What I Do

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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COUNTRY

CRITIC'S CHOICE

What I Do

After 14 years, 14 albums and 31 No. 1 hits, Alan Jackson, 45, continues to sound more and more like Merle Haggard, which is tantamount to approaching perfection. Neither Jackson nor anyone else, of course, has Haggard's mellow, laser-true voice. But Jackson's own pipes are deepening with age, acquiring body like wine in a fine barrel. The 2003 CMA Entertainer of the Year has also learned, as Haggard did, to vary his material, from warm and romantic to playful and macho. This excellent disc offers a characteristically rewarding mix. Jackson wrote the appealing love song "Too Much of a Good Thing" and "If French Fries Were Fat Free," a clever ditty about wishful thinking ("If French fries were fat free and you still loved me/What a wonderful world this would be"). The singer also composed "USA Today," the best periodical tribute since Kinky Friedman's "The People Who Read People Magazine." Meanwhile, the imaginative rap "The Talkin' Song Repair Blues" recalls the great Western swing-talk singer Tex Williams. A composer advises his songwriting mechanic, "I know you've been using a cut-rate thesaurus/'Cause your adverbs have backed up into your chorus/Now your verse is runnin' on verbs that are way too weak." And the sentimental title song is a kind of mission statement that will probably serve as Jackson's concert finale for years. Jackson has another Haggardian trait-he's good at choosing his backup musicians. What I Do includes noteworthy support from guitarist Brent Mason and steel guitarist Paul Franklin, rounding out a CD of rare accomplishment.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "The Talkin' Song Repair Blues"

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DEFinition

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "Apple Cobbler"

JAZZ-POP

Taking a Chance on Love

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JAZZ-POP

Taking a Chance on Love

On her fourth album, jazz-pop chanteuse Jane Monheit, 26, salutes the songs from the MGM musicals she watched while growing up on Long Island. Not taking many chances on these arrangements, she respectfully renders such standards as Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night" and lesser-known tunes like "Too Late Now" (from 1951's Royal Wedding). Monheit comes off as a plain Jane on the orchestral renditions that, while accurately evoking the era, don't bring any new life to old faves like "Over the Rainbow." The pure-toned singer fares better when, backed by two different jazz combos (one featuring her husband, drummer Rick Montalbano), she puts a little swing in her step on numbers like "I Won't Dance," a playful duet with Michael Bublé. Best, though, is her lovely, Brazilian-tinged "Embraceable You" accompanied only by guitarist Romero Lubambo.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Embraceable You"

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Everybody Loves a Happy Ending

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "Closest Thing to Heaven"

ALT-COUNTRY

Wayward Angel

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Chambers's pinched, girlish voice had a coyly ingratiating appeal on her 2002 hit "Not Pretty Enough," but it can get a bit grating after 14 songs. On the Australian's third disc, her delivery–which suggests Shirley Temple on tequila–works nicely on "Pony," which is about a little girl's fantasies ("When I grow up I want a baby/I'm gonna name it after Ralph Stanley"). But the 28-year-old alt-country singer sounds like a Lolita on too many of the album's other tracks, and the bratty overtones don't help on the already whiny "For Sale," on which she complains about the "plastic way of living" that success has imposed on her. Maybe Chambers is going for the frail, disaffected sound of her idol Lucinda Williams. Maybe she is singing in a style that would appeal to her 2-year-old son Talon. Either way, this is a less than heavenly effort.

R. Kelly, Happy People
Kelly will rock your next backyard barbecue with feel-good grooves that even Grandma could bop to.

Tift Merritt, Tambourine
With this joy of a CD, Merritt deserves to move from the fringes of stardom onto the A-list of country-rockers.

The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
Bolstered by a novel narrative approach, this British rap act makes an album that is refreshing, even bold.

Jill Scott, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2
On this exquisitely beautiful follow-up to her memorable 2000 debut, Miss Jill delivers more powerful words and soulful sounds.

Various Artists, The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family
This tribute to the Carter family legacy bears a strong emotional impact with contributions from June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash.

DOLLY PARTON, LIVE AND WELL

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Dolly's "Halos & Horns" tour, her first in 10 years, is revisited on this concert DVD filmed at the Dollywood Theater in December 2002. Parton smoothly sweeps from recent bluegrass tunes like "Little Sparrow" and "The Grass Is Blue" to her classics "Jolene" and "I Will Always Love You," which she triumphantly reclaims from Whitney Houston.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, SOUL TO SOUL

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Originally released theatrically in 1971, this film documents the 14-hour concert extravaganza in Ghana that celebrated that country's freedom from British rule. The all-star lineup includes Wilson Pickett; the original Santana band; and Ike and Tina Turner, who burn up the stage with "River Deep, Mountain High."

INXS, I'M ONLY LOOKING: THE BEST OF

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This comprehensive two-disc retrospective is exactly what INXS fans need. Disc 1 includes such choice clips as "New Sensation," "Devil Inside" and the MTV Award-winning "Need You Tonight." A second disc includes live performances, videos for remixes and other rare footage of the Australian band.

KYLIE MINOGUE, BODY LANGUAGE LIVE

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This title captures the November 2003 concert at London's Hammersmith Apollo, where Minogue launched her latest album, Body Language. And the visuals–not Minogue's electronically enhanced vocals–do the talking here. Extras include a documentary; an interview with Kylie; and music videos for "Slow," "Red Blooded Woman" and "Chocolate."

CHER, THE VERY BEST OF CHER: THE VIDEO HITS COLLECTION

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If only for the outrageous outfits–gotta still love that butt-baring getup from "If I Could Turn Back Time"–this set shows why Cher is a diva worthy of one-name status. The 15 clips range from 1973's "Half Breed" to 2002's "Song for the Lonely."

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold.