Fergie's sultry vocals signal 'The E.N.D.'

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 11:00pm
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Black Eyed Peas
The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies)
(Interscope)

There’s been a major change in terms of both influence and sound in the Black Eyed Peas music over the three-year period since their last release. With The E.N.D., they’ve gotten more into auto-Tune vocalizing and electro-funk beats, with snappy snippets and samples incorporated into the mix through studio pyrotechnics.

But Will.i.am’s booming voice and Fergie’s sultry complimentary vocals fill remain the key ingredients on their best numbers. Such songs as the huge hit “Boom Boom Pow,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Rock That Body, “Party All the Time” and the topical/political piece “One Tribe” feature the Black Eyed Peas accelerating the groove and letting the beat dictate the interplay and interaction.

The result is frenzied, light-hearted and animated music that nods toward both the street and the club.


Dave Matthews Band
Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King
(RCA)

The death of dynamic saxophonist LeRoi Moore robbed the Dave Matthews Band of a mighty soloist and one-of-a-kind personality, and they acknowledge his impact and importance with their new release.

Though he died early in the sessions, a great replacement was recruited in longtime Flecktones reed wizard Jeff Coffin. He adds improvisational zeal and fury to several songs, while the other familiar regulars like violinist Boyd Tinsley, drummer Carter Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard bring their customary fury and edge to songs like “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” “Why I Am” and “Funny the Way It Is.”

Producer Rob Cavallo kept mixing things up instrumentally, and got both the crunching ferocity of a mainstream rock session and the more outside, imaginative forays of a tribute piece.

Moore would have been proud of Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, especially the licks and solos supplied by Coffin in his absence.


Chickenfoot
Chickenfoot
(Redline)

Given Joe Satriani’s well-deserved reputation for being a shattering, but often undisciplined guitar virtuoso, it’s a bit of a surprise that this is actually a band (Chickenfoot) release rather than a solo showcase.

Satriani still executes many amazing forays and statements, but he’s very much willing and capable to give vocalist Sammy Hagar space when necessary and backing energy on other occasions.

Since both Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony are former Van Halen members and drummer Chad Smith has been the percussive glue behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers for years, the potential for stylistic clash was there. But this foursome has a tight, fluid and impressive sound, and has delivered an 11-piece work that, while not exactly bursting with innovation or fresh takes, occasionally delivers great rock without excess or gimmicks.


John Mellencamp
Life Death Live and Freedom
(Hear Music)

While John Mellencamp was thrilling and impressive during the studio version of the Life Death Love and Freedom CD, he’s taken things to even greater heights vocally and emotionally on these live versions of songs culled from concerts done during last year’s tours.

Whether it’s “Troubled Land,” “Jena,” “My Sweet Love,” or “Don’t Need This Body,” you hear Mellencamp singing without reserve or inhibition, at times powering through the melody and turning the lyrics into vibrant exhortations, then suddenly switching the mood and tempo back down before reviving things again.

Backed by a fine six-piece unit whose two guitars, keyboards, violin, bass and percussion created fierce, percolating backgrounds, Mellencamp provided audiences with an intensity and soul not obtainable in a sterile studio environment.


Rhonda Vincent
Destination Life
(Rounder)

The newest Vincent release eschews guest stars and focuses on the soaring Vincent delivery and the outstanding support of her group The Rage.

While they’ve utilized the services of songwriters from not only across this nation but around the world, the selections include firebrand playing from fiddler and mandolinist Hunter Berry, bassist Mickey Barris, guitarist Ben Helson and banjoist Aaron McDaris.

With her beautiful leads neatly framed and supported on moving numbers both secular (“Heart Wrenching Lovesick Memories,” “Crazy Love,” “Last Time Loving You”) and spiritual (“I Heard My Saviour Calling Me,” “When I Travel My Last Mile (He Will Hold My Hand”) Rhonda Vincent and the Rage excel on Destination Life.