NOTHING'S GONNA CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT ME NOW
Justin Townes Earle (Bloodshot)
Four albums ago, Justin Townes Earle introduced himself as good-time rake who warned women about his rambling ways with a wink and a pinch. His music -- a jaunty update on old-time acoustic music steeped in swing, blues, and mountain hoedowns -- perfectly matched his playful persona.
Now 30 years old, and not far from a rehab stint, Earle sounds as if he's reckoning with his wayward ways. Even his lengthy album title, "Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now," acknowledges that some burned bridges might never get repaired.
Always a gifted songwriter and guitarist, Earle deals with the consequences of his actions with an album of self-examining songs set to low-key yet lush arrangements featuring somber brass accents. His voice remains packed with emotion and personality, but it has more range and takes more risks, as he whispers, slurs, and moans like a midnight caller.
His self-written songs, each as strong as the next, deal with family history, with the way loved ones shade the truth to each other, and with the downhill side of love and friendship. Somehow, through the confessionals and dark stories, a powerful light shines through.
-- MICHAEL MCCALL, Associated Press
DEEPER IN THE WELL
Eric Bibb (Stony Plain)
Guitarist Eric Bibb takes his raw, soulful voice and his laid-back hybrid of simple folk and gut-bucket blues over to Canada's revered Stony Plain label for a warm, feel-good debut that is as inspirational as it is endearing.
The godson of actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson and son of folk singer Leon Bibb, Eric Bibb grew up in a household that got occasional visits from the likes of Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Bob Dylan.
One of several highlights on this disc is a beautiful, melodic folky cover of Dylan's classic, "The Times They Are A Changin'," a version powerful enough to stir images of '60s activism. With a vocal performance that almost makes Bibb sound like Richie Havens, his version is outstanding and memorable -- slower than Dylan's original but distinctive and familiar at the same time.
Bibb performs some songs on banjo as well as folk guitar on the disc, backed by a small band that includes a Creole fiddler and a harmonica player. The disc has a swampy Louisiana texture while covering themes such as empathy for the homeless in a song called "Could Be You, Could Be Me."
Much of it is cheerful, including the title track, which implores listeners to seize the moment and dig deeper when they must because life is what you make it. In addition to his own easygoing material, Bibb also covers a fine Taj Mahal song, "Every Wind in the River."
-- TOM HENRY, The Blade
PINK FRIDAY: ROMAN RELOADED
Nicki Minaj (Young Money/Universal)
Nicki Minaj is a one-of-a-kind talent.
That's why her decision to spend so much time trying to be anyone but herself on "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" makes so little sense.
The first half of "Roman Reloaded" is the Nicki we've come to love. The pride of Jamaica, Queens, is brash and in your face, messing with gender roles and delivering all sorts of zingers. In first-rate hip-hop like "I Am Your Leader," where she holds her own with Rick Ross and Cam'ron, and "Champion," where she takes on Nas and Young Jeezy, Minaj cements her rep as hip-hop's brightest new star. When she pays tribute to Jay-Z in "HOV Lane" and faces off with Lil Wayne in the title track, she's hard to beat.
However, there's another side to "Roman Reloaded," where hip-hop isn't enough for Minaj. She wants to conquer pop as well. That's where we get the current RedOne-produced single "Starships," which is like a twisted Katy Perry song, and "Marilyn Monroe," which is like a Rihanna ballad. This side of Minaj has her moments, in the sweaty dance pop of "Pound the Alarm" and the clubby "Whip It," which could be mistaken for a J.Lo single. But there are way too many anonymous dance numbers such as "Automatic" and "Fire Burns" that could have come from a dozen singers.
Given her larger-than-life personality, Minaj might have enough charisma to burn, but that doesn't mean she should.
-- GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday