Ray LaMontagne (RCA)
Famous for his smooth, smoky voice and softly soulful, earnest craft as a songwriter, Ray LaMontagne has now rearranged his brand of Americana with sensual, reverbing psychedelia, and the production help of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. The result: LaMontagne suddenly sounds as if he’s loose and having weird fun. When he sings about wanting his girl on this album’s title track, he seems, at last, to really want her — and not just to talk while sipping coffee.
Auerbach’s production should get much of the credit for the independence and sexual power of this recording. He brings to Supernova the same treatment he brought to roots-based artists such as Valerie June. (Lord knows what he’ll do to Lana Del Rey’s next album.)
On Supernova, we hear a track such as Drive-In Movies, with lyrics of youthful motives and desires, plus a jaunty, Brit-pop melody — swathed in dense organ sounds and oozing background voices. Lavender conjures more scents and taste sensations than the herb itself. Pick Up a Gun, an acoustic cut about an emotional dust-up, has more key shifts than a Yes album. Supernova is LaMontagne’s most complex statement yet about life, love, and music itself.
THE NEW CLASSIC
Iggy Azalea (Def Jam/Grand Hustle)
The blond ambitious rapper with a killer flow from the Australian outback has finally made it and she's not afraid to rap about it.
Iggy Azalea, 23, has been hustling to get to where she is since she first landed in Miami at 16, and the main theme of the 12-track The New Classic is her dream of becoming accomplished in hip-hop through hard work and unwillingness to be thwarted by bad deals, critics, and industry pressures. That's especially on tracks such as Walk the Line, Don't Need Y'all, and the dark Impossible Is Nothing.
"First deal changed me, robbed blind, basically raped me ... studied the Carters till a deal was offered, slept cold on the floor recording," she spits on Work, not as a complaint, but as a badge of honor.
Musically, the album leans toward a blend of pop and electro beats. The rappers of the heyday that led Azalea to this path may shake their heads at this softball version of their craft, but it's not called The New Classic for nothing. It's a fresher take of the rhyming arts, flipping its inherent misogyny, and machismo on its head with a few disappointing exceptions (just bypass the wealth flashing New (Expletive).) Overall, this is a women's empowerment record.
Rita Ora's velvet voice adds another layer to the anti-love slow burn of the Stargate-produced Black Widow, a song that has a writing credit from Katy Perry. Charli XCX — from I Love It fame with Icona Pop — contributes to the playful electro tune Fancy, while Azalea's mentor, T.I., gives her a hand with that whole Change Your Life thing.
If Azalea doesn't fall into the trap of rapping only about her designer clothes and wealth in the future, and keeps her eyes on the artsy prize, she might just become an old classic.
— CRISTINA JALERU,
Tommy Malone (M.C. Records)
This third solo release and second on M.C. Records by Tommy Malone, frontman for the popular New Orleans bluesy-rock band, The Subdudes, offers a soothing, laid-back feel and a dash of Southern charm.
It's guitar-driven, but a blend of acoustic and electric that's focused more on solid arrangements of rhythm and harmony as opposed to hard-edged jamming. Malone's vocals are just raspy enough to remind listeners he's been around the block a few times; his storytelling is a heartfelt and unsentimental look at love and friendships. Of special note is his opener, You May Laugh, with its upbeat, British Invasion-like tempo, Once in a Blue Moon, a beautiful, melancholy piece about his occasional longing for a former lover, and his enjoyable new take on Big Brother, one of the better songs from Stevie Wonder's best album, 1972's Talking Book, the first album Malone ever bought and still one of his favorites.
On Big Brother, guitars play the part of Wonder's keyboard and Malone's slide guitar in particular subs for Stevie's harmonica. Malone's on a solo tour in other parts of the country now, but will appear with The Subdudes on May 31 at The Ark in Ann Arbor.
— TOM HENRY