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- April 02, 2012
- Vol. 77
- No. 14
Picks and Pans: Music
The MF Life |
Hot off of winning two Grammys-for cowriting and performing "Fool for You" with Cee Lo Green-Melanie Fiona is back with a second set that may give her a shot at more gramophones next year. Building on her impressive debut, 2009's The Bridge, The MF Life is one of the best R&B albums of 2012 so far, balancing old-school soul with new-school swagger. The latter is boosted by guest rappers J. Cole (on the booming "This Time"), B.o.B (on the uplifting "Change the Record") and Nas (on "Running," which, produced by Amy Winehouse collaborator Salaam Remi, evokes the late British singer). But it's Fiona's from-the-gut delivery that brings gritty life to tunes like "Wrong Side of a Love Song," turning pain into your listening pleasure.
Taking a page from Twilight-another movie franchise adapted from a young-adult book series-The Hunger Games has assembled a soundtrack that is a blockbuster in its own right. Featuring stars from pop (Maroon 5), country (Miranda Lambert), rock (Arcade Fire) and hip-hop (Kid Cudi), it's designed for mass appeal. In fact the set's biggest draw is none other than Taylor Swift. The country-pop princess appears on two tracks, best of which is "Safe & Sound," a lovely folk ballad with rich shades of harmony by the Civil Wars. As with most of this collection-which includes all new songs-it captures the dark mood of the film. "Safe & Sound" and other cuts are also evocative of the Appalachian setting. Helping to give rootsy authenticity-as well as artistic cohesiveness-to the whole thing is uber-producer T Bone Burnett, who also helmed the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. He brings out the moody blues in Adam Levine on "Come Away to the Water." Other highlights include "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder," the Secret Sisters' lilting lullaby and the Decemberists' "One Engine," which provides a welcome rock charge.
People assume you're in a relationship.
JOY WILLIAMS: It's a big brother/little sister dynamic. We're both happily married to other people. My husband is our manager, so he's on the road with us. John Paul's wife and kids come out periodically too, so it's very much a traveling family.
What was it like opening for Adele on tour last year?
JOHN PAUL WHITE: Wonderful. She's got such a big heart and a huge laugh that fills up a room. We got to be really close friends. We actually have matching tattoos now. joy: It's three dots on the inside of our left wrists, so it's [like] "to be continued." And three dots for the three of us.
JOY, you're six months pregnant. What is John Paul's role going to be when you have your baby?
JOY: He's going to be the master diaper-changer. He'll get up at night, so I can sleep.
JOHN PAUL: Absolutely not! I have four kids of my own, so I've paid my dues. I'm going to laugh and rub it in.
Any baby names yet?
JOHN PAUL: John Paul!
JOY: I'm sorry. I don't think John Paul is in the running.
JOHN PAUL: Your loss.
Port of Morrow
The indie band fuses '60s pop, psychedelia and a bit of country on their shiny latest. The title tune, with James Mercer's dreamy falsetto, is bliss.
Third on Idol in '10, James didn't rush out his debut, cowriting most tunes. The solid if unspectacular set, while rooted in country, dips into soft and southern rock too.
"We may be trash but we're a family," sings Waylon's son on the rocking "Southern Family Anthem." His reflections on kinfolk-as a proud redneck-hit home.
With a delivery that goes from coquettish to creepy, this singer-songwriter possesses a sexy-strange allure when at her best on songs like the haunting "Heart Stops."
THE BLACK KEYS ROCK WITH ARCTIC MONKEYS
Mark my words: You won't find a better double bill in rock this year than the Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys. When the tour (traveling the U.S. through May) recently hit New York's Madison Square Garden for the first of two sold-out dates, it was an electric battle of the bands. Despite being the opening act, Arctic Monkeys-led by sneering, slick-haired Alex Turner (inset)-came off more like co-headliners. Then the Black Keys fully embraced their moment as rock's dynamic duo. By the time they got to their hit "Lonely Boy," it was clear that, with MSG totally in their hands, they were anything but alone.
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