Pat Metheny (Nonesuch Records)
Super fluid jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has dabbled in a number of unconventional, think-outside-the-box projects such as this one, a mind-bender in which there's a computer controlled mini-orchestra capable of responding to his touch on guitar.
This two-disc set features 13 live songs from the 19-time Grammy winner's 2010 tour, which included more than 100 concerts throughout the world. The project is incredibly complex from a technical standpoint, but the bottom line is that all of those moving parts blend into a lush, fairly uncomplicated sound for the listener.
There are moments of sweet serenity and driving, pulsating tempos, none of which gets bogged down by the electronics. Metheny's soft and breezy solos are augmented by the sounds of several pianos and dozens of drums and other percussion instruments, among others -- even bottles.
They're played through Metheny's guitar with the use of solenoid switches and pneumatics, an example of how art and science can make great music. Metheny's preparation included months with a team of scientists and engineers.
-- TOM HENRY
Tim McGraw (Big Machine)
"Two Lanes of Freedom" is Tim McGraw's 12th studio album and first for a new label, Big Machine, home to Taylor Swift, after a lengthy run and messy split from Curb Records. But rather than seize an opportunity for reinvention, McGraw has continued his embrace of the neutral.
"Two Lanes" is an album that's all compromise and almost no courage, a coloring book that hasn't been filled in. He is a star resting on what look like laurels but are actually fallacies.
Sure, "Truck Yeah," a renegade power-country number in the Kid Rock vein, is a stretch for McGraw, but he lacks the grit to pull it off. Mostly, this album is suffocated with pedal steel guitar and throbbing low-end bass, in arrangements that fill all the available bandwidth without giving McGraw any room to breathe.
The conceits are limp -- "Southern Girl" and "Mexicoma" aren't more complicated than their titles. McGraw also doesn't have a muscular enough voice to compensate for treacly or pat songwriting, or a distinctive enough one to make it sound novel. "Highway Don't Care," the collaboration with Swift, has a glimmer of intensity, but just a glimmer. "Book of John" is about preserving memories in the vein of Jamey Johnson's stark "In Color," though McGraw's lightweight approach only underscores the darkness that's missing.
McGraw is selling middle-class comfort alone these days. All but gone is the swaggering bravado of his youth, the stuff that kept him afloat in a cohort class of far more distinctive singers. There are a handful of invigorating songs here, ones with at least a modicum of risk, but to a one, they're bonus tracks, as if McGraw were afraid to put them directly in the spotlight.
-- JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Ray Parker (Self-produced)
Toledo has an embarrassing wealth of great and largely overlooked jazz musicians for a city of its size, and bassist Ray Parker is in that bunch. He's been called by some critics as one of the best bass players you've likely never heard about. He's capable of improvising on an upright bass like few bassists can.
This loose and fun debut album, recorded in late 2011, has Parker leading a smooth jazz string trio that includes Jon Hart on guitar, Russell George on violin and, surprisingly, nobody on drums. Yes, nobody on drums -- but that doesn't hurt the trio's tempo. Parker is the son of local legend Gene Parker, a saxophonist who also plays vibes, clarinet, flute, percussion, bass, and piano.
Songs on this disc include renditions of tunes by Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Hoagie Carmichael.