Billy Bob Thornton, " Beautiful Door " (New Door/Universal)
Billy Bob Thornton, " Beautiful Door "
Sean Kingston, "Sean Kingston"
Teddy Thompson, "Up Front and Low Down"
Joann Rosario, "Joyous Salvation"
Like many of his fellow actors, Billy Bob Thornton moonlights as a musician. Unlike many of his counterparts, Thornton's music has quality and depth — as shown with his fourth album, "Beautiful Door."
Thornton co-wrote all 12 of the tracks on the country-rock disc. "Beautiful Door" opens with the melancholy, guitar-infused "It's Just Me" — a song about suicide. "That darkness that you feel each evening is just my lonely cry," Thornton croons with a twang. This subject is heavy, and the rest of the album is just as deep. On "Always Counting," Thornton sings about his obsessive-compulsive disorder. "Restin' Your Soul" is a song about the brokenhearted.
"Beautiful Door" is full of low-key tracks, which after a while start to sound a bit monotonous. But there are a few standout upbeat songs such as the spirited single, "I Gotta Grow Up" where Thornton sings "Her head got small and her rage got big and she challenged me to a duel."
One of the weaknesses of the album is Thornton's voice — he has limited vocal range and seems to be stuck on one note. But what he lacks in vocal depth, he makes up for with his songwriting abilities. Each track is like mini-story, which is not surprising considering Thornton is an Oscar-winning screenwriter. While the singing is simple, the well-written lyrics will inevitably draw the listener in.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Hearts Like Mine" is an infectious balled with a catchy hook. Thornton sings about being brokenhearted and lost love, something we can all relate to, right? (Alicia Quarles)
When it comes to Sean Kingston's reggae-influenced, '50s-inspired single "Beautiful Girls," there are two kinds of people. The first group sings along to the hook. The second group contemplates choking the first group before they can get to the first verse.
While 17-year-old singer-rapper's self-titled debut album would better suit the tastes of the first bunch, the "hate it" folks might find a few buried treasures between tracks.
Sure, Kingston continues with his unorthodox mash-ups on "Got No Shorty," featuring peppy hand-clapping looped over haunting pipe organ. The result: a sock hop-meets-horror flick vibe that only "Beautiful Girls" fans could appreciate.
And yes, "Your Sister" — in which Kingston sings "I kissed your sister last night, it ain't my fault, it's just your sister's my type" — comes off as a little silly, but the boy really does have heart.
Kingston's sincerity is clearest on "Drummer Boy," which showcases his ability to vacillate between an American-born dialect and a Jamaican-bred patois with ease. He shouts out his roots on "Kingston," which, like his name, pays homage to the geographical location.
Production on the reggae, rap, pop-infused album is impressive throughout. Whether Kingston's lyrics are delightfully humorous or downright laughable is up for debate.
CHECK IT OUT: "I Can Feel It" affords everyone the chance to A) justify their disgust or B) indulge in a really fun sample of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." (Melanie Sims)
That the son of English folk-rock royalty would create an album mostly of country music covers will surprise only those who haven't heard Teddy Thompson's previous work. Last year's glorious "Separate Ways," with its concise lyricism and sweetly tempered musicality, hinted at a country music influence. The new "Up Front and Low Down" makes it explicit.
His parents, revered singers and songwriters Richard and Linda Thompson, have had artistic brushes with country music. But Thompson doesn't sound like either parent, nor does he adopt Nashville's twang.
Instead, he seems drawn to how classic country songwriters infuse emotion into pared-down lyrics. Musically, Thompson sticks to his own atmospheric, richly melodic sound. He pairs traditional country instruments like the steel guitar and mandolin way with the non-traditional sounds of string quartets, brushed drums and full-bodied electric guitar notes. The result is music that aches with melancholy and tasteful elegance.
He takes on a several country standards, including Ernest Tubb's "Walking the Floor Over You," Merle Haggard's "(My Friends Are Gonna be) Strangers" and "George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care." But each song is transformed musically into something else entirely, while Thompson brings out the dramatic messages through understated use of his tender, expressive voice.
CHECK THIS OUT: "Down Low," the album's lone original, reveals how Thompson emulates the strengths of classic country songwriters through a clever, heartbreaking tune about a man telling an ex-lover she's better off without him. (Michael McCall)
Latin gospel diva Joann Rosario's third album is like a cool drink of water at high noon during a heat wave. Using sweeping worship ballads and interludes of gentle praise, Rosario enlivens weary spirits with invigorating songs detailing the joys of salvation.
During the recording of Rosario's last album "Now More Than Ever ... Worship," she was still plagued by the vocal injury which had at one point completely taken away her speaking and singing voice - threatening her budding solo career and challenging her faith. But on "Joyous Salvation," it's obvious that her physical and spiritual recovery is complete.
The opening cut, "Restore to Me," will immediately lighten any atmosphere. The work of producer Aaron W. Lindsey (Israel Houghton, Martha Munizzi) is stamped on the singable chorus and the ever-building intensity. Rosario, who also serves as National Music Director for Maranatha World Revival Ministries, let's out a little Spanish on "Come on Everybody (Vamos Todos Juntos)," a Brazilian-styled uptempo groove that feels like a tropical breeze with a jazzy edge. The balance of the album features mid-tempo grooves like the contemplative "Traces of You" and delectable ballads like "Beautiful Son," that seem to verbalize the inner-most thoughts of an enraptured worshipper.
These songs, primarily written by Rosario, ooze dramatic emotional release, instead of gospel music's famed rawness. They're empowered by Rosario's pure tones, coaxed from a seemingly gilded throat. And the message, delivered a bit briefly but beautifully in 10 tracks, is simply this: Serving God is a joyous experience. (Aimee Maude Sims)