Dr. John (Nonesuch)
Lots of colorful metaphors and adjectives have been tossed into the verbal bone pile to describe Dr. John: voodoo man, shaman, tricknologist, purveyor of beatnik cool.
How about this one: grinder. For all his sincere-but-gimmicky New Orleans weirdo jive, Mac Rebennack -- aka Dr. John -- has been cranking out dozens of albums since he first started recording in 1968. An exceptional piano player and organist and a favorite of other musicians, Dr. John also works his butt off.
His newest album, "Locked Down," was produced by Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, who keeps the heat on John's gumbo of swampy R&B, blues, and soul simmering at the perfect temperature. Blessed with a sharp, snarky snarl of a voice, John's an adept chronicler of America's gritty dark side and Auerbach is the ideal foil for helping him deliver his message.
"Revolution" features a Doors-y organ jam over a fairly traditional rhythm and blues vamp, "Ice Age" kicks off with a simple, hypnotic guitar riff and John's down-and-dirty voice sweetened by female backup singers, and the disc finally moves toward the light on the uplifting closing cuts celebrating love and heavenly blessings: "My Children, My Angels" and "God's Sure Good."
There's an addictive quality to this music as it seeps into your bones and winds its way into your psyche -- truly the work of a master tricknologist.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
The Duke Robillard Jazz Trio (Blue Duchess Records)
Easy-goin' guitarist Duke Robillard breezes through his latest album, one of more than 30 on which he's appeared or been the frontman.
"Wobble Walkin'" offers a slightly contemporary, uptempo take on Great American Songbook classics such as Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and a couple of Gershwin hits, plus songs popularized by Nat King Cole and Billie Holliday.
It's more than just another trip down Memory Lane. It's soft, delectable comfort food in the traditional jazz and blues trio format from a guy whose career includes Roomful of Blues, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and appearances with Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Dr. John, and others.
-- TOM HENRY
Carrie Underwood, (19/Arista)
The cover of Carrie Underwood's fourth album illustrates her evolution since introducing herself as a young Oklahoma woman with a powerful voice.
Initially, she came across as the friendly girl next door, with songs about Jesus and of compassion for the less fortunate, while showing her wit with empowering songs about getting back at a cheating guy.
The cover of "Blown Away" depicts the modern Underwood as an airbrushed, supermodel heroine, right leg thrust out forward from a glamorous gown like Angelina Jolie at the Academy Awards. Her opening hit, "Good Girl" -- slamming along to a sneering rock arrangement -- chastises a naive girl for not realizing she's being fooled by a conniving lover. The title song tells of an abused daughter hoping a tornado destroys her house -- and her father with it. Another, "Two Black Cadillacs," describes how a wife and a mistress silently share a deadly secret at the funeral of their two-faced man.
Those songs, delivered forcefully with cool distance rather than heated passion, set the tone for "Blown Away." Gone is the shy, small-town girl who won the fourth season of American Idol. Unlike her peers Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift, Underwood hasn't opened herself to fans through songs that reveal her personality; instead, she's charged forward with a take-no-prisoners attitude that's more about brassy, modern entertainment than connecting with fans on an intimate level.
-- MICHAEL McCALL, Associated Press