“Late Registration” (Island Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella Records) ““““
Let’s keep it real: Kanye West doesn’t really care what music critics think about his sophomore effort, “Late Registration.” He knows it’ll be regarded as one of the greatest things to happen to hip-hop since the advent of the boom box.
But just to be clear: It’s incredible. And after persuading his label to shell out $2 million, it better be.
West, a sought-after producer in his own right, is known for taking old soul tracks, speeding them up and giving the tunes new life. With “Late Registration,” he doesn’t completely abandon the sound that had him dominating radio last year; he just dramatically enhances it.
Together, West and producer Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple) deliver a collection of songs that sound like a film score – a soundtrack of urban blight and desire for a better life. There’s sadness, there’s pain, there’s humor, history, hope and celebration.
In a spoken-word delivery, West spits verses over melodic 40-piece string sets, 30-piece horn sets and DJ scratches. Hip-hop has never had a sound like this.
The album is filled with guest spots by the likes of Nas, Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Brandy, Cam’ron, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and John Legend.
If for some strange reason “Late Registration” doesn’t outdo West’s debut, “The College Dropout” (which sold nearly 3 million copies), it’s merely showing that his hip-hop maturity far exceeds the marketplace’s.
Kelley Carter, Detroit Free Press
Flotation Toy Warning
“Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck” (Misra) “““
Dreamy but stately, mysterious and majestic, the songs on “Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck,” the debut from England’s Flotation Toy Warning, build slowly and shift gradually among vintage keyboards and shimmering guitars, choir-like backing vocals and electronically processed voices, grand horn fanfares and elegant string quartets.
Songs often stretch beyond six minutes, with surprising textures bubbling to the surface: an operatic soloist in “Losing Carolina/For Drusky,” a xylophone-and-strings duet in “Donald Pleasance” and a snare-drum march in “Popstar Researching Oblivion.”
“Bluffer’s Guide” contains traces of Sparklehorse waltzes, Grandaddy wooziness, Radiohead paranoia and Arcade Fire drama. But rather than being anchored in one style, Flotation Toy Warning prefers to let songs drift unmoored, creating a stream-of-consciousness mindscape that’s vaguely unsettling but very alluring.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Day by Day” (Atlantic) “““ 1/2
Yolanda Adams’ first album in four years reunites her with many of the producers who helped her become one of gospel’s biggest crossover successes. The combination of hip-hop and R&B-flavored grooves and messages about everyday life make this a welcome return.
The Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-produced “Lift Him Up,” featuring Donnie McClurkin and Mary Mary, is a rousing praise hymn, while “Be Blessed” is a soulful offer of encouragement. Adams testifies to the strength of her faith on the Kirk Franklin-assisted “Tonight” and the potent, Greg Curtis-produced “Victory.”
She shines brightest, though, on the heartfelt “Better Than Gold,” on which she displays the kind of commitment you can’t put a price on.
Steve Jones, USA Today
“Cost of Living” (New West) ““““
If Delbert McClinton were a baseball player, you’d have to figure he was on the juice. What else but steroids would explain how he could keep hitting one home run after another when most guys his age are way past their prime?
“Cost of Living” continues an incredible late-career surge for the pushing-65 godfather of Americana. His typical range of sounds, from rock to low-down blues to New Orleans-style R&B, frame another collection of deceptively simple songs full of color and character.
Lending ballast to the fun stuff like “Two Step Too” and “Hammerhead Stew” are the brooding outlaw saga “Down Into Mexico,” the magnificent honky-tonk hymn “Midnight Communion” and the gut-wrenching ballads “Kiss Her Once for Me” and “Your Memory, Me, and the Blues.”
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer