Robert Randolph & the Family Band, "Colorblind" (Warner Brothers)
Robert Randolph & The Family Band – "Colorblind"
Lloyd Banks – "Rotten Apple"
Mindy Smith – "Long Island Shores"
Jimmy Buffet – "Take The Weather With You"
An explosive combination of funk, soul and rock drives Robert Randolph & The Family Band's "Colorblind," the group's sophomore effort that must be played loud and often.
Think of Randolph as the next generation of Sly & the Family Stone. If you listen closely enough to "Colorblind," sometimes it almost sounds like the aura of Sly is in the studio with this new family of musicians.
But it's more than that. Randolph also adds a touch of Prince, a dash of blues, a little bit of Hendrix and even a hint of rap and country in this musical gumbo that comes together perfectly.
On "Colorblind," Randolph and his pedal steel guitar are joined by guitar legend Eric Clapton on a blistering cover of "Jesus is Just Alright With Me" and by Dave Matthews on "Love is The Only Way."
There's not a weak track to be had. From the booming opener, "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That," to the closer "Homecoming," Randolph and his family band demand attention. Just don't forget to play it loud. (Scott Bauer)
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Lloyd Banks, "Rotten Apple" (G-Unit/Interscope)
Lloyd Banks hasn't learned from his mistakes. Lacking charm and stellar narrative chops on his 2004 debut "The Hunger For More," Banks often sounded like a low-rent carbon copy of his mentor 50 Cent. It was his G-Unit affiliation that managed to help that disc reach its multi-million selling status.
On his follow-up disc, "Rotten Apple," the Queens rapper revels in the spoils of his material success without substantially improving on the formula that made him his crew's golden boy. The disc's most obvious exception is "The Cake," an underground hit about stacking dollars and protecting one's riches built on a one-note piano tinkle, a cleverly sampled voice ("money, money, money ... cake") and a teeth-gritting verse from Fiddy.
Elsewhere Banks merely covers the hardcore rap bases, his mumbled sneer offering up rhymes meant to be menacing along the way. On the title track, he explains "Drama is a part of the story that I'ma give you." But his words rarely resonate beyond more than rap bluster or idle sentiment, even when he tries to lighten the mood. The first radio single, "Hands Up" is a lifeless party song about Banks leading a cavalier rap superstar lifestyle. On "Help" featuring newcomer Keri Hilson, Banks plays a sensitive thug trying to impress his boo, but he comes off like crass nouveau riche: "First class trips/ and the bubbly's Cris/ I work so hard to live like this."
The rest of "Rotten Apple" is filled with serviceable, grimy tracks and verses devoted to gangsta guntalk ("Get Clapped"), hometown hubris ("NY NY") and dangerous street life ("Stranger," "Make A Move"). Banks hasn't shown much growth since his debut, and with this effort, we're left wondering if there's more to him than meets the eye. (Brett Johnson)
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Mindy Smith, "Long Island Shores" (Vanguard)
It's impossible to say anything bad about Mindy Smith. She's just so ... sweet. And how she manages not to step over that line into saccharine is baffling.
She sounds much younger than her 31 years. She wears her Christianity on her sleeve — one of standout tracks is "Out Loud," in which she sings "I've thought about it. And I've prayed about it out loud." And you don't doubt she's singing the truth.
Her sound is tough to classify. It's Christian, country and pop with a bit of rock 'n' roll tossed in. The addition of Buddy Miller's twangy brilliance on electric guitar on "Long Island Shores," her second release, bumps the whole album up a notch — although his sappy duet with Smith, "What if the World Stops Turning?" is one of its weaker moments.
The CD's best song is "I'm Not the Only One Asking," when the utter innocence of Smith's voice is highlighted by the rough and tumble guitars behind her. (Kim Curtis)
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Jimmy Buffett, "Take the Weather with You," (Mailboat/RCA Nashville)
As America's favorite musical beach bum, Jimmy Buffett found his niche in the 1970s with island-influenced party tunes and literate acoustic songs about aging and self-definition. However, as time went on, Buffett tilted the balance toward the sun and the nightlife. His celebratory live shows gained a loyal following, but Buffett focused so stridently on songs about bars, boats and beaches that he buried his more introspective fare. His albums grew too shallow to hold much water.
But, as he approaches 60, Buffett seems revived creatively. Perhaps scoring a No. 1 country hit with his Alan Jackson duet, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," renewed his commitment to record-making. Whatever the reason, "Take the Weather with You" is even stronger than 2004's comeback collection, "License to Chill."
The breezy Gulf Coast sound remains, such as the single "Bama Breeze," but they show more thought. Even better, he blends solid covers by songwriting peers of his generation with tunes by younger acoustic tunesmiths. Highlights include his versions of Jesse Winchester's age-old "Nothin' But a Breeze," Guy Clark and Chuck Mead's "Cinco de Mayo in Memphis," Gillian Welch's "Elvis Presley's Blues" and Mary Gauthier's surreal "Wheel Inside the Wheel."
The best parts of "Weather" have nothing to do with sand and everything to do with a well-read beachcomber's skewed view on modern life. It's good to see Buffett can still benefit from a change in attitude this late in the game. (Michael McCall)
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