CD reviews: Amy Winehouse, Black Lips
March 19, 2007
Back to Black (Universal Republic)With the arrival of Amy Winehouse, America now has its choice of two saucy British female singers who get their kicks updating classic 1960s pop styles.Unlike fellow breakthrough Lily Allen, who sneaks her biting lyrics into smiley bluebeat ska tunes, Winehouse goes for the grit of vintage soul and R&B.Sporting fully tattooed arms, beehive hair and cat-like mascara, she invokes everything from early Motown to the Shangri-Las.Already notorious in the U.K. for drunken behavior and an alleged eating disorder, Winehouse cultivates a bad-girl image on songs like Rehab, which mixes castanets, baritone sax and xylophone for a modern take on the Phil Spector sound.Although Winehouses penchant for throwing curse words and blunt sexuality into her old-school tunes is something of a gimmick, it succeeds in setting her apart from the jazzy neo-soul singers they play at Starbucks.Even if her vulgarity is her main selling point, shes more than just a novelty act. On Love Is a Losing Game, she aims to create a standard, singing with weariness well beyond her 23 years.Her conviction might be part of the act, but it doesnt matter. Sweet or sour, genuine or just having a laugh, Winehouse is worth spending an hour with. Kenneth Partridge, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service
Luvandmusiq (WEA/Atlantic)Musiq Soulchild may have changed labels in an NBA-style swap that may be the shape of industry things to come, Def Jam traded him straight up for rapper Fabolous but his lazy, occasionally lovely, boy-next-door soul has hardly changed at all. And thats encouraging, for a couple of reasons.One is that the traditional song craft displayed on Musiqs fourth album remains a welcome antidote to the sloppy two-chord moan-fests that pass for R&B these days. Like the late, similarly underrated Gerald LeVert, Musiq and his collaborators (which include Raphael Saadiq and the Underdogs) recall the virtues of vintage soul without resorting to self-conscious, sound-alike parody. More important, Musiqs quest to find true love and become a Betterman continues, proving that the lamentable state of urban music hasnt killed romance.The most Stevie Wonder-esque song of the bunch is Ms. Philadelphia, the story of a girl who says after law school / She wants a career before kids. It was co-written by Ne-Yo, an artist who shares Musiqs classicism, but expresses it with more flair (and thus, more recent singles success). Still, the slow and steady sound of Luvandmusiq is a tribute to old-fashioned attributes like quality and consistency well worth supporting. Dan LeRoy, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service.
Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo (Vice/Atlantic)The Black Lips are said to be one of the best live bands going today, but its unclear from this disc what all the fuss is about. Recorded in some dive in Tijuana, its not a bad album. But get past the hype and its hard to see how the Black Lips are better than some of the other bands making skuzzy garage rock.In the Lips favor, they have a great, dirty sound that pays homage to past heroes, but they dont bring much more to it. The songs dont explode in a mess of nervous energy like some of the better garage acts around. Stranger and Fairy Stories pack a bit of a punk bite, but for the most part the songs just skitter along on laid-back Bo Diddley beats.This lackadaisical, gritty charm might be a major selling point for some people the hipsters who buy anything that Vice puts out, say but the rest of us are bound to wonder what all the accolades are for. This CD fails to live up to the bands reputation. Thomas Pizzola, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service
My Name Is Buddy (Nonesuch)Take a cat, a mouse and a blind preacher toad. Set em loose across America and put it to music.Its a journey that only Ry Cooder could usher us through.My Name Is Buddy spins folk-song tales that celebrate the common man and take swipes at racism and capitalism as its protagonists mosey through the early part of the 20th century.Cooder is joined by an all-star group of musicians, including Pete Seeger and his brother Mike Seeger, who provide an authentic workingmans vibe. As Buddy, Lefty the Mouse and the Rev. Tom Toad confront ambitious allegory in their travels, the record stays focused on the proposition put forth in Three Chords and the Truth say it straight, brother, and dont let anyone shut you up.Although the folk songs fit the theme of the album, they dont showcase Cooders skills as a composer. In previous efforts, most notably 2005s stunning Chavez Ravine, Cooder painted mesmerizing sonic murals with complex palettes and jaw-dropping textures.But the message here is a simple one, not unlike the working men championed throughout: Take care of your fellow man, distrust the Man and be cool in general, man.For that, the music is a match. Stephen Busemeyer, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service