Bobby McFerrin (Sony Masterworks)
Twenty-five years ago this September, Bobby McFerrin was blessed and cursed by instant fame when his popular, breezy and almost therapeutically funny song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" became an international sensation. It rose to the top of most charts, but was especially noteworthy because it was the first a capella song ever to hit No.1 on Billboard Hot 100.
Of the many accolades that followed were Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Rolling Stone listed it as one of the 15 greatest whistling songs of all time, while VH1 cited it as one of the best one-hit wonders of the 1980s. Many people, including myself, who have followed McFerrin's career outside of his most famous song have been stunned by his creativity, imagination, versatility, vocal range, and soulful texture - his gyrations on a musical scale that go beyond ordinary talent - whether he's putting out another fine album, such as this one, or doing his own crazy-good Wizard of Oz ballad/one-man theater during a Toledo Museum of Art concert.
Still, mainstream America at large doesn't seem to know much about Boby McFerrin other than "Don't Worry, Be Happy," which is a bummer. On "spirityouall," McFerrin's gospel, but he's also a whole lot more — Americana, blues, spiritual, and both contemplative, and inspirational. One of the disc's better songs is a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." There are many highlights, including his lively improv on "Joshua" and "Glory," and his moving renditions of classics such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Fix Me Jesus," and "Jesus Makes It Good."
There are times when one questions if McFerrin's playing it too safe and not going to his unorthodox style enough. But those questions aren't enough to keep the disc from shining. McFerrin did spirityouall to honor the legacy of his father, opera singer Robert McFerrin, Sr., the first African-American to sign a contract with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
The elder McFerrin, who died in 2006, was best known as an interpreter of the American Negro spiritual. Bobby's idea for this disc was more than 20 years in the making and inspired by his father's 1957 recording, "'Deep River' and Other Classic Negro Spirituals."
— TOM HENRY
LeAnn Rimes (Curb)
LeAnn Rimes has appeared in tabloid headlines more often than the record charts the last few years. But don't fault her music: Her last three albums have featured the best work of her career and the new "Spitfire" tops them all.
The onetime child star always had a powerful voice. She often picked good material, too. But it never gelled into a consistent creative direction.
"Spitfire" finds Rimes emerging as a mature artist whose songwriting ability is catching up with her vocal talent. Ballads like "What Have I Done" and "Borrowed" convey deeply felt, difficult emotions. She also has developed into an effective pop-rocker: On "Gasoline and Matches," she bites into a raw, bluesy groove, while the exposed nerves of the modern rocker "You've Ruined Me" burn with the fire of truth.
Rimes displays a newfound subtlety in her strong voice on several songs. She effectively uses phrasing and shifts in tone to express complex feelings that sound like they come from real experience.
It's too soon to say Rimes has finally found a direction that can carry her back to the top of the charts. But "Spitfire" does show she's found her adult voice — as a songwriter as well as a singer.
— MICHAEL MCCALL, Associated Press
Queens of the Stone Age (Matador)
Opening to the sound of breaking glass and riddled with lascivious intent throughout, Queens of the Stone Age's new album. "Like Clockwork" is the soundtrack to the B movie of your dreams.
In the six years since the release of the band's critically acclaimed "Era Vulgaris," Queens founder Josh Homme has moonlighted with the Eagles of Death Metal and super group Them Crooked Vultures. Now, the California native sounds energized back in his day job.
The credit list for "Like Clockwork" reads like a who's who of modern rock, with appearances from the band's frequent collaborators Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan, as well as Homme's former bandmate Nick Oliveri, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Artic Monkeys' frontman Alex Turner and, perhaps surprisingly, Sir Elton John — who lends backing vocals and piano to "Fairweather Friends."
Thankfully, the album isn't overwhelmed by its roster of guest stars, as Homme and his cohorts create merry hell as Lucifer's house band. The 10 tracks range from piano-led laments about solitude ("The Vampyre of Time and Memory") to loose-limbed desert-funk ("Smooth Sailing") in a collection that represents a welcome expansion of Queens of the Stone Age's sonic template.
— MATTHEW KEMP, Associated Press