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

Trisha Yearwood, Jordin Sparks have new CDs

Also: New albums from Daft Punk, Jose Feliciano, Freeway and more
/ Source: Billboard

Trisha Yearwood, “Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love”On her debut for indie upstart Big Machine, Trisha Yearwood digs into a comfortable sweet spot midway between slick Nashville bang and rugged roots-music twang. With its rich combination of polish and pain, that’s precisely where her voice belongs. The material is strong throughout, but highlights include “Nothin’ ’Bout Memphis,” rich with horns; “The Dreaming Fields,” a pretty piano ballad wistful enough for a Disney-princess flick; and “Let the Wind Chase You,” a hushed plea for peace with handsome harmony vocals by Keith Urban and a dreamy string arrangement by Beck’s dad, David Campbell. “Cowboys Are My Weakness” could be a response to George Strait’s recent “How ’Bout Them Cowgirls.” Turns out Mrs. Garth Brooks is on the prowl for a guy with “a little bit of outlaw, a little bit of Jesus.”

Jordin Sparks, “Jordin Sparks”With an all-star team of writer/producers (Stargate, the Underdogs), 17-year-old “American Idol” champ Jordin Sparks releases a first effort that’s all over the map — and works. The best news is that nobody’s trying to mold her into a fly ho or a torchy diva; these 13 songs sound like exactly what she should be singing at this age and juncture in her career. The overall effect is sophisticated teen pop marked by innocent good cheer and harmony-laden vocal arrangements, although the synthesizer and drum machine-dominated tracks work better in some cases (“Tattoo,” “One Step at a Time,” “Now You Tell Me”) than in others (“Shy Boy,” “Young and in Love”). “No Air,” Sparks’ duet with Chris Brown, has plenty of hit potential, while “Now You Tell Me,” with its swelling arrangement and muscular chorus, is the album’s gem.

Daft Punk, “Alive 2007”Nothing can quite match the in-person thrills of the current Daft Punk live experience, what with the robot costumes, onstage pyramid and body-rattling beats radiating out into the blissed-out faithful. But “Alive 2007” comes pretty darn close, capturing a hometown Paris audience so jonesing for a Daft Punk fix that it loudly sings along with the synth melody on “Television Rules the Nation.” While it’s great to hear the classics (“Da Funk,” “One More Time”) even if they’re not played in full, perhaps the most useful service provided here is the rehabilitation of material from 2005’s underwhelming “Human After All.” That album’s massive “Robot Rock” proves a perfect table-setter for the dance party to come, while the industrial-strength house of “The Brainwasher” pushes things over the edge.

Jose Feliciano, “Senor Bechata”

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

It’s always a challenge to take an artist out of his or her established format and plunge him or her into another. So it’s a tribute to Jose Feliciano’s artistry that he’s able to navigate pop and tropical idioms with ease, and that his foray into bachata — perhaps the genre most alien to his long recording history — is convincing. The album title is a nod to Feliciano’s previous “Senor Bolero,” which found him singing bolero standards. Here, he does the same with Dominican bachata, pairing up with Dominican icon Millie Quezada, but also with salsa singer La India and urban/reggaeton duo Rakim & Ken-Y for a more youthful feel.

Freeway, “Free at Last”This sophomore disc from Philadelphia’s Freeway hits stores four years after the release of the gruff-voiced MC’s much-admired debut. That’s an eternity in rap years, but if anyone’s in a position to capitalize on the frustration produced by music-industry politics, it’s Freeway, whose music depicts the struggle of a good man caught in a bad situation. On “Free at Last,” he demonstrates that being forced to cool his heels since 2003 hasn’t dulled the rough edges of his appealingly hectic flow; check out “Roc-a-Fella Billionaires,” a brash Broadway banger in which he compares stacks of cash with mentor Jay-Z. But the album also suggests that Freeway wouldn’t mind having a hit on hip-hop radio: On “Take It to the Top,” he trades goofy come-ons with 50 Cent over a synthed-up J.R. Rotem beat.

Shirley Caeser, “After 40 Years ... Still Sweeping Through the City”Shirley Caesar’s 40th album in as many years is resounding proof of her uncontested reign as the first lady of gospel music. With “complacency” nowhere to be found in her vocabulary, she revisits a dozen classic songs that don’t so much ignore modernity as redefine it with her own timeless touch and taste. Caesar digs deeply into her singular catalog, from such genre-defining classics as “Hold My Mule” to lesser-known but no less vital treasures (”Faded Rose” and a moving medley of “Peter, Don’t Be Afraid,” “Nobody but You, Lord” and “Teach Me, Master” among them). Romping, roaring and righteous as the day she first set foot in a recording studio, Caesar continues to set a standard against which great singers will be judged for decades to come.

Puerto Plata, “Mujer de Cabaret” Born Jose Manuel Cobles, Puerto Plata is an 84-year-old sonero who’s a virtual encyclopedia of the acoustic guitar traditions of the Dominican Republic. He’s known as a master of the “son” genre; however, as the tunes on this disc demonstrate, he’s a master of a lot more than just that kind of music. Opener “Amarro con Fe” is a lively guaracha about a man who escapes the clutches of a woman who tries to hold him with witchcraft. The lovely “Santiago,” also the name of Puerto Plata’s hometown, is a bolero. “Los Piratas,” a merengue, is an original tune dealing with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and features a fiery guitar solo by Frank Mendez. This music is an extraordinary listening experience, in terms of the proficient acoustic guitar work and Puerto Plata’s marvelous vocals.

Led Zeppelin, “The Song Remains the Same”Jimmy Page has claimed for 30-plus years that he was never fully satisfied with this 1976 concert album/film, but he claims this new edition represents his true vision. In addition to “The Ocean,” the soundtrack for the first time includes “Black Dog,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” all of “Heartbreaker” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The last was considered to be the highlight of the movie, but its exclusion from the album has long disappointed fans. Oddly, the 1973 New York stand chronicled here is not among Zeppelin’s best live moments. For one, somewhere between the 1972 tour and when the band reached Madison Square Garden, singer Robert Plant lost his ability to belt it out. For proof, compare his singing on “Song” with 2003’s “How the West Was Won,” recorded a mere 13 months earlier.