From left, Paul Deakin, Jerry Dale McFadden, Robert Reynolds, Eddie Perez (seated), and Raul Malo of the Mavericks.
The Mavericks (Valory Music)
From beginning to end of the Mavericks' reunion album "In Time," the genre-busting band embodies the very best of the melting-pot experience that's a fundamental component of the American character. Singer-songwriter Raul Malo and his Nashville-based compatriots draw freely, and joyously, from regional cultures spanning North and South America on a collection that will be hard to top as the year's most scintillating pop music outing.
The party begins in the opening track, "Back in Your Arms Again." A fat, twangy chord from an echo-drenched country guitar shares space with a lilting strummed Hawaiian uke, which are quickly joined by a peppery Tex-Mex keyboard and timbales that ride along as a propulsive rhythm section jumps in. Then Malo's soaring tenor arrives, bringing palpable romanticism to a tale about the sweetness of reunion that applies equally to the song's romance-minded protagonist as his band's own return to the spotlight.
The spirit of inclusiveness never lets up, infusing the pedal-to-the-metal punch of "Lies," the mariachi-spiked breakup celebration in "Fall Apart" and the Tex-Mex fiesta of "All Over Again." And if there isn't a pop vocal Grammy Award next year for Malo's stunning display on the eight-minute operatic Latin-pop-gospel epic "(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven," awards overseers ought to just pack it in and say "Adios."
Malo, whose Cuban heritage comes out in the dance-mindedness of nearly every track, also co-produced the album with Niko Bolas, and they've captured a sound as tangibly uplifting as pop music gets. The Mavericks are back and indeed, just in time.
— RANDY LEWIS, Los Angeles Times
Atoms For Peace (XL)
Atoms For Peace arose out of the touring band Thom Yorke assembled for 2009's "The Eraser." That album, the first solo record from Radiohead's singer, focused on the jittery electronic textures that have been a major part of Radiohead's vocabulary since "Kid A," although with a comparatively narrow palette.
"Amok" is an extension of "The Eraser," although it's a more dynamic and urgent album. It grew out of jam sessions between Yorke, multi-instrumentalist Nigel Godrich (Radiohead's longtime producer), bassist Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco, and many songs build slowly on repetitive, deeply layered grooves.
The result isn't too distant from the subdued end of Radiohead's broad spectrum (one song, "Judge, Jury and Executioner," even takes its title from the subtitle of "Hail to the Thief's" "Myxomatosis"). Yorke sings of paranoia and dislocation, and brooding, nervous tension is the prevailing mood.
—STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (Soundtrack)
Marco Beltrami (Sony Music)
Rolling timpani, lush strings, heart-racing percussion, a big symphonic sound, and a frenetic pace — this original, all-instrumental composition has all of the elements you expects from the fifth in a series of highly successful action films starring Bruce Willis.
Although Beltrami delivers an adrenalin-worthy score, it's hard to find how this disc distinguishes itself from the predecessors of its genre. The twice Oscar-nominated Beltrami wrote the score for Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth Die Hard movie. The late Michael Kamen scored the first three.
This soundtrack's good and it's not nearly as dark as it could have been. It's just not unique enough to stand out.
— TOM HENRY