IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz have new CDs

Also, new releases from k.d. lang, Kenny G, Nada Surf and more
/ Source: Billboard

Sheryl Crow, “Detours” Since 2005’s reflective “Wildflower,” Sheryl Crow ended her engagement with Lance Armstrong, battled breast cancer, adopted a son and stepped up her activism efforts. She’s also reteamed with Bill Bottrell, who produced her multiplatinum 1993 debut, “Tuesday Night Music Club.” Thus the roots-rock of “Detours” is old-school-sounding Crow with a heightened consciousness of the world around her. Every day is still a winding road, but it costs too much to drive down (”Gasoline”); a change would do, well, everyone some good, particularly those struggling to rebuild their lives post-Hurricane Katrina (”Love Is Free”). If the message is a bit heavy-handed at times, Crow still delights with the melodic chorus of “Shine Over Babylon” and the breathe-easy “Now That You’re Gone” and “Lullaby for Wyatt,” a tender reminder of just how far Crow has come and what her future holds in store.

Lenny Kravitz, “It Is Time for a Love Revolution” Lenny Kravitz has been letting love rule since he started releasing music 18 years ago, so declaring that “It Is Time for a Love Revolution” is not quite a, well, revolutionary concept for the rock alchemist. He exhibits a different kind of urgency this time out, however, partly fueled by the times and perhaps also motivated by a desire to bounce back from the disappointing sales of 2004’s “Baptism.” Kravitz doesn’t fly away from what brought him here, though. The mostly one-man-show of “Time” is another amalgamation of the vintage rock stylings that are his stock in trade, from the crunchy, Led Zeppelin-styled blues rock of “Bring It On” to the psychedelic riffing of “A Love Revolution,” the mannered dynamics of “If You Want It” and the trippy, Beatles-flavored melodicism of “Good Morning” and “A New Door.”

k.d. lang, “Watershed”“Watershed,” k.d. lang’s new torch-and-twang exploration, will hover delicately in the background of many a coffee shop, but it does little to elevate itself to a more conscious musical experience. Instigating passionate encounters might have been lang’s intent; alas, the record is more befitting an aromatherapy session. While her lyrics are drenched in l’amour, lang’s dulcet voice floats like mist. The pure 5 o’clock lounge of “Sunday” is like time travel back to a 1960s bachelor pad, complete with discreet xylophone, padded bass notes and martinis you can nearly taste. “Flame of the Uninspired” draws a shade over the album’s subtle glow; beyond that, “Watershed” boasts delicate country traveling songs and oh-so-hushed romantic standards.

Kenny G, “Rhythm and Romance”Kenny G’s got a love jones going. On his Starbucks debut, the saxophonist cooks up a set of samba, bossa nova and salsa tunes that range from a fluid version of the staple “Besame Mucho” to eight originals co-written with co-producer Walter Afanasieff. Focusing on one genre works to G’s advantage; backed by a stellar cast of musicians that includes bassist Nathan East and Weather Report drummer Alex Acuna (with Afanasieff on piano), he coaxes a richer and more muscular tone from his instrument. “Sax-O-Loco” and “Salsa Kenny,” which bookend the 12-track set, take a more upbeat tone, while the vocal numbers -- “Mirame Bailar” with Barbara Munoz and “Es Hor de Decir” with Camila -- provide welcome counterpoints to G’s melodic excursion. G doesn’t discard the light touch he’s known for, but there’s a headier sense of ambition on “Rhythm and Romance” that makes us hope he doesn’t get his heart broken anytime soon.

Otis Taylor, “Recapturing the Banjo”Bluesman Otis Taylor gathers an all-star cast of fellow blues revivalists and banjoists — Keb’ Mo’, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, Don Vappie — to pay brilliant tribute to the instrument rooted in the legacy of African-American music. Spurning banjo stereotypes (from minstrelsy to bluegrass) and keying in on the instrument’s rhythmic versatility, Taylor covers a broad swath of stylistic ground, including rocking blues, funky swagger, jazz-inflected melody, Creole dance, old-timey jug band and country blues. And in testament to the banjo’s role in a rock setting, Taylor nods to Jimi Hendrix in his charged rendition of “Hey Joe.”

Bob Mould, “District Line” “District Line” is a fine showcase for the differing sides of ex-Husker Du/Sugar frontman Bob Mould’s repertoire: Cuts like raucous opener “Stupid Now,” the propulsive “Who Needs to Dream?” and the single “The Silence Between Us” recall the artist’s more weighty rock moments, while “Again and Again” rides a crisp, undulating acoustic riff. Standout track “Shelter Me” shows off one of Mould’s latter-day fascinations, as a polyrhythmic electronic groove supports his computer-modulated vocals. The fact that all this comes together in a smooth package says a lot for his maturation as an artist. The former punk icon is still going strong and clearly following the beat of his own drummer (or drum machine, as the case may be).

