This week’s albums include Pink’s latest, Ron Isley’s take on some Burt Bacharach classics, steamy soul from Dave Hollister, and an homage to Billie Holiday by James Carter.
“Try This,” Pink
Pink morphed from B-list R&B singer to multiplatinum diva with her 2001 breakthrough, “Missundaztood,” which mined her angst-filled life for gritty, pop-rock songs with plenty of attitude.
On her third album, “Try This,” there’s more of the raucous attitude than the underlying themes of vulnerability and insecurity that made “Missundaztood,” so popular — and the tough-girl shtick at times overshadows the very real talent that Pink has.
That’s especially true on songs like the rote “Trouble,” and “Last to Know,” a boring, unmelodic rocker with Pink whining about a lover who skipped her show — “I left tickets at the door for you, I had to tell my mom there was no more room, You didn’t show, that was so uncool, You could have called me back” — hey, it’s great fodder for an answering machine rant, but not a song.
Rather than sounding angry just to sound angry, Pink does better when she hones in something real, like on “Save My Life,” about a girl drowning in the abyss of addiction, or “Love Song,” on which a Pink, backed primarily by acoustic guitar, sounds uncharacteristically tender as she warily prepares to let down her guard. She’s also strong when she goes back to her R&B roots with the sexy slow jam, “Catch Me While I’m Sleeping,” on which her soulful, powerful pipes are the standout.
Linda Perry, the producer behind “Missundaztood,” co-wrote the tune with Pink, but is used less on this disc in favor of Rancid’s Tim Armstrong; he co-wrote and produced eight of the thirteen tracks on the album. The result are songs that tilt more toward rock without the pop gloss that Perry gave it to make it so palatable to mass audiences.
—Nekesa Mumbi Moody
“Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach," Ron Isley
Burt Bacharach rearranged some of his well-known classic compositions to fit Ron Isley’s signature falsetto in “Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach.” The result is a collection of ballads most suited for the easy-listening section of the record store, but they work well.
The orchestral arrangements are beautifully done, and keeps the songs sounding fresh and more polished. While many songs could easily double as lullabies, a few standouts really show why Isley is one of the greater crooners of all time.
Isley’s heart-wrenching rendition of “A House Is Not a Home” shows his talent of letting the lyrics’ intensity dictate the song’s pace and direction. Like in many of the songs on the album, Isley hangs on to every word and stretches each note when he closes out the ballad.
He also shines in “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” first recorded by Dionne Warwick, when he sings with a soulful passion as the song swells to emotional highs.
While “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” doesn’t much like B.J. Thomas’ original, chart-topping version, Isley’s subtle vocal nuances breathes new life into the familiar classic.
“Real Talk,” Dave Hollister
Dave Hollister definitely keeps to his true form on “Real Talk,” a compilation of songs that reflect his own experiences. Hollister’s soulful voice over the tight beats are soothing, even when the themes become darker, with snapshots of gritty, ghetto life and an unfaithful lover.
The album starts off with “The Big Payback,” Hollister’s hip-hop version of James Brown’s song, the in-your-face lyrics declare he’s not going anywhere despite his critics. This song is one of the best on the album, and sets the tone for the rest of it.
In “Good Ole Ghetto,” a hard knocks anthem, Hollister sings earnestly about his experiences there and people that shaped him, vowing never to forget them as he proclaims, “I’m gonna keep my doo-rag on.”
In the last track, “Pleased Tonight,” Hollister’s sultry vocals and his band’s accompaniment set this ballad apart from the others. He delivers the steamy lyrics with natural climaxes, leaving you wishing he included more ballads like this one on the album.
“Gardenias For Lady Day,” James Carter
Ending a three year recording silence with “Gardenias for Lady Day,” saxophonist James Carter pays melodic homage to the life of Billie Holiday, one of jazz’s greatest voices and most tragic figures.
Weaving the sexiness of Holiday’s phrasings with dark, wispy melodies of his own, Carter’s works his saxophone like an ear reaching back to those smoky New York cabarets where, decades ago, Holiday worked magic.
On the haunting “Strange Fruit,” Carter pairs with vocalist and friend Miche Braden. Together they describe the horrific image of lynchings, screaming out melodies before collapsing in cacophony. Holiday was known to sing “Strange Fruit” with force, and Carter’s solos on the track are aggressive, abrasive and ripping with energy.
The album is not a sad tribute to Holiday’s life, though. Gardenias mean joy, and Carter shows a light, even raunchy, feeling in his tribute.
A burlesque beat runs through “Lowdown Groove.” It feels a little naughty in its savory mimicry of Lady Day’s silky pipes, but it’s red hot.
“Gardenias For Lady Day” follows Carter’s tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt called “Chasin’ The Gypsy,” which was released in 2000.