier. Although the actual music here could easily have gotten lost in the hubbub over the name-your-own-price scheme, it proves to be just as inspiring as the band’s new biz model. Many of the songs are sonically modest compared with such labrynthine productions as “Kid A,” but this more concise approach underscores the gripping finish to “All I Need,” the rush of Kraut-y guitar lines on “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” the falsetto-ed Northern soul of “Nude” and the excitable grooves supporting “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Bodysnatchers.” Overall, the material feels more human, more honest, more assured. “I’d be crazy not to follow / follow where you lead,” Thom Yorke sings on “Weird Fishes.” Thousands of artists are now looking at Radiohead and thinking the exact same thing.
Jimmy Eat World, “Chase This Light”Having first blazed down the teary-eyed emo trail in 1999, Jimmy Eat World keeps successfully tapping into the teenage angst-ridden pop/punk market five albums in. “Chase This Light” finds the band returning to the more accelerated power pop of 2001’s “Bleed American” rather than the darker tone heard throughout 2004’s “Futures.” With Butch Vig behind the boards, there is an extra coat of studio sheen on anthemic rockers (“Big Casino”), finger-snapping dance-y numbers (“Always Be”) and such borderline Fall Out Boy-sounding political shout-outs as “Electable (Give It Up).”
R.E.M., “R.E.M. Live”R.E.M. has been generous with greatest-hits and rarities compilations, but it hasn’t released a live album until now. “R.E.M. Live,” recorded in February 2005 in Dublin, pits classics (1986’s “Cuyahoga”) against recent tunes (“Leaving New York”) and hits all the marks (“Everybody Hurts,” “Walk Unafraid”). R.E.M. knows there is a sweet spot between Michael Stipe’s deep warble and bassist Mike Mills’ honeyed tenor backing vocals, and that pairing is deployed often during the night, with Mills taking the lead on “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.” Attention does seem to wander during some of the post-millennial songs, and the insistent clapping on the wrong beat during “Drive” is irritating, but the crowd’s love is audible and the band more than earns the affection. If “R.E.M. Live” feels at all incomplete, it’s only because one show cannot sufficiently convey three decades of music.
Stanley Clarke, “The Toys of Men”Stanley Clarke is one of the finest jazz artists of his generation, and “The Toys of Men” is the masterpiece we’d expect from this master bassist/composer. The overarching theme is the lunacy of war. The 11-minute, six-part opening title track is an instrumental articulation of Clarke’s perception of the dark side of human nature and of his hope for the future. Serious themes do not preclude swinging, however, so check “Bad Asses,” where Clarke and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. go lights-out for five minutes, and indulge yourself with Clarke’s riveting acoustic bass solos on “El Bajo Negro” and “Back in the Woods.”
Aretha Franklin, “Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul”From the opening bars of the title-track demo for “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” there’s no trouble channeling the goose bump-raising atmosphere that yielded Aretha Franklin’s groundbreaking Atlantic debut. That song is just one of the enthralling, you-are-there moments on this double-CD of ’60s- and ’70s-era demos and outtakes. The fervor and versatility of Franklin’s gospel-bred vocals and emotive piano playing still mesmerize, whether on the demo of another classic (“Dr. Feelgood”) or the outtake of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Other gems include a jazzed-up reading of the Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill,” an Aretha-fied cover of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and a church-stompin’ duet with Ray Charles on “Ain’t but the One.” Listening to this treasure trove, it’s instantly clear why no one has been able to wrest the crown away from the Queen of Soul.
Angie Stone, “The Art of Love & War”Angie Stone joins the reactivated Stax imprint with her fourth studio album “The Art of Love & War,” which is more about the former than the latter, and emphasizes gratitude above anything else. “God’s been too good to me to take things lightly,” she announces on “Take Everything,” and the songs strive to “keep it real,” even when she’s exiting a relationship or two. Stone remains impressive as a vocalist, an old-school soul with an understated delivery that’s more hushed than histrionic. Highlights: the a cappella “Go Back to Your Life,” the socially conscious “My People” and “Pop Pop,” which has a subtle, jazzy, beatnik vibe.