ME. I AM MARIAH ... THE ELUSIVE CHANTEUSE
Mariah Carey (Def Jam)
Mariah Carey's latest album kicks off in wonderful and typical Mariah form: She sings a song that immediately pulls you in, which has ranged from a killer club jam to a searing slow song in the past. Cry, a torching, emotional tune, is the song that does its job on Me. I Am Mariah ... The Elusive Chanteuse. You feel like you are about to experience musical bliss, and most of the time Carey has been able to hit it out of the park.
But like many veteran all-stars, there comes a time when singers make more errors and can't score a hit like they used to. Sadly, that is what is happening with Carey.
The batch of tracks on her 14th record are enjoyable, but they don't have the pizazz and spark of her past albums, including 2009's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, her worst-selling album, though musically it was one of the year's best works.
Elusive Chanteuse borrows from Carey's earlier work — and while the powerful singer still has the vocal chops, her songs find her looking too much to the past. The downtempo ballad You're Mine (Eternal) is We Belong Together 2.0, while the bouncy Thirsty sounds like it was recorded a decade ago. And tracks like the Q-Tip-produced dance number Meteorite, You Don't Know What to Do and Make It Look Good are album-fillers that don't help the project stay on track.
Carey has been recording the album since 2011, and she's struggled with its singles, from You're Mine to The Art of Letting Go to #Beautiful, a mellow outtake featuring Miguel that was released a year ago and peaked in the Top 20. Throughout the struggle, she called megaproducer Jermaine Dupri to come onboard as her manager and executive producer to shape the album. The magical duo, who have collaborated on hits such as Always Be My Baby, We Belong Together and Don't Forget About Us, haven't completely lost their charm, but the thrill is somewhat gone.
— MESFIN FEKADU,
Lonesome Shack (Alive Naturalsound)
More than anything else the blues is meant for dancing. The guys in Lonesome Shack seem to know this deep down in their bones.
These three middle-aged white dudes from Seattle surely have little in common with Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and the great bluesmen of north Mississippi who developed the distinctive and influential Hill country blues sound. But they share knowledge of the same truth: Nothing soothes the soul like boogie music.
Lonesome Shack's new 10-track album, More Primitive, is the group's first for Alive Naturalsound Records, the label that discovered The Black Keys and released that now platinum-selling group's first album. It has an authentic, lived-in feel. At the same time it's more accessible than the group's previous work, and you could see it appealing to fans of blues miners like The Black Keys, Jack White, and the North Mississippi Allstars.
Ben Todd lovingly recreates a sound that's mostly disappeared with the deaths of Kimbrough and Burnside with vocals that are high and plaintive in the old style and yet lyrically modern. His acoustic and electric guitar work creaks and crawls (Old Dream, Evil) or builds to a ramshackle sprint (beat tracks Big Ditch, Wrecks), depending on the mood. Everything's driven along by a tirelessly bouncy groove provided by bassist Luke Bergman and impressionistic drumming from Kristian Garrard.
On the title track, Todd sings, "I want to live, I want to live more primitive" to a Pied Piper beat, and not only do you believe him, but you also want to join him in the pursuit. Dancing all the way.
— CHRIS TALBOTT,
John Fullbright (Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers)
The 12 songs on John Fullbright's Songs are so sturdy they need little adornment, and many are performed solo on piano or guitar, which makes them easy to underestimate.
That would be a mistake. These songs capture the world through the eyes of a 26-year-old, with all of its complicated contradictions. As such they're modest and ambitious, bold and shy, intimate and grand. They're conversational, confessional and confident, free of frills and full of good advice. As a bonus, one of them rhymes Fauntleroy with La-Z-Boy.
These songs have been performed in coffeehouses and at festivals, on a cruise ship and at the Grammys pre-show, where Fullbright's studio debut competed against Mumford & Sons, Bonnie Raitt, and others. Their inspirations date to the 1970s, when singer-songwriters ruled the pop charts, and also the 1930s, when timeless tunes came from an Oklahoma troubadour named Woody Guthrie.
The singer here is another Oklahoma troubadour, and his topics include the price of love, the need for hope, the hazards of farm tractors and much more. His songs are sad and serious and wise and wonderful, well written, well played and well sung. Well done.
— STEVEN WINE,