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Published: Wednesday, 10/6/2010

Jennings: Lyfe in the slow lane

Toledo native's Lyfe Jennings says this is his final studio album and asks us to "pray for my next journey."

Based on this release, it isn't likely to be a speedy journey, because the 13-track collection of smooth R&B grooves - at its best when sounding most old-school - takes its leisurely time. Mid-tempo is about as upbeat as it gets.

Nothing wrong with slow burns, of course. But this collection could have used changes of pace and more variety in its musical stylings.

Jennings gets off to a strong, though apparently controversial, start with "Statistics" on which, over a slow rhythm, he cites purported numbers that speak to the decay in relationships, while telling young women not to be "booty call."

It's a good message from a disc that doesn't shy away from giving its opinion (and is all the better for that). There's a similar tone to "It Coulda Been Worse," with its religious connotations.

Sonically, the songs are predominantly low-key and synth-based, with several taking on a nicely late-night vibe, like "Love" and "Spotlight." But there can be too much of a good thing, and even with high points like the lush harmonies of "Whatever She Wants," the old-school-soul referencing "Mama," or the more passionate vocals of "If Tomorrow Never Comes," the disc is too much Lyfe in the slow lane.

Heard individually, at least half the tracks make you sit up and take notice.

But taken together, they don't rouse enough energy.

- RICHARD PATON

Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, is on a bit of a roll as he approaches his 70th birthday in November.

Last week, he was among 15 musicians and groups nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same hall also recently enshrined Cosimo Matassa's J&M studios, a New Orleans recording studio where Rebennack recorded many of his early hits as a backup and solo performer, as a rock and roll landmark.

Meanwhile, Dr. John's latest album, "Tribal," is a worthy follow-up to his tour de force of political statements, "City That Care Forgot," winner of the 2008 Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

"Tribal" hardly will go down as Dr. John's most memorable disc, but it's a jazzy blend of new material rooted in his thick New Orleans musical gumbo where he reminds the listener he's still got issues with modern America while stepping back into his old-time southern Louisiana voodoo funk.

The most straight-ahead number is the bittersweet love song "Change of Heart," a mournful break-up ballad with a sense of purpose nonetheless. He can be odd, unorthodox, and ornery as a bear, but Dr. John - a staple of Southern R&B, rock, blues, and funk since the 1950s - also has shown time and again he can be an incredibly pervasive keyboard artist, even a romantic one at that.

- TOM HENRY

This is Texas dance hall music at its straight-up best, with 14 tracks of lively stuff well sung and beautifully played. Tomblin's lead vocals are made better by incredible talents on assorted guitars, bass, drums and piano. Tomblin's usual stable of backup musicians get some capable assists here on steel guitar and fiddle, adding to the lush honky tonk swing sounds.

Tomblin's band mates make up a Who's Who of the best-known Austin area musicians, most having spent chunks of successful careers playing with some of the top artists in country music past and present. They shared the stage with such stars as Johnny Cash, the Byrds, Merle Haggard, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Ray Price, and many more. Rhythm guitar player Bobby Arnold handled technical chores on recordings by Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Les Paul. Their musical pedigrees are impressive.

This group's brand of honky tonk swing music is a rocking or loping, steady beat of good-time country much in the mold of the fellow Texans who created it for listening or dancing. While Tomblin usually handles most of the lead vocals, he shares the front singing chores with five of his colleagues here. Take a ride on this merry go round; it's a solid bit of Texas.

- KEN ROSENBAUM



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