"Yours Truly, Angry Mob," Kaiser Chiefs
Two years after delivering a wiry, snarky and very mod debut, the Kaiser Chiefs have returned with an angrier, heavier sound. It seems that looking beyond the world of Vespas and tracksuits these Leeds boys alluded to on their first album has provided the band with a whole new reason to be pissed off. The idiocy-of-the-electorate title track is a good case in point, as the lines "We are the angry mob/ We read the papers every day/ We like who we like/ We hate who we hate/ But we're also easily swayed" are accompanied by a raft of descending guitar lines more menacing than anything the band's done before. That's not to say Kaiser Chiefs have overcome their girl problems, though, as "Learnt My Lesson Well" finds chief Chief Ricky Wilson crooning, "You didn't give me a chance, you gave me a beating," over a rippling piano line before a pogo-inducing riff straight out of the Jam songbook wipes away any lingering traces of tenderness. With lyrical content this bleak, it's a good thing the music is anything but a downer -- the heartbroken "Ruby" and the anti-mediocrity rant "Everything Is Average Nowadays" bounce and chime with all the snotty charm of classic Kinks. If music this good is what happens when the Kaiser Chiefs get mad, let's hope they don't find satisfaction anytime soon.
Favorite track: "Learnt My Lesson Well"
"Big," Macy Gray
Neo-soul weirdo Macy Gray has had to deal with continually diminishing returns since the left-field success of her debut album, 1999's "On How Life Is" and its smash single "I Try." But now, with the market all of a sudden showing the love for similarly eccentric lady soulsters like Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone, the timing is right for a Gray comeback. It's hard to say what the popular response will be, but Gray and her guest stars (including Justin Timberlake, Fergie, Will.i.am and others) have delivered a delightful album, full of sumptuous soul productions and feel-good melodies ably delivered in Gray's inimitable rasp. The froggy-voiced one's alternately wistful and strident lyrics aren't much to write home about, but it doesn't really matter when the music shows such supreme attention to craft and detail. Multilayered backing vocals grace almost every track, contributing counter-melodies in a glorious game of call and response; strings swoop and soar over the shifting rhythms; driving rock riffs peek from out behind the sonic nooks and crannies. "Big" runs out of the steam a little toward the end when the music makes a more blatant bid for radio play, but until then Gray and her collaborators have made an album that recalls the shimmering, luscious work of classic Al Green and Stevie Wonder.
Favorite track: "I'm So Glad You're Here"
"Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby," Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby
When ultra-skilled musicians like Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby get together, my virtuoso meter takes a hard right into the red, as thoughts of endless solos and speed-freak scalar runs dance in my head. But having popped this CD in and headed straight for the duo's implausible cover of Rick James' "Super Freak," my fears were quickly assuaged. This is a fun, eminently listenable album, one where jaw-dropping technical displays never descend into pure wankery, and where Hornsby's jazzy chord choices blend beautifully with the relaxed precision of Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder backing band. A mix of originals, covers and country classics, this is bluegrass for people who don't like bluegrass -- irrepressible, fast-paced, catchy. And "Super Freak" must be heard to be believed.
Favorite track: "Super Freak"
-- David Marchese