Here’s our weekly wrap up of new music that caught our attention this week.
Alicia Keys: "Here"
Alicia Keys’ first album in four years ago hearkens to her heartfelt and piano-based debut. There are few showy pop ballads, just Keys singing about self-worth, black identity, and social issues. On “Illusion of Bliss,” she takes on the bluesy voice of a woman struggling with poverty and drug addiction; for “She Don’t Really Care,” she remembers her years growing up in New York. On “Blended Family,” she reprises the chords from Edie Brickell’s “What I Am” to address the children of the man she’s married to (in this case, producer Swizz Beats), and sings, “Everything is alright with me and your mama/Everybody here you know adores ya.” In a year when socially conscious urban music has surged to the forefront, the emotionally sincere tones of Here should fit right in. –Mosi Reeves
Wyclef Jean ft. Young Thug: "I Swear"
It’s hard to believe summer has ended after listening to Wyclef Jean’s hot new single “I Swear.” The former Fugee declares romantic sentiments for his lover over a playful blend of trap beats and Caribbean production. Young Thug joins in on the fun by adding a verse and uses his unique talents of manipulating his unique voice into an instrument, in turn making the track stand out from other dancehall tunes. “I Swear” is a single from Jean’s forthcoming J’ouvert, a Caribbean-inspired EP sure to kick your winter blues. Until it drops, turn this song up, kick back and imagine taking a vacation in the tropics. — Jazmyn Pratt
Lee Fields & The Expressions: "Special Night"
Lee Fields & The Expressions’ Special Night *returns listeners to less complicated times, when soul meant singing a song from the inside out, and wasn’t a pastiche or a throwback. Or nü anything. At 65, Fields’ voice is still packed with the raw passion and power as it was when he first started singing at the age of 17 and was nicknamed JB because of his physical and vocal similarity to the great James Brown. Now 40 years later, he‘s a more nuanced singer and a better stylist with a larger emotional vocabulary — if you don’t believe it, just listen to “I’m Coming Home,” with it’s combination of social and romantic concerns: “The man tried his best to work me to death/Now I’m heading home so glad to be alone with my baby/She gets me a drink and I start to think she’s indelible. So incredible.” So is this album. *–Jaan Uhelszki
Kenny Chesney, "Cosmic Hallelujah"
* While often accurately considered a flip-flop-wearing sort of modern-day Jimmy Buffet beachcomber, Kenny Chesney has developed a notably melancholy philosophical side over the years. This album’s centerpiece “Noise,” is a neurotic primal scream at inescapable 21st century technological and political distractions, and even has him losing it a little. “Trip Around the Sun” (which provides the album’s hippiefied title) and the prettily if cynically chorused “Rich and Miserable” are shoulder-shrugging moments of Zen. A hit duet with Pink gets its power-ballad chords via The Who and Tom Petty; “All the Pretty Girls” is a fun early John Cougar rip; “Jesus and Elvis” is wistful Christmas honky-tonk. There’s also an obligatory ode to small towns, a sappy sports tune, a bucket-list joke that changes the “b” to an “f,” and lots and lots of beer. *–Chuck Eddy
B.o.B’s Elements *compiles four mixtapes he has released over the past 12 months. Despite a recent dustup with famed cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson over his (perhaps joking) claim that the Earth is flat, these elements-titled projects don’t dwell too long on scientific minutiae. However, he ponders questions around how people are constrained by society’s expectations on “Bend Over” and despairs over his mortality on “Born to Die.” Each section finds him exploring his muse and playing with genres. For fans of his 2014 hit “Headband,” there are plenty of slappers like “Cold Bwoy” and “Lights Out,” too.–Mosi Reeves*
Jim James: "Eternally Even"
