Kendrick Lamar performs at the 60th annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden in New York.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM
Various Artists (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
At times, the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther album feels like a stand-alone set, only loosely related to the Marvel film for which it’s named. But the album is a solid, entertaining listen that, in places, has its power.
There’s the opener and title track, in which Lamar seems to be speaking for himself, the Compton native, while also channeling T’Challa, the Marvel character who reigns over the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and protects it in his secret role as superhero Black Panther. “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland/King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we living again.” Lamar raps, establishing the connection between himself and the film, and perhaps making Lamar fans feel a little closer to the powerful figures they’re set to see in theaters.
Lamar is reflective, too, rapping about struggles on and off-screen, the natural tragedies and the man-made, on the poignant “Pray for Me,” featuring the Weeknd. “Who need a hero?/ You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero,” Lamar rhymes.
But neither Lamar, nor his lyrics, are what make Black Panther the Album remarkable. Instead, it’s all the layering — of artists, styles, sounds — and even language, like on the somber “Seasons,” which opens with a verse from South African rapper Sjava, whose bars need no translation to be felt.
Things get super impressive with “Bloody Waters,” featuring Ab-Soul, in which Lamar has somehow married together the “Yes, Lawd!” high energy of Anderson .Paak with the melancholy depth of English singer James Blake.
The easy transition from one voice to the next is thanks in no small part to lead producer Sounwave, whose shifting beats keep ears glued to the music. An R&B opening gives way to a tough West Coast vibe on “Paramedic!” featuring hip-hop collective SOB x RBE.
And Blake is back on another jewel, “King’s Dead,” with Lamar, Jay Rock, and Future. “The Ways” with Khalid and a singing-Swae Lee is adorable, while “Redemption,” which brings together California singer Zacari and South African singer Babes Wodumo, is a dance-inducing, Afro-beat gem.
For some, Black Panther The Album will stand as just another star-stacked compilation piece instead of a masterful album matching the intensity of the highly anticipated film. Certainly, the argument could be made. But for the ones who are excited about the film — its diversity, symbolism, and vision — they’ll find what they’re looking for.
— MELANIE SIMS, Associated Press
SEE YOU AROUND
I’m With Her (Rounder Records)
Feels like fate must have brought together three already successful alt-folk musicians whose angel voices blend as seamlessly as their strings. The lovely sounds of I’m With Her — the trio of Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins — are on splendid display in the group’s first full-length album, See You Around.
The product of a marathon songwriting session in a Vermont barn and recorded mostly live, the album has a warm, intimate feel even when the undertones are melancholy.
On 12 tunes, the trio swaps lead vocals and guitar instrumentals in tales of love won, lost and in between. Jarosz’s soulful mandolin, a stellar fiddle from Watkins (Nickel Creek) and subtle synth and piano from O’Donovan (Crooked Still) add layered texture.
Jarosz opens the title track in her clear, earthy soprano, a beautiful breakup song with lilting, lush harmonies that make this the one to put on rewind.
Another standout is Gillian Welch’s “Hundred Miles,” a hardship road tale that has Watkins starting off starkly a cappella, her bandmates and instruments joining in at a typically languid Welch pace.
That pacing continues on “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree),” a more upbeat story of summertime pleasures punctuated by O’Donovan’s breathy rasp-tinged voice.
The bluegrass-y instrumental “Waitsfield” opens with a jaunty fiddle and raises a question: Might the title refer to the bucolic Vermont village of the same name? Maybe it was even where the ladies ventured to replenish their supply of Heady Topper beer — the only time, the liner notes say — that they left their songwriting seclusion.
— LINDSEY TANNER, Associated Press
John Mayall's 'Three for the Road'
THREE FOR THE ROAD
John Mayall (Forty Below Records)
Whoa. Dismiss any thought that legendary Blues Hall of Famer John Mayall is slowing down. Three for the Road, which is being released nationally Friday, captures the 84-year-old English icon in prime form, jamming some amazing solos on vocals, guitar, keyboard, and harmonica with the likewise supremely talented Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums.
Recorded live in Dresden and Stuttgart, Germany, the nine songs include fresh takes on numbers by Mayall, Sam “Lightin’” Hopkins, Sonny Landreth, Lionel Hampton, and others.
In a career that spans more than 50 years, including moments on stage with Eric Clapton, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Coco Montoya, and many other stars of rock ‘n’ roll and blues, there are a lot of Mayall highlights.
Three for the Road has fiery tempos and road-weary, earthy textures. It’s a successful follow-up to last year’s release, Talk About That.
— TOM HENRY, The Blade
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