Billboard CD reviews: Hilary Duff, Martina McBride
ARTIST: HILARY DUFF
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Hilary Duff has done something seemingly daring considering the current music landscape -- she's made a dance-pop album. It's practically something straight out of the United Kingdom for all of its poppy goodness. Duff's "Dignity" synthesizes Kelly Clarkson's brand of catchy rock and Britney Spears' and Gwen Stefani's most dancefloor-friendly moments. Sonically speaking, the set whips together retro new wave, guitar-fueled dance rock, shades of Middle Eastern instrumentation and very light dashes of hip-hop. Duff successfully partnered with pop's white-hot songwriter Kara DioGuardi, co-writing 12 of the album's 14 songs. Hot topics on the set include deceptive men, pointed jabs at vapid celebrities, self-empowerment and perky odes about devotion.
ARTIST: MARTINA MCBRIDE
ALBUM: WAKING UP LAUGHING
The first album of original material that McBride has solo produced (she also handled "Timeless," her collection of country classics), "Waking Up Laughing" is another strong outing for one of country's most consistent stars. "Anyway," which marks McBride's first turn as a songwriter, is already a top five country airplay single, and there's plenty more to back it up. "How I Feel," another McBride co-write, is a driving description of what a loved one means to the singer, and "Love Land" tells the ultimately rewarding story of a couple whose marriage begins with an unplanned pregnancy. Not every song is uplifting, however. "If I Had Your Name" is a demonstrative tale of love gone wrong ("If I had your name, I'd be changing it by now"), while "Tryin' to Find a Reason" walks through the process of an inevitable breakup.
ALBUM: VENA SERA
The Loeffler brothers' fourth Chevelle album runs into a bit of a creative rut, with a few too many songs that sound the same. "Saferwaters" and "Straight Jacket Fashion" are the best of the bunch, with the trio's well-timed guitar attack at full force. And though the influence of Maynard James Keenan is still present, Pete Loeffler sounds more like himself on tracks like "Midnight to Midnight." The band is incapable of sounding small, a fact hammered home by Elvis Baskette's production. What the material could use is more dynamic variety and not in the sense that every song needs the acoustic breakdown in the middle ("Paint the Seconds") that afflicts so many major-label rock records today.
ARTIST: JACKSON WATERS
ALBUM: COME UNDONE
This talented band makes its major-label debut with an amazing collection of songs that should expand its Christian fan base and earn a following among mainstream audiences as well. Jackson Waters creates modern rock that is deliciously accessible. "Center of Attention" is a moody ballad that is already enjoying exposure via TV drama "One Tree Hill," while "Give Me Amazing Grace" is a feel-good track soaring up the Christian charts. Lead vocalist/principal songwriter David Leonard is one of rock's most potent new voices, equally compelling on rockers like "Let It Fly" and ballads like the uplifting "One More Day." Jackson Waters could very well follow in the footsteps of Switchfoot and Relient K, bands whose talent has taken them beyond church walls and into the wider world.
ARTIST: JUAN LUIS GUERRA
ALBUM: LA LLAVE DE MI CORAZON
Guerra's return to secular music, after the Christian-themed "Para Ti," is a romantic romp through multiple subgenres of tropical music, including bachata, merengue and salsa. On danceability alone, Guerra takes no prisoners. But what makes this album worthwhile is his ability to make tropical music transcend at a time when the vast majority of the output in the genre is, frankly, boring. "La Llave de Mi Corazon" embraces change with its title track, a bilingual mix of mambo and blues with clever, pictorial lyrics and sophisticated arrangements. From there onward, the album is a mix of more traditional Guerra fare -- that is, midtempo romantic bachatas and fast-clipped merengues -- but always boasting superior arrangements and inventive lyrics (the bouncy "La Travesia," a take on "You're the Top"). Guerra also spices things up with a couple of English tracks, icing on an already tasty cake.
ARTIST: LIL FLIP
ALBUM: I NEED MINE
If you thought the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Stadium Arcadium" pushed the boundaries of the double-CD thing, behold Lil Flip's "I Need Mine," an intimidating 37-track collection designed, ostensibly, to plant Flip back in the pile of people making money off Houston's roaring hip-hop scene. The thing is, with a little editing, "I Need Mine" could have been great. As it is, it's a stronger-than-expected collection with several hit-sounding singles ("Busta Clip," "Starched and Clean") and some genuinely melodic moments, like the acoustic-flavored "Find My Way" and "Single Mother." Flip boasts a great Texas rasp and there's some good rhymes here, but it's nearly impossible to stay focused enough to catch them. The Houston sound is all about intoxicating, druggy soundscapes, but there's a fine line between hypnotic mood creation and unchecked repetition.
ARTIST: BLACK SABBATH
ALBUM: BLACK SABBATH: THE DIO YEARS
When one of the three new songs on this compilation begins "One fine day in hell . . . " and refers to Satan as "the master," it's hard not to smile and realize this incarnation of Black Sabbath is exactly where we want it to be. With its 17 tracks, "The Dio Years" adds some import to the relatively historical blip that is Ronnie James Dio's four-album stint fronting the seminal heavy rock outfit. "Neon Knights," "Heaven and Hell," "The Mob Rules" and "Neon Knights" hold up 25-plus years later, and the leaden grooves of the fresh material are as vintage as a devil's horn salute. The net result: 80 minutes of heavenly hell.