B+ Thomas Rhett
Center Point Road
Thomas Rhett, the Academy of Country Music's reigning male vocalist of the year, has racked up an impressive 12 No. 1 singles, including "Die a Happy Man" and "Marry Me," from his previous three albums. But for his fourth album Center Point Road, named for the street in Hendersonville, Tenn., where he grew up, Rhett wants to show where he came from, personally and musically.
His musical roots offer plenty of surprises.
"VHS" is his country twist on that same late '80s funk-pop era that Bruno Mars reprised on his 24K Magic album. Though it leans a little more gospel than rock, the inspirational "Up" could easily be the next Shawn Mendes single. "Beer Can't Fix," which Rhett sings with Jon Pardi and co-wrote with Ryan Tedder and others, has verses that move like R. Kelly's "Ignition" before settling into a Jimmy Buffett groove for the chorus. "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time," with Little Big Town, sounds like his mix of honky-tonk and "Uptown Funk."
All these risks pay off, more or less, and Rhett will likely be rewarded with another string of hits. However, his strongest moments are the subtler ones. The opening of the album's title track uses EDM-influenced synthesizers to create drama to contrast with the sweet nostalgic thoughts he spools out with Kelsea Ballerini. The single "Look What God Gave Her" merges breezy, '70s pop with radio-friendly country. And while country singers sure love singing about their trucks, "That Old Truck" is poignant and maybe even more personal than ballads like "Blessed."
"Center Point Road" may not quite be the pop crossover Rhett seems to be looking for, but it should show country radio the value of artistic experimentation.
Hot tracks: "VHS," "Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time," "That Old Truck"
— GLENN GAMBOA
B+ Lise Davidsen
For a young singer as prodigiously gifted as Lise Davidsen, there's always a danger she'll be pressured into taking on too much too soon. Judging from the Norwegian soprano's first solo album, she's steering clear of that pitfall.
Only 32, Davidsen is being hailed as the next great Wagnerian soprano because of her clarion, multi-colored voice with its seemingly unlimited capacity to soar over heavy orchestration. The twin peaks of that repertory — Isolde and Brunnhilde — surely await her, yet here she has wisely chosen only works she has already performed.
There are two Wagner excerpts: Elisabeth's arias from Tannhauser. Dramatically, the pieces couldn't be more different. In "Dich, teure Halle," the heroine's exuberant greeting to the Hall of Song, Davidsen caps the conclusion with a ringing high B natural. The second aria, "Allmacht'ge Jungfrau," is a somber prayer at the point of death, and Davidsen sings it with restraint, though her gleaming tone once or twice threatens to overpower the muted accompaniment.
Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos has served as Davidsen's calling card, and she delivers thrills in the wide-ranging vocal line of the title character's aria, "Es gibt ein Reich."
Strauss is also the composer of the remaining offerings on the album, primarily two sets of songs representing his early maturity and the end of his career. The four pieces of Opus 27 from 1894 were wedding gifts for his wife. Davidsen shows her versatility here, meeting the operatic demands of "Cacilie" with ease and then scaling down her voice to suit the delicate texture of "Morgen!"
The album ends with the elegiac "Four Last Songs" from 1948, just a year before the composer's death at age 85. While more experienced sopranos have perhaps brought greater interpretive depth to these songs, the purity and flexibility of Davidsen's voice carry the day here.
Hot tracks: "Cacilie," "Dich teure Halle," "Morgen!"
— MIKE SILVERMAN
The Associated Press
A- Mavis Staples
We Get By
Ry Cooder, M. Ward, Jeff Tweedy — Mavis Staples has had fruitful collaborations with all of them in the last decade-plus. For We Get By, the gospel-soul queen teams with another illustrious name, the singer and songwriter Ben Harper, who produced the set and wrote all 11 songs.
Harper doesn't change anything in the presentation. Staples is still backed by her regular three-piece band, including the great Rick Holmstrom on guitar, and three vocalists. His songs, however, neatly capture the essence of the 79-year-old singer. "I'm a fighter, I'm a lover," Staples declares on "Anytime," and we do get both sides. On the urgent, album-opening "Change," the old social-justice warrior still sees a need for action. On "Brothers and Sisters," she notes "trouble in the land" and warns, "Something's got to give." In the face of all that, the hymnlike title song, a duet with Harper, exudes quiet strength, preaching resiliency with a gentle reassurance.
Balancing those outward-looking numbers are "Never Needed You," "Stronger," and "Hard to Leave," which lay bare her heart on more personal matters.
With the finale, "One More Change," Staples confesses, "Been holding on too long to let go ... Believing too deep to not have faith." The song reveals the undying resolve and optimism behind Staples' still-inspiring spirit.
Hot tracks: all
— NICK CRISTIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Weekend on 06/13/2019
Print Headline: Rhett mixes country with artistic experimentation