Eminem’s new disc, Relapse, addresses widespread rumors and allegations of his drug use by frankly admitting the depth and degree of the problem.
Such songs as “Insane,” “Same Song and Dance,” “Stay Wide Awake,” even “My Mom” details the descent into dependence and ugly incidents of addictive behavior. Other selections like “Déjà vu” make no attempt at hiding his pain or soft-pedaling the self-destructiveness.
His verbal ferocity and rhyming skills are intact, but there’s far less posturing and swaggering and more introspection and sadness.
Still, if Eminem, through tunes like “Must Be the Ganja” or “Crack a Bottle” (with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent), can help others avoid similar insanity in their lives, Relapse will ultimately be a noble effort.
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
One of Costello’s greatest recordings resulted from a previous collaboration with T-Bone Burnett (King of America), and they’re back together for another summit, this one cut in Music City.
In Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, Costello uses the occasion to deliver spicy meditations on unrequited love and unhappy relationships, though such tunes as “She Was No Good” and “Complicated Shadows” contain ample lyric twists and verbal fire.
Loretta Lynn wrote “I Felt the Chill,” which, along with “Complicated Shadows,” bring additional thematic edge to a session characterized by pithy, spirited tunes and buttressed by energetic vocals and arrangements.
On The Eternal, their 16th release, Sonic Youth continues to surprise and change musically. Despite the group’s avant-garde reputation, such songs as “Malibu Gas Station” are catchy, rhythm-driven rock numbers with punch and spark.
Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo occasionally share vocals with Kim Gordon for the first time, though it’s her sultry leads that power most songs. New member Mark Ibold is now fully part of the crew, while John Agnello teams with the band to handle production details.
Their return to indie status has been celebrated in several publications, but the qualities that have always defined them (fierce guitar solos and arrangements, wacky humor, occasionally arcane references) continue to keep their music engaging and inventive.
Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Strings
Flutist Nicole Mitchell and her stringed instrument comrades, cellist Tomeka Reid and violinist/viola soloist Renee Baker, shatter illusions with this set of animated, sometimes funky originals.
By keeping things short and melody-oriented, Mitchell grabs those listeners hesitant to sample longer improvisational pieces. Yet she, Baker and Reid are able to present strong, impressive statements, and make such numbers as “Crossroads,” “Wade” and “Waterdance” catchy and distinctive.
The music of The Black Earth Strings contains equal amounts of soul, heart and complexity.
The Oak Ridge Boys
The Boys Are Back
Glorious four-part vocal harmonies prove the primary charm of this premier singing ensemble’s return to form in The Boys Are Back. The Oak Ridge Boys developed their style on the Southern gospel circuit, and they celebrate that foundation on Paul Kennerley’s moving “Live with Jesus.”
They also nicely rework John Lee Hooker’s blues anthem “Boom Boom” and Neil Young’s “Beautiful Bluebird.” But it’s the compositional efforts of newer types like Jack White (“Seven Nation Army”), Shooter Jennings (“The Boys are Back”) and the duo of George C. Teren and Jamey Johnson “ (“Mama’s Table) that add 21st century sizzle to the Oak Ridge Boys’ venerable, still magnificent sound.