NEW YORK (Billboard) - Largely composed of Krauss’ impressive contributions to various projects outside her work with her band Union Station, this overdue 16-song collection also includes five new offerings. Krauss’ recent collaboration with John Waite on a remake of his 1984 hit, “Missing You,” is here, but they also pair on “Lay Down Beside Me,” a tender telling of love found on which both shine. In true bluegrass tradition, “Jacob’s Dream” is a haunting, heartbreaking story of two boys who stray from their mother’s side, while “Away Down the River” is an encouraging message to a loved one left behind by death (“I’ll be standing waiting with all who have gone before/I’m just away down the river a hundred miles or more”). This collection is a must-have for anyone who appreciates that Krauss is this generation’s best female vocalist.
Following the release of her much-lauded 2005 debut, Carlile toured incessantly, wowing crowds with her raw, emotive vocals and powerful songs. Distilling the live energy of these shows, her sophomore set adds bigger guitars and more spot-on vocal harmonies, sung by “the Twins,” guitarist Tim and bassist Phil Hanseroth. Standouts like “My Song” or “Until I Die” suggest a female Jeff Buckley fronting a tightly knit rock band, and Carlile’s old-soul alto reveals beautiful cracks on the soaring title track, a confession wise beyond her 24 years. Elsewhere, there are small, acoustic ballads (“Turpentine,” “Josephine”); the Indigo Girls guest on the pastoral “Cannonball.” As produced by T Bone Burnett, “The Story” brims with melody and feels warm, rich and immediate. A powerful statement by an artist to watch who is going her own way.
While making bigger stars out of artists like Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake (not to mention Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, etc.), Timbaland has also become a star in his own right. But thankfully, the Virginia beatsmith isn’t looking to be taken seriously as an artist with his debut opus, “Shock Value.” Just consider it art on canvas. Instead of pulling a one-man-only act, Timbo does what he’s known best for, collaborating on off-the-wall dance, pop (lead single “Give It to Me” features Furtado and Timberlake) and hip-hop (“Come See Me” with 50 Cent and Tony Yayo) and even some haunting cuts (“Apologize”). The beats are uptempo, techno-driven and percussion-heavy, with his signature croaky ad-libs and hooks. Few have done the producer-album right (see: Pharrell), but when they do (Kanye, Dr. Dre), it’s genius. “Shock Value” falls somewhere between those extremes.
The Fountains’ 2003 album “Welcome Interstate Managers” may have helped them, somewhat belatedly, acquire a mainstream audience but, bar getting Rachel Hunter to star in the “Stacy’s Mom” video, it was actually pretty much business as usual. So it’s no surprise to find the inspired songwriting partnership of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood approach their fourth album in much the same way as the first three. They still write the songs that no one else seems to get round to, about the people that no one else seems to notice. They still pen power-pop tunes so utterly irresistible — “Someone to Love,” “This Better Be Good,” “Strapped for Cash” — that they deserve to be every bit as ubiquitous at radio as the elements of the album’s title. Oh, and they’re still brilliant. Investigate.
Conspicuously absent as a leader since serving as Miles Davis’ fusion-oriented musical director in the ‘80s, Robert Irving III returns in dramatic fashion on “New Momentum,” the premiere release for indie Sonic Portraits. The disc is largely an acoustic piano trio date highlighted by Irving originals and two nods to his mentor’s ‘60s repertoire: a buoyant cover of Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven” and a refined take on Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” What’s so remarkable about Irving’s return from obscurity is the fresh, vital sound spurred by his pianistic dynamism and infused with an imaginative improvisational approach that encompasses dancing tempo shifts and harmonic curves. Bassist Buster Williams co-stars, with arco support on the ballad “Primordial Waters,” low-end punch to the title track and a walking bass conversation with Irving on the midtempo groove tune “Always . . . Sometimes.”
Ozomatli is known for stirring up a musical melting pot, and on its first studio album since 2004’s “Street Signs,” the ultimate live act is back in party mode. Funk jam “After Party,” cumbia “La Gallina” and feel-good merengue “La Temperatura” sound like the perfect tunes for crowding the living-room dancefloor. Even hip-hop track “Magnolia Soul” realizes Ozomatli’s signature blend of party and protest with a light touch, as an ode to the good times rolling again in post-Katrina New Orleans. Known for masterfully weaving funk, jazz, hip-hop and Latin styles, Ozomatli’s forays into pop-punk and reggaeton on this album are well-made but less riveting. It’s hard to stay completely original album after album, but Ozomatli does exactly that when it sticks to the sounds of Los Angeles it helped put on the map.