Billy Ray Cyrus
Billy Ray Cyrus, "Wanna Be Your Joe"
Phish, "Live in Brooklyn"
Los Lonely Boys "Sacred"
Hector Bambino, "Roc La Familia & Hector Bambino 'El Father' Present Los Rompe Discotekas"
"Wanna Be Your Joe," (New Door/Universal)
Billy Ray Cyrus figures he might as well laugh at himself — even if being the butt of jokes once led to his skyrocketing music career burning out so quickly.
Cyrus' new album, "Wanna Be Your Joe," includes a self-written song, "I Want My Mullet Back," that takes a comic look at an era the country singer once symbolized. The Kentucky native's 1992 hit, "Achy Breaky Heart," launched the country line-dance craze and brought greater attention to the genre. But the song's insistent chorus inspired a backlash, and Cyrus was derided as a hip-shaking lightweight with an oversized mullet. Cyrus' popularity fell nearly as fast as it had climbed.
Since then, he's enjoyed success as an actor. He appears as the father in the hit Disney Channel series "Hannah Montana," which stars the singer's real-life daughter, 13-year-old Miley Cyrus. He previously starred in the PAX cable show "Doc."
Musically, he hasn't changed. His country rock mixes down-home love songs like "I Wanna Be Your Joe" with bombastic tributes celebrating the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt ("The Man") and Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd ("The Freebird Fell"). He also recruits Loretta Lynn and George Jones to join him in bemoaning the direction of his favorite musical genre in "Country Music Has the Blues," a rather ironic turn for a man who pushed Nashville into a pop trend.
Maybe there are some things he still can't joke about. (Michael McCall)
At its best, Phish was able delight and awe listeners with jams that exceeded expectations. The now-disbanded group sent listeners to a different place — sometimes spiritually as well as musically — and broke boundaries that few acts have come close to touching.
At its worse, Phish was a lumbering bore.
Both sides are on display with "Live in Brooklyn," a CD and DVD release that captures the band on the first stop of its 2004 farewell tour.
On the CD, listeners are given the entire set spread over three discs from the first of a two-night stay at Brooklyn's Keyspan Park. The DVD includes that entire show as well as bonus features such as excerpts from sound check and three songs from the second night.
The band clearly wasn't interested in only kicking out its greatest hits on its last tour. They're not afraid to mix in newer songs along with the crowd favorites and classic gems.
But that doesn't stop the band from sounding tired and directionless in spots. Given the volume of live releases capturing Phish at its prime in the mid-1990s, its hard to see a reason why "Live in Brooklyn" should find a place on the casual fan's CD rack.
For some young artists, the follow-up to a multiplatinum debut and a Grammy award is obscurity, as they fail to find an audience that is as enamored of their new work as their first.
The Los Lonely Boys should have no such problem with "Sacred," their sophomore effort after 2004's self-titled debut. "Sacred" has a more polished sound, featuring organs and horn arrangements, and its stunning Tex-Mex mix is sure to please the Boys' fans base and win over any remaining doubters.
The crack rhythm section of younger brothers Jojo and Ringo, on bass and drums respectively, lays down solid, soulful grooves for guitar virtuoso Henry to strut his stuff over.
Equal parts Stevie Ray Vaughn and Carlos Santana, Henry — the eldest of the Garzas at a spry 25 — rises above merely imitating his influences to create a style all his own.
Popular blues seems to have found its' latest bearer of the torch — or, rather, the Fender Stratocaster.
Then there's the singing. The brothers share vocal duties and their pitch-perfect harmonizing adds a dimension that only years of playing together can create.
The disc's opener, "My Way," sets the tone with a blistering riff and solo backed by a sing-along chorus that will make a perfect addition to an already explosive live show.
Sandwiched in between the Latin-flavored scorchers "Orale" and "Oye Mamacita" is the luscious first single "Diamonds" — a track every bit as strong as their breakout single, 2004's "Heaven."
The trio shines with bluesy rockers ("Roses," "Texican Style"), mid-tempo shuffles ("Home," "My Loneliness") or soft ballads ("I Never Met a Woman," "Living My Life"), and their joy of playing together can be heard throughout.
A perfect highlight is "Outlaws," an ode to the forefathers of country blues that oozes confidence and features guest appearances by friend and mentor Willie Nelson, as well as Garza patriarch Ringo Sr.
The song's message is loud and clear: Watch out for Los Lonely Boys. (John Kosik)
It's hard — and maybe unfair — to load Hector Bambino's new album with the weight and significance of reggaeton crossing over to mainstream music with blessing of hip-hop.
However, his album is called "Roc La Familia & Hector Bambino 'El Father' Present Los Rompe Discotekas" (those who tear the club up), so the inflated title begs for high expectations.
And they are high. Bambino's compilation album is the first release off Roc La Familia, Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella Records branch representing world music. Bambino, who started making reggaeton hits in his teens as part of the duo Hector y Tito, is its debut artist.
To his credit, Bambino tries hard, performing on four songs. The rest feature well-known names such as Fat Joe, Memphis Bleek, and reggaeton stars Wisin y Yandel and Bambino's own protégé, Don Omar.
It's a valiant effort. But as Bambino moves from his native Puerto Rico to New York, so does his music. The album plays as sort of a catchall mix-tape, a hodgepodge leaning toward a harder sound on the mostly Spanish tracks.
Jay-Z and Bambino come together on the first single, "Here We Go, Yo," a song with a fine, energetic beat and good display of Bambino's rapid-fire delivery. The repetition of "here we go, yo" is generic, though, especially compared to catchier hooks that, even in Spanish, made hits out of Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" and Don Omar's "Dile."
As a reggaeton album, "Discotekas" is just OK. Too many of the songs are stripped of any island stylings and even reggae influences — instead needlessly mimicking English-language rap songs.
Some, like the slowed-down "Dejate Llevar" by Kartier are truer to the more dancehall reggaeton style.
The genre is obviously going through some growing pains as it fights for its place on the mainstream stage. If Bambino's album is any indication, it's still trying to figure out how to stand on its own. (Olivia Munoz)