Bruno Mars Unorthodox Jukebox/Atlantic
Even if you were paying attention, it might still have seemed that singer Bruno Mars came out of nowhere a few years back.
In truth, the Hawaii-born artist has been performing on stage for most of his life.
Mars first came to prominence as a songwriter, helping pen songs for the likes of B.o.B and Flo Rida.
Then came 2010’s “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” which launched Mars into the stratosphere, thanks to songs like “Just the Way You Are,” “Grenade” and “The Lazy Song.”
On his follow-up, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” Mars delivers more of the same catchy songwriting and over-the-top performing that made his previous release so much fun.
Listening to tracks such as “Treasure” and “Gorilla,” it’s evident that, much like Katy Perry, Mars is this generation’s multitalented pop star/sex symbol.
The majority of “Unorthodox Jukebox” is slickly catchy, with Mars’ vocals providing the finishing touch to each song.
Standout tracks include the danceable “Locked Out of Heaven,” the reggae flavored “Show Me” and the ultra-catchy “Young Girls.”
With his undeniable songwriting and performing talent, it appears that the only thing that might stop the rise of Bruno Mars is Mars himself.
Key Tracks: “Young Girls,” “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Show Me”
Eric Bibb & Habib Koite Brothers in Bamako/Stony Plain
What do you get when you pair well-known American blues artist Eric Bibb with Habib Koite, who is basically Bibb’s West African counterpart?
Anyone curious about the answer can check out “Brothers in Bamako,” the pair’s new album.
Combining Bibb’s acoustic blues sound, which is reminiscent of Taj Mahal, with Koite’s world music vibe makes for some great listening.
The two men met a decade ago while each was contributing to a Putumayo compilation. Bibb and Koite began bouncing song ideas off one another, and a friendship was formed.
Eleven of the 13 tracks on “Brothers in Bamako” were penned either by one of the artists or as a collaborative effort.
Among these deceptively simple original compositions, the best moments come on “L.A.,” “We Don’t Care” and especially “Khafole,” with its lovely plucked banjo behind the harmonizing of the artists.
The album also features a couple of covers, including the traditional blues song “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” and most notably a unique take on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The pair completely breaks down and rebuilds the classic folk track, adding a little West African swagger to it while both men harmonize on the chorus.
The entire album is beautifully recorded, especially considering the only thing heard on most of the tracks besides the vocals are the various stringed instruments played by the two artists.
Key Tracks: “L.A.,” “Khafole,” “Blowin’ in the Wind”
Various artists ‘This Is 40’ soundtrack/Capitol
Movie soundtracks can really be hit or miss.
For every “Say Anything” soundtrack that compiles some truly interesting songs by thought-provoking artists, there are a dozen “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” soundtrack albums meant to simply cash in on the popularity of the film du jour.
When I put on the soundtrack to “This Is 40,” which is a sequel of sorts to the popular 2007 comedy “Knocked Up,” I wasn’t expecting much.
But three songs in, my ears perked up. Was that Graham Parker?
A quick look at the CD case confirmed that it was Parker, and backed by Punch Brothers to boot.
I rode out the rest of the soundtrack reveling in music from Lindsay Buckingham, Norah Jones, Paul McCartney, Louden Wainwright III, Ryan Adams, Wilco, The Avett Brothers and Fiona Apple. There is even a Yoko Ono tune that is actually listenable.
Highlights of this unexpectedly great soundtrack include Buckingham and Jones collaborating on “Brother & Sister,” Parker newly reunited with The Rumour singing “Watch the Moon Come Down” and a gorgeous bluegrass-infused version of my favorite Wilco song, “I Got You (At the End of the Century).”
Even if the film turns out to be a flop, I have a feeling that the soundtrack to “This Is 40” will live on and its songs will be added to infinite playlists.
Key Tracks: “Brother & Sister,” “Watch the Moon Come Down,” “I Got You (At the End of the Century)”
By Devin Grant