CD Reviews: Lyle Lovett, Estelle and more
Lyle Lovett has always had a sly sense of humor. With his current major-label contract set to end, how could he not name his new album "Release Me"? Truth be told, there is a bit of an end-of-the-line feeling to the record - which features new Lovett songs; a few covers, including a new version of the title track as a duet with k.d. lang; and some seasonal songs, "The Girl With the Holiday Smile" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside." That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it's handled by a master like Lovett, but it does feel more disjointed than most of the albums in his catalog. Even so, "Release Me" has several moments of Lovett inspiration. His countrified version of Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" feels timely today, nearly six decades after the original, as he talks about a guy "arrested on charges of unemployment." He even effortlessly channels a '60s soul revue on "Isn't That So." "Release Me" shows off so many of Lovett's talents that, instead of a bid for freedom, it actually doubles as a well-constructed audition for his next gig.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
For their Grammy-winning debut ('10's "Genuine Negro Jig"), the Carolina Chocolate Drops drew deeply from the African-American string band tradition, revivifying a forgotten aspect of American musical heritage by infusing their masterful musicianship with a certain playful modernity. For their follow-up, the group, which now includes Brooklyn-based guitarist and banjo player Hubby Jenkins in addition to original members Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons, looked to Nashville producer Buddy Miller to help push their sound forward, and the results are bracing. Restless and mournful in the best bluegrass tradition, "Eden" crackles with immediacy, from the fiery call-and-response ring shout "Read 'Em, John" bleeding into the sunny, African-tinged "Mahalla," to the noise of night itself creeping in on Giddens' chilling a cappella rendition of Hazel Dickens' high lonesome classic "Pretty Bird."
With their seventh release, the Virginia-based brothers of Pontiak continue what now seems like a spiritual quest for the perfect '70s rock riff, the one so vital, straightforward and chest-collapsing that it causes slow-motion demolition-derby footage to begin playing in listeners' brains. Bracketed by the conversion-van-rattling opener "Lions of Least" and the heat-death fadeout of "Panoptica" are some more modulated moments, including "Silver Shadow," a song that's pretty the way a nuclear cooling tower is pretty - further proof that heavy doesn't have to be ugly.
'All of Me'
The long-anticipated third album from the British R&B songstress best known for "American Boy" finally arrives, featuring Rick Ross, Janelle Monáe and more.
School of Seven Bells
Now just a duo, these Brooklyn-based purveyors of gauzy electronics return with a heady concept record of love and memory.