DONNY HATHAWAY LIVE + IN PERFORMANCE
Donny Hathaway (Shout! Factory)
The folks at Shout! Factory records have come up with another fun reissue of a deserving, 1970s-era artist who isn't much of a household name any longer.
Released Tuesday, this two-CD set reminds us that Donny Hathaway had a nice funk and soul groove. Hathaway collaborated with Roberta Flack, including his Grammy-winning performance of 1973 on "Where is the Love." He drew praise from Aretha Franklin during a short career which ended with his death in early 1979.
He's credited as an influence on the likes of many modern musicians, such as Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, George Benson, India.Arie, Stevie Wonder, and Usher.
Included is a cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," and a funkified verison of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend." Legendary producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin co-produced the two original records.
-- TOM HENRY
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Soundtrack)
James Horner (Sony Music)
It's daring, dashing, intriguing, dark, and even a bit romantic -- about everything you'd expect from an original score for a big-budget superhero movie.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" soundtrack brings in one of Hollywood's greats, James Horner (Titanic, Aliens, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Avatar) to weave a web of scene-setters with a lush composition for a large orchestra that grabs attention through brass, woodwinds, and hard-rollin' timpani.
There are plenty of crescendos and some electronic effects, yet it's a soundtrack that doesn't necessarily distinguish itself from many others like it. But it's another fine one from two-time Oscar and two-time Golden Globe winner Horner, who has more than 100 movie scores to his credit.
LIFE IS GOOD
Nas (Def Jam)
On the cover of his 10th album, "Life Is Good," the urban troubadour known as Nas is dressed in a white suit, glumly holding his ex-wife Kelis' green wedding dress -- the only thing left behind after the couple's publicly acrimonious divorce. By way of his art, Nas both washes his laundry in public and shows he has moved on.
Producers No I.D. and Salaam Remi give this very personal record an aura of nostalgia, a throwback to the golden age of hip-hop, by using classic beats. Collaborations with artist like Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross and Swizz Beatz, and Nas' solos arrange themselves into a coherent necklace made of discreet gems. Old mixes with new, noir enters the flow and the lyrics are tinged with both vulnerability and brutality.
Nas is the same master wordsmith as he was when he first bowled over critics with his 1994 debut "Illmatic." He tackles thug life, and the pursuit of status, yet shows signs of growth by considering more personal topics like parenthood, love, and his relationship with his celebrity.
Songs like "Daughters," where he raps about his own real-life parenting struggles with his teenage daughter or "Bye Baby," where he addresses the breakdown of his marriage and his subsequent bleeding heart, show a touching self-awareness. "Cherry Wine" featuring the late Amy Winehouse paints him in a surprising light where he is unshackled by the stereotypical rap views of women. Nas manages to make a clean break with the past by submersing himself and us in it.
-- CRISTINA JALERU, Associated Press