Idina Menzel, “I Stand”After originating the role of lesbian performance artist Maureen in rock-opera “Rent,” Idina Menzel released a debut album that sounded much like the songs from the revered show, with enough strum and angst to land her a spot on the Lilith Fair tour. Nearly a decade later, “I Stand” sounds a heck of a lot like the score to “Wicked,” the show that captured the imagination of a generation of preteen girls and made Menzel’s Elphaba an icon of adolescent triumph. You can’t say the formula is flawed. With songs like “I Stand” and “Brave,” the album is a great companion piece for “Wicked” fans, capturing Menzel at her vocally acrobatic, appealingly nasal best, with hearty pop melodies and lyrics that will be belted by aspiring Elphabas from summer theater camp to Chelsea cabarets.

Jack Johnson, “Sleep Through the Static”Saying that Jack Johnson’s fourth record is languid and breezy is a little like saying the Cubs probably won’t win it all this year, but “Sleep Through the Static” takes Johnson’s uber-chill, barefoot-in-a-hammock vibe to new heights — or mediums, depending on how you look at such things. Recorded purely with solar energy, “Static” traffics more in earnest, welterweight rock than his usual island-flavored vibe, which owes a lot to the subtle rhythms of his native Hawaii, and its pervasively midtempo skeleton is probably slow-rolling enough to completely alienate anyone not already in his camp. (This record will be a mighty tough sell at Coachella.) But fans who stick with it will find rewards like the sweet melody of “Angel,” the hard-biting politics of the title track, the unlikely hook of first single “If I Had Eyes” and the jaunty saloon rhythms of “Monsoon.”

Hot Chip, “Made in the Dark”From Casiotone swells, a drummer-killing time signature and a guitar-and-tambourine hook that could prompt hand-jiving, this set’s first two minutes prime your pump like an action sequence before the opening credits. What follows is a proper blockbuster from the nerdy Brit quintet that continues where 2006 breakout “The Warning” left off. This is the same pop-wise Hot Chip, only wilier and with a more dastardly sonic arsenal. Check out “Shake a Fist,” which uses a 1972 spoken-word Todd Rundgren sample to introduce the indie children to the glorious squelch of acid house. “One Pure Thought” laments not having one, over blissed-out reggae, while “Hold On” writes off the notion entirely (”I’m only going to heaven/If it feels like hell”). Mashed-up comparisons aside (the Sea & Cake meets Tom Tom Club while listening to Weezer?), this stuff is singular, and flat-out great.

Speak in Tones, “Subaro”This double CD is, in a manner of speaking, the logical conclusion of a two-year series of concerts led by Daniel Moreno and Mike Ellis at 56 Walker St. in New York. The album was recorded in Salvador do Bahia, Brazil, and features a mix of jazz, Latin and world music players from the Big Apple, Mali and Bahia. The tunes are a provocative intermingling of jazz and world styles. A perfect example of what’s going on here is “Douson Foly (Take 2).” The song has a pronounced Malian rhythmic feel, deepened by Lansine Kouyate’s balafon (a tuned percussion instrument from West Africa) and Cheick Tidiane Seck’s vocal. The hypnotic rhythm percolates beneath jazz horn riffs and a nimble balafon solo, building a monster groove. Elsewhere, “Subaro, Part 1” gets a major funk-jazz vibe going, fueled by a low-riding saxophone and a flurry of vocalizations.

Nada Surf, “Lucky”“I only wanna make you happy,” Matthew Caws sings on “I Like What You Say,” a cut from this Brooklyn trio’s new album. As with most of the tunes on “Lucky” — and like most of the guys in his indie-pop cohort — Caws is singing about a relationship. But he might also be addressing Nada Surf’s audience. Caws’ great trick as a songwriter is devising tunes that start out in melancholy minor-key mode but end up as hopeful-sounding odes to the human spirit, and “Lucky” is full of jangly little gems that could put a skip in the step of even the saddest of sacks. The finest among them might be opener “See These Bones,” during which Caws makes a visit to an ancient crypt in Rome seem like a perfectly cheery way to spend a Saturday.

Bullet for My Valentine, “Scream Aim Fire”Determined treatise “Scream Aim Fire” is a joy ride of sleek, “Guitar Hero”-ready metal that’s indoctrinating both genders into the fold. The record exhibits fierce intent to prove that Bullet for My Valentine’s music shouldn’t be painted “pretty boy” because of the group’s good looks. But the foursome doesn’t completely abandon the sensitive interludes that gave it the emo tag it’s trying to shake. Finale “Forever and for Always,” the band’s Queen-inspired valentine to fans on the communal experience of playing live, climactically builds and then strips away one hook-laden riff at a time to end on a revelatory note that will crack the coldest doubter’s heart.

Ronnie Freeman, “God Speaking”During a recent Nashville showcase for this record, nearly every key player in the Christian music community was in attendance to lend support. One listen to this collection and it’s easy to see why Ronnie Freeman commands such a devoted following. He has a warm, accessible voice and a gift for penning engaging songs that explore faith from a unique, insightful perspective. This finely crafted project should propel Freeman from Christian music’s best-kept secret to highly successful artist.