On his second solo album Jim James, the affable My Morning Jacket’s frontman, takes an unexpected left turn into both activism and ambient music. Droney, with stuttering rhythms like off-speed pitches, James has made the sort of album you’re more likely to hear in the elevator at the Ace Hotel than at Bonnaroo. Steeped in a kind of hipster soul, the musician tackles some of the fretful messages that rise from the ooze during an election year, something that he makes material on “Same Old Lie,” a modern day rewrite of The O ‘Jay’s “Back Stabbers” with a disembodied chorus of background singers that float behind the music like unruly ghosts. Eventually Even certainly turns any expectations you might have for this Americana stalwart right on its ear. And that’s not a bad thing. –Jaan Uhelszki
Common: "Black America Again"
Black America Again *continues Common’s late-career resurgence. After winning an Academy Award in 2015 for “Glory,” his contribution to the Martin Luther King biopic *Selma, the Chicago rapper has returned with an album that not only addresses the Black Lives Matter moment, but also does so in a way that evokes his best work. “Love Star,” which features hooks from Marsha Ambrosius and newcomer PJ and reprises Mtume’s “You, Me and He,” could serve as a sequel to Common’s 2000 classic “The Light.” He speaks out against the gun violence consuming his hometown on the title track, and imagines, perhaps a bit wistfully, that wars will end on “The Day Women Took Over.” No matter how much he dreams aloud, he raps with a lyrical confidence that’s enthralling. –Mosi Reeves
Bon Jovi, "This House Is Not for Sale"
Recorded while coping with the departure of guitarist Richie Sambora, as well as slugging their way through contentious contract talks with longtime label Universal Music Group, This House Is Not for Sale is an album stained in struggles both personal and professional. Yet it also is a supremely rousing affair, one filled with potent, driving rockers championing resilience and fortitude. “Knockout” is absolutely humongous sounding, anchored by Jon Bon Jovi’s raspy swagger (which has aged impeccably), battle-cry harmonies and Tico Torres’ thumping, metronomic kick drum. “We Don’t Run” is even tougher, a pounding testimonial about standing tall even when life seems to be falling to pieces. Sambora’s replacement, Phil X, makes an instant impression. Though he rips a handful of scorching solos (see the alt-rocker “Born Again Tomorrow”), he really excels at thick, churning riff-work that propels the grooves and textural atmospherics. For the latter definitely check out “Labor of Love,” a moody, Springsteen-inspired ballad showcasing the guitarist’s beautifully chiming chords.* –Justin Farrar*
Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions: "Until the Hunter"
Hope Sandoval doesn’t so much sing lyrics as she exhales them: breathy, mysterious and usually metaphysical. Paired for the third time with My Bloody Valentine’s Colm Ó Cíosóig, the duo lead you through an unexpected wormhole into an alternative reality, more medieval than modern, where reality is upturned and anything is possible. Sounding more quaint and mystical than Joanna Newsom on “Wonderful Seed,” Sandoval shows her real mettle when she and Cíosóig duet on the wonderfully awkward and strangely twangy “Let Me Get There,” that brings to mind Hazlewood and Sinatra if they were wearing character costumes. –Jaan Uhelszki
Since the release of their earliest recordings at the dawn of the ’90s, Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop collective have proven to be one of alt-country’s most deliciously unpredictable entities. Exploring lounge, soul, orchestral pop and beyond, they’ve boldly expanded Americana’s stylistic parameters. That said, FLOTUS *–which stands for *For Love Often Turns Us Still *— will surprise even longtime fans. Not unlike Bon Iver’s *22, A Million (though far more lush and understated), the deeply personal set crosses singer/songwriter confessionals with purring, percolating electronics. These aren’t songs so much as richly textural paintings suffused with soft, ambient light. “JFK” is all hushed, cryptic murmurings (some filtered through Auto-Tune), spare piano and shuffling percussion. Meanwhile, the silky yet certainly maze-like lope of “Harbor Country” suggests that Wagner has been listening to a lot of cutting edge R&B from the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Lambchop save their most ambitious piece for last: the 18-minute “The Hustle” is an epic, expansive meditation on love and need that proves that electronics can be warm, passionate and profoundly human sounding. –Justin Farrar