Ciara (Epic Records)
The lead single from Ciara’s self-titled fifth album, “Body Party,” is an oozing, seductive R&B track that deserves rousing applause — especially when the 27-year-old matches the song with daring and sensual dance moves that scream Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, and others that have come before her, as she did at the recent BET Awards.
The bedroom groove is easily the best of the 11 tracks that make up “Ciara.” There are others that shine too: The bouncy “Livin’ It Up,” one of two songs to feature Nicki Minaj, has an empowering feel; the mid-tempo “Read My Lips” is appealing and Ciara’s sweet tone rides nicely over the semi-electronic beat of “Overdose.”
Still, the album doesn’t feel special. While it’s much better than her last two releases — the weak “Fantasy Ride” and the subpar “Basic Instinct” — the album is made up of filler.
Like her past records, “Ciara” isn't cohesive, and is instead, sporadic — some hits here, satisfactory work there, but overall, mediocrity reigns. The album, out on Epic Records, is her first since leaving LaFace Records, her home since she released her multi-platinum 2004 debut, the explosive “Goodies.” She had hits from that album and its follow-up, “Ciara: The Evolution,” but she hasn’t established her own style or sound in the near-decade she’s been on the scene. Ciara, the person, is still searching for Ciara, the singer.
Ciara kicked-off her new album with three different singles — “Sweat,” “Sorry” and “Got Me Good” — that now don’t appear on “Ciara,” a sign of her creative struggles. The album features producers and songwriters like Rodney Jerkins, Mike WiLL Made-It, Livvi Franc, and Future, her rapper-boyfriend who co-wrote and co-produced “Body Party.” Hopefully, he can be the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to her Janet — or she can find someone else to fill that slot.
— MESFIN FEKADU,
HONEY LOCUST HONKY TONK
Robert Pollard (GBV)
Robert Pollard unleashes music at an alarming rate. He’s indefatigable, and he expects the same untiring commitment from his fans, although even the most ardent among them must find it a challenge not to suffer from Pollard Fatigue.
Since the beginning of last year, the recently reactivated Guided By Voices, one of the classic cult bands of the last two decades, released four albums and an EP, and now comes another Pollard solo album, his third in the same period, and by some counts his 23rd solo set.
“Honey Locust Honky Tonk” is yet another example of Pollard’s strengths, with surprisingly few diversions into his weaknesses. The 17 brief songs are lyrically cryptic and musically direct, with 44-second fragments (“I Have To Drink”), fitful ballads (“Circus Green Machines”), and full-fledged anthems (“Flash Gordon Style”), and with few half-baked lo-fi diversions.
It’s no radical departure, but the already converted will find it another satisfying collection from indie-rock’s most prolific hero.
— STEVE KLINGE,
STILL FIGHTING THE WAR
Slaid Cleaves (Music Road)
Although he’s from Maine, Slaid Cleaves now hails from Austin and he has an abiding love for the Lone Star State, as he shows on the jaunty “Texas Love Song” and “God’s Own Yodeler,” his tribute to the late, big-voiced country singer Don Walser, “the Pavarotti of the Plains.”
As the album title indicates, however, Cleaves has some deeper and darker themes to explore, and the folk-country troubadour does so with his usual sharpness and grace. “Still Fighting the War” lays out the debilitating costs to veterans, “Welding Burns” is an empathetic portrait of his hardworking father, and “Rust Belt Fields” confronts bitter truths more with resignation than anger (“No one remembers your name just for working hard”).
In his understated way, Cleaves is just as powerful when dealing with matters of the heart on “Without Her” and “I Bet She Does,” or pondering his own end on “Voice of Midnight,” where he declares, “I’ll take my comfort in song.” Easier to do when the songs are as good as those here.
— NICK CRISTIANO,