BORN AND RAISED
There's a strong retro vibe to Mayer's latest - a loose, unvarnished quality to the songs and their arrangements that is not always appealing. It is as if in concert with producer Don Was, Mayer was determined to make his own version of Dylan's "Nashville Skyline." But most of "Born and Raised" ends up sounding musically and lyrically indulgent and a little sloppy. "Queen of California," a sweet shamble with a slight Southern accent, is one of the few songs ("If I Ever Get Around to Living" being another) that seems to have received Mayer's full attention.
David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer
... YA KNOW?
What's next, a Joey Ramone hologram? Why should Tupac have all the fun when it comes to coming back from the dead? The first solo album by the 6-foot-6, bleating-voiced lead singer of the Ramones came out in 2002, a year after his death from lymphoma at age 49. Ten years later comes " ... ya know?", a title derived from a signature Ramone conversational tic. " ... ya know?" is a collection of leftover demos lovingly filled out and finished off by a talented cast of characters that include Joan Jett, Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, and E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, who correctly credits the Ramones for making the world safe for "countless freaks, misfits, and outcasts who would find salvation, redemption, and sanctuary in the one lifestyle that didn't judge them." The 14-song, slightly overlong set, which contains a slowed version of the holiday song "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)," doesn't sound like a Ramones album so much as a collection of punchy pop-rock that bears the influence of the Byrds and Phil Spector and is evocative of Tom Petty here and AC/DC there, particularly on the lead single "Rock And Roll Is the Answer." It's all pretty darn catchy, and gives us one more shot in the arm from a beloved figure who was an underappreciated master of mixing vulnerability and swagger in his inimitable vocals and who Van Zandt calls "a man that would surprise everybody on a regular basis." The final surprise is how good this record is.
Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
"Edward Sharpe" is less a person than a lofty, goofy concept, a messiahlike creation of singer/lyricist/front man Alex Ebert designed to heal the world when he's not busy picking up girls. Despite Ebert's leadership (or is it Sharpe's?), there's a communal vibe around the Los Angeles canyon-based 10-person-plus Zeros, with several other members (Jade Castrinos, Christian Letts) leading the vocal charge through its loose-knit brand of jam-band jive and freak folk. Thankfully, this all winds up, on the band's second full-length album, less like Charlie Manson than like Devendra Banhart at his wonderfully wonkiest and most melodic.
The wily joy announces itself loudly on the gospel-tinged "Man on Fire," a powerfully snorting, holy-rolling pop-rocker with a deliciously soulful voice at its center. "I Don't Wanna Pray" also benefits from the band's lilting predilection for groovy gospel, and Ebert's smooth vocal swagger "Fiya Wata" is bluer than blue and densely arranged. "Here" is weird jam-folk of the highest order, filled with happy hippie cheer ("That's What's Up"), doe-eyed tenderness ("Child"), and lushly gorgeous melody ("All Wash Out"). "Here" is like "Hair" without the bell-bottoms.
A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
You may know New Zealand's Kimbra from her powerhouse turn on Gotye's hit "Somebody That I Used To Know." "Vows," her debut album, came out in Australia to much acclaim last year. It has been updated - five songs dropped, six added - for its U.S. release, and like Gotye's "Making Mirrors," it's a wide-ranging collection of appealing pop with a subtle experimental streak.
Although anchored by Kimbra's emphatic, leaping vocals and by a penchant for constructing beats from vocal samples, "Vows" whiplashes between big R&B production numbers and trip-hoppy ballads. The percussive "Settle Down," the dense "Come Into My Head," and the bubble-gummy "Cameo Lover" contrast with the plinky, Bjork-like "The Build Up," the slinky "Good Intent," and the even slinkier cover of Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring." "Vows" isn't much on coherence, but it introduces an enticingly eclectic talent.
Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Peter Karp and Sue Foley
BEYOND THE CROSSROADS
On their first album together, 2010's "He Said - She Said," Peter Karp and Sue Foley candidly chronicled their growing relationship, one born out of dark times for both. This follow-up has more songs that seem to address that continuing bond, but it also reflects their continuing chemistry and growing comfort in playing together.
"Beyond the Crossroads" has a looser and livelier vibe than its predecessor. It starts with the up-tempo, horn-laden R&B of "We're Gonna Make It" and continues with such soul-tinged numbers as "More Than I Bargained For" and the title song, and on to the jump-blues finale, "You Got a Problem." Karp's slide guitar lends a bluesy bite to many of the songs, while Foley upholds her reputation as a guitar-slinger extraordinaire with the fleet-fingered instrumental "Plank Spank" and shows her dexterity as an acoustic picker.
These two gifted musicians have done stellar work on their own, and it remains to be seen if their "Fine Love," to borrow a song title, eventually robs them of their creative edge. In the meantime, they are still bringing out the best in each other.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer