Beyoncé and others
The Lion King: The Gift
No one takes possession of a cultural space like Beyoncé.
It happened in 2016 when she easily outshone Coldplay during its Super Bowl halftime performance, and last year when she remade Coachella, the prestigious music festival, as Beychella.
In Disney’s new version of The Lion King, the singer voices the role of Nala. She also assembled an ambitious companion album that says more about family, tradition, responsibility and Africa than the movie does.
The Lion King: The Gift features new songs by Beyoncé along with a handful of other hip-hop and R&B acts, including her husband, Jay-Z; Lion King costar Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino); and Kendrick Lamar, whose 2018 Black Panther album was clearly a model for this one.
The Gift showcases singers, rappers and producers from a number of African countries — some, such as Burna Boy and Wizkid, with established American followings and others for whom Beyoncé’s imprimatur, and Disney’s promotional might, are sure to provide a foothold here.
Snippets of dialogue tie the music loosely to The Lion King’s durable tale of young Simba’s effort to live up to the example set by his late father, Mufasa.
The real story Beyoncé is telling, however, is her own.
In the bubbling “Find Your Way Back,” a sequel of sorts to “Daddy Lessons” from 2016’s Lemonade, she ponders her complicated relationship with her father and former manager, Mathew Knowles . The hymn-like “Bigger” touches on the ideas of legacy and cultural ownership that ran through Everything Is Love, the album Beyoncé and Jay-Z released as the Carters. Their daughter, Blue Ivy, 7, appears on “Brown Skin Girl,” a tender and cheerful tune about how “the same skin that was broken be the same skin taking over.”
On the swaggering “Mood 4 Eva,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z trade playful boasts about their pop domination.
The Gift uses The Lion King’s setting as an opportunity to deepen Beyoncé’s exploration of African music — a fascination you could hear in “Say Yes,” her exuberant 2014 single with Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child that repurposed a popular Nigerian gospel tune.
Sometimes the sounds are secondhand, as in “Mood 4 Eva,” which rides a sample of an old song by the Malian singer Oumou Sangare. But more often Beyoncé is creating new material with young artists from the sprawling set of styles known collectively as Afrobeats. The gently propulsive “Water” pairs her and Pharrell Williams with Salatiel, from Cameroon, while “Already” features the Ghanaian dancehall star Shatta Wale; Lagos, Nigeria-born Wizkid, who appeared on Drake’s smash “One Dance,” lends imploring vocals to “Brown Skin Girl.”
On several tracks, Beyoncé steps aside, as in “Keys to the Kingdom,” a sweetly shuffling tune by Tiwa Savage and Mr. Eazi, and Burna Boy’s silky “Ja Ara E,” in which the Nigerian singer channels Mufasa warning Simba to “watch out for them hyenas.”
Even when she’s not singing, Beyoncé, who co-produced each track, can be felt in the meticulous arrangements. For all the natural force of her singing — best displayed here in “Otherside,” a stripped-down piano ballad, and the grand Oscar-bait closer, “Spirit” — Beyoncé puts more thought into her records than anybody else in music, and what’s on her mind now isn’t just where all these sounds came from but how useful they remain.
Hot tracks: “Otherside,” “Spirit,” “Keys to the Kingdom,” “Mood 4 Eva”
— MIKAEL WOOD
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Miranda Lambert, “It All Comes Out in the Wash” and “Locomotive.” A pair of new songs from Miranda Lambert — her first new solo material since 2016 — shows off the parts of her arsenal that have been absorbed by others and those that remain indelibly hers.
Musically, “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” is genial verging on folksy. Lambert applies her curlicue twang while describing a variety of mishaps, some small and some just the other side of decent — dating a bridesmaid’s ex and taking him to the wedding nonetheless, a dalliance with the boss. These are the small-town foibles that Kacey Musgraves has made her stock in trade. In a Nashville that has largely forsworn emotional complexity in favor of clunky earnestness, it stands out, but is not Lambert’s turf alone.
“Locomotive,” however, captures something far more ineffable. Her voice is less melodic, more jagged at the rim, while the music is far rowdier, suggesting a bar band scrambling to finish up before closing time. And Lambert, unlike any of her peers, is just as elegant in this chaos — causing this chaos — as when she’s holding back.
— JON CARAMANICA
The New York Times
Wilco, “Love Is Everywhere (Beware).” The chorus declares, “Right now, right now, love is everywhere,” but Jeff Tweedy’s hoarse whisper and the way the melody descends make clear that he’s not really so sure. There’s more self-doubt and ambivalence in the verses: “So many things I do, I can’t explain to you,” he notes. The song starts as a reassuring waltz, strummed on acoustic guitar, soon adding perpetual-motion lead-guitar triplets that are prettily ornamental, but nervous, too. “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” is the first song from a Wilco album due in October: Ode to Joy.
— JON PARELES
The New York Times