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BORN THIS WAY Lady Gaga (Interscope)
With the Lady Gaga-market reaching oversaturation, it's easy to get a sense of fatigue when listening to her latest effort, "Born This Way."
Delivering her third studio album in just a three-year span after a nonstop juggernaut that included a seemingly endless tour, hit after hit, countless magazine covers, and even social activism, another Gaga offering is a little bit tiring to those who aren't part of her army of "little monsters."
It doesn't help that the standard edition of the album is 17 full-length tracks, clocking in at a little over two hours. Less than a third of the way through, a "what -- there's more?" feeling starts to sink in, and finishing the album is a daunting task.
But "Born This Way" deserves that listen -- again and again and again. Though there are a few songs that miss the mark -- the Madonna-rip-off title track, for example -- overall, the album, like Gaga, is hard to get out of your conscious.
"I could be girl/unless you want to be man/I could be sex/unless you want to hold hands/ I could be anything/I could be everything," coos Gaga on "Government Hooker," a wicked electro-groove that manages to be more naughty than Rihanna's "S&M" without being as explicit. It's just part of the provocation -- both sexual and religious -- that Gaga uses to push buttons throughout the album.
Though there are song titles such as "Bloody Mary," "Judas," and "Electric Chapel," and lyrics tweak conservative mind-sets at their core, "Born This Way" is mostly an album about themes that have been written about from the beginning of pop music -- love, lust, and acceptance.
"Born This Way" needs a bit more editing. A smattering of tracks, such as "Bad Kids" or "Black Jesus," could have been left off for a tighter disc. But its length doesn't take away from its strength, and overall, it's an album that should add to Gaga's growing status as this generation's cultural icon.
-- NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, Associated Press
LOOKIN FOR LIGHT Brian Walker (Self-released)
Kicking off with the New Orleans-style stomp of the opening track and sliding into the slinky blues of "Ba Doom Boom," Brian Walker's debut disc sounds like the work of a seasoned veteran musician.
The vibe is of a guy who's been kicking around the Chicago singer/songwriter scene for years. Horn arrangements give the songs sophistication, his voice is supple and soulful, and the musicianship is tight and tasteful, all of which belies the fact that he has only been making music for six years.
Walker's songs are compact and lean, but fleshed out with a variety of instrumentation, ranging from banjo and harmonica to reeds, trombone, tuba, and cornet. The result allows the music to breathe more and extend far beyond a guy expressing himself on just an acoustic guitar.
"Gravity" features backing vocals from his wife, Crystal Bowersox, and a gorgeous slide guitar that help convey the song's otherworldly sense of questioning and loss. Other highlights include "Buddhypso," a fun goof of a song that features Walker doing his best Leon Redbone vocal with a strong cast of folks singing behind him and sounding like they just left a great party.
"Lookin For Light" is an intriguing, strong debut release, equal parts calypso, soul, blues, a bit of jazz, and soul-baring confessional.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
RENEGADE Lightnin' Malcolm (Ruf Records)
With 13 original tracks over nearly 47 minutes, Malcolm's debut solo release is a hard-edged, minimalist blues effort unlike almost anything else. With some help on drums from Cameron Kimbrough, Malcolm's own drumming, guitar work, and vocals get an additional rhythm layer that adds to the solid feel.
The two drums and guitar find a comfortable groove on each number where they stay a while and create a type of hypnotic energy outside the realm of most blues. They like to call it north Mississippi "hill country" blues, with a dash of rock, reggae, soul, and funk.
On a couple of tracks, a horn section adds some depth. This stuff is not for the fan of common blues, Delta, Memphis, Chicago, jump style or otherwise. It's a unique blend of bare-bones, groove-based music with steady rhythms. And it's a great change of pace.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM