El Mal Querer
The second release from Spanish-language, flamenco-pop singer Rosalia is radically experimental and free as it is coolly contemporary, memorably melodic and R&B-scented.
Like Shakira without the hiccuping vocal tics, the husky baritone Rosalia can sing quietly but dramatically of being treated badly, yet winning immediate respect on the spare, clacking “Malamente.” She can then turn up the theatricality quotient, and loudly croon with a hearty quaver through the obsession-based lyrics and dense electronic bass of “Pienso en Tu Mira” and the FX-heavy, disco-ish “De Aqui No Sales.” With flamenco’s guitar strum and handclap rhythms as a gentle framework, Rosalia also tips her hat to her classical training by sampling cellist Arthur Russell, then similarly brushes up to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” on her own bruised cut “Bagdad.” Always, though, there is the sense of the visceral and the empowered — of a 25-year-old woman testing all boundaries and pushing all envelopes — on this album.
No matter what mood or music she’s vibing through, rhythm she’s flexing, or language she’s intoning, you can always feel Rosalia’s lyrical and vocal reach — tormented or ecstatic, winningly romantic, or wronged.
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B+ Jeff Tweedy
Jeff Tweedy is cementing his reputation as a storyteller with his new best-selling memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) and his new solo album.
The songs on Warm are far more direct and no-nonsense than Tweedy’s work with Wilco. The sleek alt-country “Some Birds” takes flight, soaring even as he worries “Is it my fault the countrysides are so full of suicides? I break bricks with my heart, only a fool would call it art.”
The charming “Let’s Go Rain” recalls his work with Billy Bragg to bring unfinished Woody Guthrie songs to life on Mermaid Avenue. The jangling “Having Been Is No Way to Be” feels like a throwback to the band Uncle Tupelo, but the personal lyrics about struggling to change bad habits represent a newer, more comfortable Tweedy.
Even the six-minute epic “How Will I Find You,” essentially a meditation on uncertainty with Tweedy’s voice pulling the listener through increasingly trippy, guitar-driven atmospherics, tells a relatable story that is definitely warm.
Hot tracks: “How Will I Find You,” “Some Birds,” “Let’s Go Rain”
A- Mandy Barnett
Up to now, Mandy Barnett has been best known for her work in country, including her expert conjuring of Patsy Cline’s torch and twang in a theatrical musical and her recording of vintage numbers with legendary producer Owen Bradley. For Strange Conversation, she left Nashville, Tenn., for Muscle Shoals, Ala., and an exciting new chapter that should generate even more acclaim.
The album vividly demonstrates how a masterful singer, joined by inspired accompanists, can bend a disparate collection of material — from Tom Waits to Neil Sedaka — into a singular, compelling vision all her own. Barnett veers from the swampy, seductive groove of Mable John’s “More Love” to the buoyant pop-soul of the Tams’ “It’s All Right,” from the sultry, horns-kissed Ted Hawkins title track to the gutbucket thump of Waits’ “Puttin’ on the Dog.”
John Hiatt duets with Barnett on the rinky-dink kitsch of Sonny and Cher’s “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done,” and the set ends with more twists and turns: A dreamy take on Sedaka’s pop ballad “My World Keeps Slipping Away” segues into the swaggering riffage of Lee Hazlewood’s “The Fool” and a raw gospel-blues take on Andre Williams’ “Put a Chain on It.” In other words, one thrill after another.
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