CD reviews: Tim McGraw, Macy Gray
Tim McGraw”Let It Go” (Curb)Tim McGraw is one of the music industry’s surest things, a steady producer of hits and nine consecutive platinum albums since he first scaled the charts in the 1990s. He’s done it with a safe range of pop-leaning country and sticks to a recent pattern of lightly stretching those boundaries without ever quite surprising on “Let It Go,” a collection of smoothly produced, soft-pedaled cowboy anthems.Mild-mannered affability is a large part of the singer’s appeal, whether he is barking the solemn, ascending swell of “Nothin’ To Die For” or cribbing both attitude and sonic palette from Joe Walsh on the twangy “Last Dollar (Fly Away).” He complements his earnest hoots with occasional detours such as the dark one in the southern-fried “Between the River and Me,” but his laid-back vocals don’t smolder any more than his wife Faith Hill’s plastic guest spot on by-the-numbers longing tune “I Need You.”Recently name-checked in the title of Taylor Swift’s hit single, McGraw passes along the favor on the leisurely rugged country churn of “Kristofferson.” His instincts tend toward the accessible, as seen on a bland take on Eddie Rabbitt’s “Suspicions,” but he could certainly get by with an even more formulaic method, so it’s encouraging that he occasionally broadens his approach on tunes such as the piano-laced country pulse of “Shotgun Rider.”- Thomas Kintner, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service Lil’ Flip”I Need Mine” (Asylum/WB)That Lil’ Flip needs his is indisputable. The question is, do you need a double-disc set of hip-hop from Houston’s self-proclaimed finest? Some of these tunes have reportedly been reclaimed from a version of “I Need Mine” that leaked last summer, and are offered as a sort of bonus by T.I.’s former rival. Yet even Flip’s most valuable asset — his sunny nature – isn’t enough to ensure audience goodwill for his simple, sing-song flow by the end of disc two.As is usually the case with double albums, enough decent tracks are spread across both CDs to make a worthy single outing. Flip’s detractors may slag him as soft – ignoring the fact that this is a guy whose debut featured him dressed up like the Lucky Charms leprechaun – but the R&B-inspired collaborations with Mya on “Flippin'” and Lyfe Jennings on “Ghetto Mindstate” are the clear standouts, offering a diversion from gangsta snoozers like “Bustaclip” and the earnest but misguided celebration of a “Single Mother.”Still, the first 75 minutes often seem endless, which means by the time you get to the deserving leftovers – “3, 2, 1 Go,” an exciting Down South rumble between Flip and Three 6 Mafia – you’ll have already gotten yours, and then some.- Dan LeRoy, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service Macy Gray”Big” (Geffen/will.i.am)Success came fast for Macy Gray, whose 1999 debut, “On How Life Is,” has sold more than 3 million copies, thanks to hits such as “I Try.” Her next two albums didn’t fare as well, though, and when she didn’t produce a hit as big as her early jams, Epic Records sent Gray packing.That was shortsighted, but not because of Gray’s blockbuster chart potential.”Big,” her fourth album and first for the eponymous label of Black-Eyed Peas front man will.i.am, probably won’t restore Gray to heavy rotation on the radio or MTV.But that says more about them than about Gray, who turns in a dozen focused songs steeped in soul touches both retro and modern.She sends her distinctive raspy voice soaring on the soul vamp “Glad You’re Here,” with help from Black-Eyed Pea Fergie, and turns the sentiment around on “Finally Made Me Happy” as she celebrates a lover’s departure, accompanied by sweeping strings and a lead piano line in debt to the ’60s Brill Building pop sound of Carole King.”Ghetto Love” opens with the dramatic introduction from James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” and launches into a funky burst of swirling wah-wah guitar and a blaxploitation bass line.There’s a modern feel to the smooth neo-soul slow-jam “What I Gotta Do,” and freaky electronic beats push “Treat Me Like Your Money” into a huge, hooky chorus that gives way to a quick set of rhymes from will.i.am.It’s the tune that could make “Big” big, but even if it doesn’t, Gray’s latest is an engaging, soulful effort from a singer who is proving herself to be more of a career artist than a hit-maker.- Eric R. Danton, L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service
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