There was, understandably, a lot of skepticism when rapper Snoop Dogg announced after a trip to Jamaica that he would from then on be addressed at Snoop Lion and be recording a reggae album.
The album is done, and for the first release from an artist who decided to switch music genres 20 years into his career, it’s surprisingly good.
Beginning with “Rebel Way” and continuing through 11 more tracks, Snoop unleashes an impressive collection of songs and welcomes a variety of guest artists.
Angela Hunte provides some great backing vocals to “Here Comes the King,” while Akon backs Snoop on “Tired of Running.”
Quite possibly the most unusual pairing comes with “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks,” which features Miley Cyrus on backing vocals.
As much as I hate to admit it, the former Miss Hannah Montana actually adds something positive to the tune with a strong set of pipes.
The mix of traditional and dancehall reggae styles isn’t likely to revolutionize the genre, but Snoop Lion should be commended for not only sticking to his promise but also delivering an above-average collection of songs.
Key Tracks: “Rebel Way,” “Here Comes the King,” “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks”
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Love Has Come for You/Rounder
If you’re under 35 and aren’t familiar with the name Edie Brickell, then you can be forgiven.
For those of us old enough to remember, Brickell hit it big back in the ’80s with her band, the New Bohemians, and the hit single “What I Am.”
After marrying Paul Simon in 1992, she settled into family life, but she still has found time to release music as a solo artist and with the New Bohemians.
Now Brickell has collaborated with the most unlikely of partners: comedian, actor and musician Steve Martin.
Martin himself has been on quite the musical kick the past few years, releasing a couple of well-received banjo albums.
Listening to “When You Get to Asheville,” the opening track of the pair’s “Love Has Come for You,” it’s like rediscovering an old friend.
Brickell’s voice is in fine form a quarter-century after her debut, and the Texas-born singer definitely has the vocal chops for the bluegrass and folk songs that make up the new release.
Martin, who has played the banjo since he was a teen, plays the instrument beautifully, and at no time does he try to overpower Brickell’s voice.
Instead, voice and banjo co-exist beautifully on songs such as “Friend of Mine,” “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby” and “Sun’s Gonna Shine.”
Legendary musician Peter Asher produced the album, and guest artists include Esperanza Spalding, Waddy Wachtel, Nickel Creek alumni Sara and Sean Watkins, and Steep Canyon Rangers.
It’s a superb collection of original songs, and you’ll be able to check out the music live May 27 at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, when Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell perform.
Key Tracks: “When You Get to Asheville,” “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby,” “Who You Gonna Take?”
Phoenix Bankrupt!/Glass Note
The French band Phoenix has been together more than 15 years, but it wasn’t until the release of its 2009 album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” that it was vaulted into the stratosphere of music stardom.
That album, which included hits such as “1901” and “Lisztomania,” marked a change in musical style from the band’s earlier releases. The writing was looser and lighter and the songs more melodic and poplike.
On the recently released follow-up, “Bankrupt!” it seems that Phoenix has taken that lighter style of songwriting to heart.
The leadoff track, “Entertainment,” sounds like it belongs smack dab in the middle of the 1980s new wave barrage with its cheery synths and lead singer Thomas Mars’ even cheerier vocals.
Indeed, it would appear that the band spent time listening to the masters of ’80s new romantic movement bands, such as Spandau Ballet, Human League, and Adam and The Ants, while recording “Bankrupt!”
Ultra-catchy tunes abound here, including “S.O.S. in Bel Air,” “Drakkar Noir” and especially the slow and deliberate “Chloroform,” which sounds like something that Duran Duran and Yazoo might have collaborated on in 1983.
Despite the numerous comparisons here, it should be noted that Phoenix has created an album that is even more original and fun to listen to than “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”
Key Tracks: “Entertainment,” “S.O.S. in Bel Air,” “Chloroform”
By Devin Grant