It makes sense that the Indigo Girls would produce one of their best albums once they officially went indie. If nothing else, with their decades-long refusal to sell out in any fashion, they just seemed independent.
Shorn of major-label obligations, they've released a tremendous album that has only one weak cut - Amy Ray's overwrought closer "True Romantic" - and a number that are truly great.
As lyricists, Ray and Emily Saliers are adept at zeroing in on details and images that imbue their songs with distinctive intelligence. The passage of time, grown-up compromises, the environment, and any number of other "issues" pop up on these 10 tight songs, but they're never preachy.
Saliers gets off a snappy rocker on the chugging "What Are You Like?" and delivers her usual salient observations on human nature on "I'll Change" and "Digging For Your Dream." And Ray is typically idiosyncratic on the bubblegum pop of "Driver Education," the mandolin-driven country of "Second Time Around" (which sounds like a long-lost John Hiatt outtake), and the ode to departed old pals "Ghost of the Gang."
Toss in an all-acoustic disc of the same songs stripped down - none work quite as well as the full band versions, but it's a cool idea - and state-of-the-art production from Mitchell Froom and this is an early contender for best album of the year.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
As a follow-up to his 2006 debut "Sinners Like Me," Church has put together another album destined to be as successful or more. The singer/songwriter dishes up a dozen original tracks that shift gears so completely from one to the next that it's hard to believe they're from the same release and by the same guy.
Church has no qualms about baring his soul or feelings, but there's an optimism running through these songs that makes the package as a whole seem brighter than the first disc. Whether Church is slamming his way through a honky-tonker destined to become an anthem or crooning a torchy ballad like "Where She Told Me To Go," accented by his twangy baritone, his lyrics grab you and the music holds on tight.
He seems to be making a slot for himself in the country music business without sounding like anyone else either vocally or instrumentally. The backup instrumentalists get an interesting string of riffs or bright groove to make each song sparkle a little more.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Did your mom ever admonish you that if you couldn't think of anything nice to say, then don't say anything?
Yeah. Mine too.
So it is with a heavy heart that this nugget of maternal wisdom must be put aside, because there aren't too many nice things that can be said about Yanni's new CD. And something must be said. After all, he just had a PBS television special and this is his first noninstrumental-only release.
Yanni has teamed up with four singers - Nathan Pacheco, Chloe, Ender Thomas, and Leslie Mills - to add their voices to some of his compositions, which is all well and good, but their vocal styles are as different as the musical settings, so there's no sense of coherence.
The opener "Omaggio (Tribute)" is quasi-operatic, but it's followed by the smooth pop of "The Keeper," then Mideast-tinted "Our Days." Subsequent tracks encompass almost electro-chill ("Set Me Free"), mellow pop, Latin, and songs like "Mi Todo Eres Tu (Until The Last Moment)" that ratchet up the emotion-ometer to 11.
For all the swelling strings, the soaring voices, the oh-so-intense performances, the disc - which is accompanied by a bonus DVD - is oddly soulless. It has melodies, lush arrangements, and four talented singers, but there's too much bombast, too little emotional resonance.
There are "Voices." They're just not saying very much.
- RICHARD PATON
Tyler Bates (Warner Sunset/Reprise)
Talented composer Tyler Bates (The Day the Earth Stood Still; Californication) previously collaborated with Watchmen director Zack Snyder on 300 and Dawn of the Dead. His challenge: craft a score that befits a dark, complex graphic novel-turned-motion picture with superheroes from the mid 1980s and elements of Cold War paranoia.
The prescription may not be so obvious, but the product - all that really counts - is something Bates has pretty much nailed. The all-orchestrated score is at times bold, powerful, and gritty, while also being serene, inspirational, and uplifting.
Though at times delicate and meandering, the score has a stark beauty and lonely yet relatively focused aura. Sold separately is a 12-song soundtrack featuring songs from Simon & Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, KC & The Sunshine Band, and others, including a reinterpretation of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance.
- TOM HENRY