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Published: 10/2/2005

CD reviews: Gretchen Wilson is one tough customer

On "All Jacked Up," Wilson not only solidifies her image as a hard-hitting, hard-working, harder-drinking redneck, she puts listeners in awe of her sheer guts as she thumbs her nose at convention. She's certainly not afraid to party hard as on the title track, when a wink at the bar gets her tooth knocked out by the girlfriend of the fellow she flirted with. That's not the typical fare of contemporary female country singers.

She continues with the bad-girl image on a couple of other saloon numbers, such as the clever, upbeat "One Bud Wiser" and a backhanded homage to the bartending profession, "Not Bad For A Bartender."

Appropriately, Wilson calls on Merle Haggard to help sing the anti-establishment "Politically Uncorrect." Haggard has spent a long career cultivating his bad-boy image.

Wilson carries her hard-as-nails attitude all the way to the type of tough guy she craves, such as the object of her affections on the slightly tongue-in-cheek, plug-in-cheek "Skoal Ring." Then the tenderness shows on the gorgeous "He Ain't Even Cold Yet," a fine yarn about a dead romance.

This is an outstanding second effort by an up-and-comer who manages to avoid the dangers of becoming a parody of what she has created. Listeners must take care not to take Wilson's two-fisted attitude too seriously, though; this is fun music, after all. But there is an occasional touch of seriousness as when she pays homage again to the hard work and often unappreciated drudgery of motherhood for both married and single women.

A special treat and an album highlight is a hidden, unlisted 12th song, Wilson's smoky, sensual version of Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache." It shows she has wider range and some additional, untapped talent.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

It sounds like a really bad idea. Take a collection of soul classics, and even an iconic rock and roll song, and give them a so-called smooth jazz treatment. Happily, there's actually not too much jazz, smooth or otherwise, in these reinterpretations. But thanks to Osborne there's plenty of soul. The disc works, even on pieces closely identified with an original artist like Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back To Me" or Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The title of the disc, scheduled to be released this week, sums up Osborne's performance.

- RICHARD PATON

Saxophonist Blake blends jazz, funk, Latin, and Caribbean music into a broad and confident sound. In addition to his vast skills and musical intellect, he gets support from a stellar cast that deftly intertwines his solos with anything from congas to trombone to French horn, bass, drums, and tuba. Blake is especially strong on a slow and melodically pronounced reinterpretation of "The Windmills of Your Mind." For the most part, this album - recorded by a label based in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Farms - is a delightful mixture of original material and improvisation.

- TOM HENRY

Relying on explosive melodies, chiming guitars, and sharp lyrical acuity, "All The Stars ... " has all the energy of a young band leavened with the jaded perspective of songs that are sad and lonely. Each of the 11 tracks puts a tattered relationship under a microscope. The same locations - Boston and California - keep showing up on the songs, giving them a thematic consistency that's intriguing, and the mix of ballads and anthemic radio-ready rockers conjures images of artists like Ryan Adams and U2 or even the Jayhawks.

- ROD LOCKWOOD



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