Christina Aguilera (RCA)
Christina Aguilera has a great voice, yet she can be a terrible singer.
As is her tradition, she runs the gamut on her new "Lotus" -- in some ways a showcase for a professional pop star who knows how to turn it out, and in others, an example of bombastic overindulgence, the last thing an expert on a singing show should advocate.
But that's the mixed bag that is Christina Aguilera, a judge on NBC's The Voice.
The singer is at first impressively multi-dimensional on "Lotus," her reined-in vocals dovetailing into the electro-swirl of an opener that hints at experimental stuff to come. And it does come, early on: Aguilera has rarely sounded more playful than on the inventive "Red Hot Kinda Love," where she works "la-la-la's" and yodeling into textured layers of irresistible, shuffling rhythms.
Her histrionic delivery is effective in conveying determined strength on the persuasive dance track "Army of Me," it makes a valid counterpoint to softer passages on the piano-based "Blank Page," and she gets similar bellowing support from fellow Voice judge Blake Shelton on the powerful duet "Just a Fool."
Still, even though Aguilera's fans embrace her overwrought style, she would doubtless broaden her audience if she practiced more nuance and restraint. As it stands, Aguilera's default setting is to blare at full tilt, and when the bloom fades on "Lotus" and arrangements trend toward the generic, the performer sings her guts out to no positive end.
-- CHUCK CAMPBELL, Scripps Howard News Service
Thomas Newman (Sony Classical)
There are a few dead spots in composer Thomas Newman's all-orchestra score for the new James Bond movie, but we should stress only a few.
That's a minor beef and somewhat expected, given the musical limitations of a spy thriller and the need for balance. Newman's music is at times as dashing and action-packed as the movie, the 23rd in an iconic film franchise that spans 50 years.
There is strong, frenetic energy, mystery, intrigue, sophistication, and hints of wry humor tied with the Bond aura, performances that are exquisite and not outlandish, but not really the sort of stuff that sticks with you.
-- TOM HENRY
Magic Slim & The Teardrops (Blind Pig)
No need to wonder if Magic Slim's still got it at age 75.
From the start, when Slim and the Teardrops open with a title track written by Eddie Taylor, the tone is set for robust, hard-charging blues that exemplify the Mississippi-to-Chicago sound.
The coarse-throated singer and rugged guitarist who once opened for Pearl Jam in Chicago is on his game with a number of old-school songs, including a Muddy Waters number, "Champagne and Reefer."
Al Basile (Sweetspot)
Roomful of Blues alum Al Basile offers something more down-home and gritty than one might expect from a musician who's best known for the mean trumpet and coronet he wields.
This two-disc set focuses on his fine songwriting skills which run the gamut from traditional blues to material that's more '60s-era Memphis style. This disc is largely a retrospective of the various sounds Basile has created for the Sweetspot label he created 14 years ago.
It was produced by Roomful of Blues leader Duke Robillard, who's known Basile since 1969. It's a charmer that delivers a warm feeling in your belly, with solid lyrics about heartache, life, love and other themes common to the blues.