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CD Reviews


John Legend

Evolver (G.O.O.D. Music/Columbia)

John Legend has always come off as a smooth and mannered romantic whose overtures have resonated with innate sophistication, whether it was the fusion of uplifting gospel harmonies and fat beats at the heart of the title cut off his debut album, Get Lifted, or the ’70s Philly soul throwback “Each Day Gets Better” off his ’06 sophomore outing Once Again, with its fuzz guitar, congas and Honey Cone-ish female accompaniment. This time around, Legend (mostly) trades in his meticulous studio ways for a stab at material that’s more ribald in both approach and subject matter. Leadoff single “Green Light” has an electro-funk lite shimmy to it with faux handclaps and synth swooshes that suggest Outkast, further enhanced by that outfit’s Andre 3000 contributing some slick rhymes that name-check Robin Givens and Anita Baker. Elsewhere, a vocoder and some of Kanye West’s swagger allow Legend to turn “It’s Over” into a rare breakup song that’s an equally enticing mid-tempo dance jam. Such are the piano-playing singer-songwriter’s talents that even a silly sexual come-on that invokes global warming on the Brandy duet “Quickly” is forgiven thanks to how well both vocalists work together. While Legend should be lauded for attempting to build on the safe and solid sound he’s known for at this point, there are certain instances that come off better on paper than in reality. “No Other Love” finds him teaming with his edgy protégé Estelle on a reggae jam more reminiscent of flaccid Maxi Priest (a redundancy, I understand) versus a grittier Marley or Tosh. And the electro-funk-flavored “Satisfaction” matter-of-factly plods along with lines like, “Give me some satisfaction/ Give me the magic back/ That’s all I ask of you.” Legend is better pleading his case when he’s crooning “I don’t wanna risk losing everything/ But I’ll take the chance/ And tell you what I’m thinking, girl…” amid the lush harmonies of “Cross the Line,” or striking a chord of hope for the future via “If You’re Out There,” a sweeping anthem introduced at the Democratic National Convention as part of Legend’s support for Barack Obama. More an intriguing tinkering than stylistic overhaul, Evolver stays close enough to the John Legend blueprint so as not to rock the fanbase boat too much. —Dave Gil de Rubio


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Lucinda Williams
Little Honey (Lost Highway)

Lucinda Williams has gone from being a critically acclaimed cult figure who has been making music nearly 30 years (yet released only two albums in the ’90s), to a reinvigorated artist who cut four records in the decade since 1998’s Grammy-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. While last year’s ethereal and darkly ambient West drew inspiration from the passing of a parent and the end of a toxic relationship, Williams’ 10th studio album is a looser and grittier affair that’s goosed along by her band Buick 6 and a handful of special guests. Opening with the unabashedly straightforward twangy declaration “Real Love” and its couplets “I found the love I’ve been looking for/ It’s a real love, it’s a real love,” Williams immediately strikes a lighter tone than what was found on the solemn West. On the slinky blues shuffle “Tears of Joy,” the Louisiana native declares with her signature drawl that “I used to play games with my boyfriends/ Fashion and fame, hip little trends/ Now I have a real man, don’t have to pretend” while amid the fuzz-guitar stomper “Honey Bee,” she naughtily declares, “Now I got your honey/ All over my tummy.” The shimmering and heartfelt “Rarity” may also reflect this newfound joy, but Williams still maintains a knack for weaving manna out of heartbreak and the darker aspects of human nature. “Circles and X’s” is a loping tale of adultery framed by the lines “You stay for just a while/The vows have all been broken,” while the ruptured relationship at the center of “If Wishes Were Horses” is perfectly defined by the chorus “But if wishes were horses/ I’d have a ranch.” Elsewhere, “Little Rock Star,” with its swelling percussive crescendo and mentions of juvenile delinquents, Peter Pan and death wishes serves as a raspy warning to the Pete Dohertys and Amy Winehouses of the world. Even Williams’ missteps merit repeated listenings, whether it’s “Jailhouse Tears,” the much ballyhooed honky-tonk Elvis Costello collaboration that borders on being a third-rate George Jones/Tammy Wynette duet, or the album’s closer, a languid cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” that stumbles over a disjointed intro and gospel-flavored harmonies that never allow it to effectively slip into gear. Little Honey is the sound of rejuvenation tempered by the scars of the past. —DGdR

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