Tha Carter III
<third’s a charm>
Nearly three years after the release of Tha Carter II, and after dozens of official and unofficial mixtapes, Wayne has honed his lyrical talent on Tha Carter III, which has already sold more than a million copies in its first week. While noticeably shorter than the previous two, it’s packed with heavier, more substantive material than its predecessors.
The opener “3Peat” is like a primer for the rest of the album, full of abstract punch lines and metaphors, some of which are just plain weird. With contributions from producers Swizz Beatz, Kanye West and David Banner, the second track, “Mr. Carter,” features some soulful production from Just Blaze and a guest verse from Wayne’s main influence, Jay-Z.
“Phone Home” and “Dr. Carter” show Wayne mastering his concepts. On the latter, he assumes the role of a doctor whose duty is to revive dying rappers. On “Tie My Hands” things get more personal, as Wayne uses his vivid lyrics to describe the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The only failure on the album is “Mrs. Officer,” where Bobby Valentino and Wayne sing about having sex with police officers (?). Regardless, III is easily the best commercial rap album since West’s Graduation, and shows that the originator of “Bling Bling” has stepped his game up quite a bit since the days of the Hot Boys. —Aaron Frank
Joan as Police Woman
This time around, Joan Wasser is a little less about sharing life’s wounds and more about finding a balance that might include cautious smiles (This is the one/I want to be lonely with). She’s perpetually on her way to another part of her song, with lyrics often taking circuitous routes and rarely returning to their starting point unchanged. The woman’s stone gifted when it comes to blue-eyed soul, but builds it her own (hard) way. No blues-cum-R&B shortcuts — instead, it’s alt-folk that slides past cabaret jazz. The results can be fantastic — witness the disingenuous hook behind the bewitching “Holiday.” A few too many moments of zoomed-in keyboards-’n’-voice cause the set to sag in the middle, though artsy chamber-rock noises compensate. When her duet with Rufus Wainwright on finale “To America” fades behind a horn chart that perfectly blends sweet and sharp, you might be sad the album didn’t have more indelibly memorable moments. But on the plus side, you do want to play it again, and it all still sounds fresh the next time ’round. —T.E. Lyons
Feed the Animals
I worship at the Church of Gregg Gillis. An obsessive acolyte, I was an early champion of his exuberant sample pop. I forced 2004’s Unstoppable on anyone with a pair of ears. It was with Night Ripper, however, that I became a true disciple, heralding him as the musical messiah. A near-perfect party record, Night Ripper did what few records can: It got hipsters to dance. Two years later, Gregg has gifted the world with Feed the Animals, his long-awaited fourth collection of re-imagined top-40 samples. It employs the same unexpected combinations and the same pristinely cut songlettes as its predecessors. Unlike Night Ripper, which largely used older releases (“Tiny Dancer”) as aural interrobangs, Feed the Animals prominently features tracks from the 20th century (“Come on Eileen,” Sinead O’Connor) as sonic centerpieces. The mixes are more sophisticated and still genius, but there is slightly less ecstatic energy behind them. It’s certainly a safe bet for a party, but you probably won’t find yourself tearing strangers off the street. —Kirsten Schofield
(LOUD MINORITY MUSIC/IMCULTURE)
Maybe I should eat my words, because it sounds like Cincinnati is becoming a center for progressive hip-hop! Tanya Morgan is a rap group, as they frequently have to remind people, consisting of Ohio’s Donwill and Ilyas and Brooklyn’s Von Pea. Don’t ask who Tanya is, as she doesn’t exist. After 2006’s near-classic Moonlighting LP, the group went from a message board lark to true-school underground heroes.
Von Pea is a producer who’s well-versed in classic hip hop, from the title cut’s Marley Marl homage to the bonus track’s Afrika Bambaataa influence (“How Low”), while emcees Donwill and Ilyas are comfortable in their everyman characters and deliveries. These people enjoy themselves and would probably make the same music even if it were just their mothers listening.
At nine songs deep, they’ve gone for quality over quantity, and there’s really not a second wasted with filler. Even the under-two minute “Filthier” interlude is a highlight. For those of you itching for that ever-promised A Tribe Called Quest reunion, well, that’s not gonna happen. With groups like Tanya Morgan around, though, do we really have time to miss them? —Damien McPherson
Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country
(LIGHT IN THE ATTIC/TRIKONT)
<torch and twang>
Well gol’dang, I never did think I’d use the words “twangy” and “soulful” in the same dern sentence, but the double release Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country was just that. This 48-track collection features a variety of notables, including Etta James, Otis Williams, James Brown, the Pointer Sisters, Johnny Adams, Sammy Davis Jr., Ike & Tina Turner, and other landmark black musicians who, in some way or other, have bridged the gap between stereotypical “white” and “black” music.
What is especially pleasing about these albums is the diversity in sound from track to track. Some cuts sound traditional, some more gospel, some super twangy, others danceable, and some are just their own li’l thang. Even to someone who doesn’t typically enjoy country music, these records are worth giving a try. If nothing else, it is quite the feat to have so many notorious artists on one collection. It’s a new idea sprung from roots that have been there the whole time. —Jane Mattingly
J. Scott Hinkle
It seems like ever since Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy made it cool for hipster cityboys to go country, anybody with an acoustic guitar and at least one other stringed instrument in their band — Mandolin? Banjo? Violin? Let’s call it a fiddle — angles for the label of alt-country.
The problem here is that the shoe doesn’t always fit. And for J. Scott Hinkle, getting bogged down in that overcrowded swamp of a genre would be a waste. If Blueridge Martini is alt-country, it’s a middling effort lost in a vast array of middling efforts. On the other hand, if we classify it as new country, it’s a refreshingly solid piece of work. The record starts with the bluegrass hootenanny “Take My Bones to Alabama,” which, as the title indicates, is an old-timey deathsong. From there, it’s mostly jukejoint tearjerkers, with the occasional up-tempo bluegrass or blues-inflected jam.
Martini is a straightforward, radio-friendly goodtime record with no aspirations of changing the world. In circles where country music is a form of folk art to be “appreciated,” this might not fare well, but it does much better against the purveyors of radio’s top-40 pop country. —Anthony Bowman