Singer Mary J. Blige performs during day 3 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 13 in Indio, Cali.
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO
Mary J. Blige (Epic)
Sequels rarely outshine the originals they follow, so perhaps that's why the team behind the Think Like a Man soundtrack decided to do something different with the music for the romantic comedy's second installment.
Execs ditched the "various artists" formula — though last time it yielded a Grammy-nominated hit with John Legend's Tonight (Best You Ever Had) — and instead put all their faith in a singular artist: Mary J. Blige. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul easily proves herself more than capable of exercising a vocal and emotional range to capture all the ups, downs, and misfires one might expect from a movie inspired by Steve Harvey's best-selling relationship guide book.
Harvey would certainly approve Blige's message on the anthemic Power Back. ''The more you do that BS, the more I keep it real," she sings of dealing with a wishy-washy lover. "If it's one thing men respect, it's when we don't react."
Self-assured Blige is serious about commitment, and she says as much on the ominous, head nod-inducing All Fun and Games, produced by The-Dream. But for all Blige's tough talking, she has a soft side, too.
She finds chemistry in the club on the delicious horn and drum-laced See That Boy Again, produced by Pharrell. On the growling I Want You, she's all torn up inside when she spots her ex-guy with a new woman. And she's aching to be loved "like I'm you, like I'm you, babe," on Self Love, a beautifully grand track, which is easily the soundtrack's most riveting offering.
As a whole, the Think Like a Man Too compilation reveals that while women and men might be closer to figuring each other out, we can never outsmart love.
— MELANIE J. SIMS,
BAND OF BROTHERS
Willie Nelson (Legacy)
Willie Nelson has written a song — sometimes two, three, or four — for every occasion, mood, and moment. There's Wistful Willie. Defiant Willie. Repentant Willie. Randy Willie. Preacher Willie. Populist Willie. Whimsical Willie. Vengeful Willie.
Nelson the songwriter returns in all his wonderful guises on the first album of mostly new material he penned himself since 1996's Spirit, the best album of the latter half of his 60-year career. Nelson wrote nine of the 14 songs on Band of Brothers with album producer Buddy Cannon, and each song is a perfect projection of its writer's best qualities. They're comfortable, familiar, well-worn, but also new and different.
Nelson is 81 now, and the new songs make allowances for this. His defiant moments sound a little more world-weary, his regrets a bit more painful. But his sense of humor and philosopher's personality remain undiminished.
Band of Brothers opens with Defiant Willie staring down the storm on Bring It On. Wistful Willie lets the Guitar in the Corner play him, Repentant Willie hits The Wall and Randy Willie leads us through a tall tale of all his Wives and Girlfriends, ''but may they never meet/may they never know each other when they pass on the street."
Populist Willie provides the title track, a beautiful display of the sentiment that has made Nelson incongruously both an outlaw and a figure beloved by all. "We're a band of brothers and sisters and whatever/On a mission to break all the rules."
Nelson positions that song between a pair of Billy Joe Shaver covers — The Git Go, featuring Jamey Johnson, and It's Hard to Be an Outlaw — midway through the album, and this outlaw triptych serves as a powerful reminder of why we've loved Nelson all these years.
— CHRIS TALBOTT,
MOVE YOUR BODY
Rebirth Brass Band (Basin Street Records)
The thing about the Rebirth Brass Band — which has now been around an amazing 31 years — is that you're guaranteed a brassy New Orleans street party on just about any disc.
On Move Your Body, which was released Tuesday, there's something — dare I say it? — a little punchier, a little more upbeat, a little more inspired. This one's a definite keeper and one that fans of NOLA brassy funk, R&B, and jazz will come back to again and again. Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, now one of the world's hottest jazz ambassadors, appears on one song. But that's really only a side note to the jamming and complex blend of hilarity and in-your-face struttin' going on here from a band that's truly a band and meshes like few others, whether it's among the current lineup or with other versions that included one of NOLA's iconic trumpeters, Kermit Ruffins.
I defy anyone to listen to this euphoric explosion of brass instruments and say this album's title, Move Your Body, is not justified. The disc is dance-worthy. But, as evidenced from the opening number, Lord, Lord, Lord, You've Sure Been Good to Me — it has its moments of gospel influences, too.
— TOM HENRY