Heartache has rarely hurt so good as it does on Annie Lennox's sublime new album. The CD, her first solo set of new material since 1992's divine Diva
, was written and recorded following the breakup of Lennox's 12-year marriage to Israeli filmmaker Uri Fruchtman. And you can hear her naked pain as if you were a fly on the wall of her therapist's office. There is a cathartic power to mesmerizingly melancholy tracks like "The Hurting Time," which, with its haunting '60s soulfulness, recalls Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Elsewhere, Lennox bitterly lashes out at her ex on songs like the sinister-sounding "Erased": "If you see me walkin' down the street/I won't even recognize you/I'll just erase you from my memory." Vocally, the ex-Eurythmic, 48, has never sounded better, imparting emotional nuance with her sumptuous voice and even scatting on the jazzy ending of "The Hurting Time." When Lennox starts listing "1000 Beautiful Things" on the ethereal opener, she could have included this disc.
BOTTOM LINE: Essential Bare
Luther Vandross (J)
Despite the massive stroke that has hospitalized Luther Vandross since April, his record label decided to go ahead with the scheduled release of the singer's new studio album. The disc, which builds on the creative comeback that Vandross, 52, made with his 2001 self-titled CD, attests to why fans all over the country have been praying for his recovery. It's instantly familiar and comforting, like hearing from an old friend who has been there through breakups and makeups. The original Velvet Teddy Bear (sorry, Ruben Studdard) once again gets right to the heart of the matter on signature slow jams like "If I Didn't Know Better," about friends possibly becoming lovers. On slyly funky midtempo numbers, he incorporates hip-hop elements, bringing in guest rappers Foxy Brown, Busta Rhymes and Queen Latifah
. The highlight, though, is when Beyoncé Knowles joins Vandross on a lush remake of the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway hit "The Closer I Get to You" that nearly tops the original.
BOTTOM LINE: Lovable Luther
With Rooney's penchant for hook-infested melodies, witty lyrics and retro-'60s vocal harmonies—not to mention their mod haircuts—the quintet has been compared to Brit-pop deities the Beatles and the Kinks. This L.A. band may just have what it takes to live up to such hype. Formed four years ago in high school by guitarist-singer Robert Carmine, 20, whose brother is actor-musician Jason Schwartz-man and whose mother is actress Talia Shire, Rooney (the name is an homage to a Ferris Bueller's Day Off
character) is far more than a showbiz kid's vanity project. With Carmine's infectious vocals festooned with Taylor Locke's lead-guitar glitter and Louie Stephens's keyboard embroideries, standout tunes like first single "Blueside" and "If It Were Up to Me," a suitor's plea for an answer to the big question, make this act a truly fab five.
BOTTOM LINE: Irresistible power pop
Dusty Drake (Warner Bros. Nashville)
If you think a Northerner can't sing authentic country music, think again. This ingratiating first album from Drake, a Pennsylvanian, doesn't let his upbringing above the Mason-Dixon line stop him from putting across such songs as the down-home "Not Bad for a Good Ole Boy." Drake, who cowrote six of the 11 songs on the CD, also sings convincingly about farm life ("Too Wet to Plow"), the road ("Just Can't Take a Train"), coming of age ("Going on Eighteen") and broken hearts ("Smaller Pieces"). He does it all in a deep, mellifluous voice reminiscent of the man he cites as a big influence, John Anderson. Drake himself has described his music as "two wheels on the pavement, two wheels in the dirt." But that implies more of an outlaw quality than Drake actually demonstrates. His competition is John Michael Montgomery, not Toby Keith or Travis Tritt.
BOTTOM LINE: A country carpetbagger with talentJulio (Warner Music Latina)
Apparently Enrique Iglesias wasn't the only son to inherit some musical talent from dad Julio. Enrique's older brother Julio Jr., 30, shows that he too has a knack for making catchy but cheesy pop on his credible Spanish-language debut (which follows an English-language effort, 1999's Under My Eyes
, that was released only overseas). While Enrique favors dance numbers, Julio, who goes by just his first name for this CD, brings more of a rock edge to Tercera Dimension
(translation: Third Dimension). The disc's opening track, "Dicen Que Hoy," has an almost metallic bluster that is unusual for Latin pop. In fact, guitars, both electric and acoustic, permeate these 10 cuts to a surprising extent. Iglesias, who coproduced the album and cowrote all but one tune, has a good ear for melody and an appealing though somewhat thin voice that is at least as good as his little brother's.
BOTTOM LINE: Respectable if unremarkable
Jack Johnson (Moonshine Conspiracy)
With his smooth-riding second album, which opened impressively at No. 3 on the Billboard chart, former pro surfer Jack Johnson proves wrong those who thought he might wipe out after his 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales
. The Hawaii native, who brings to mind a more mellow Ben Harper (with whom he is touring this summer), effortlessly delivers funk-folk ditties that are as soothing as a Honolulu breeze. Surrounding his rootsy acoustic guitar only with rhythmic bass and gentle percussion, Johnson keeps things simple on these concise cuts (12 of 16 songs are less than three minutes long; the sweet but shallow "Cupid" is barely one minute). With his airy, casually bluesy voice, Johnson even brings a light touch to lyrics about such heavy subjects as war on the country-tinged "Traffic in the Sky." Sometimes, though, his relaxed approach feels a bit too laid-back; some of these tracks seem slight and few stay with you after repeated spins. Still, this is music tailor-made for a lazy day at the beach.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy dude
- Chuck Arnold,
- Steve Dougherty,
- Ralph Novak.