June 28, 2007

Here Comes Jennifer Leonhardt

It’s a muggy summer night. Rustic, propulsive rhythms and sinuous melodies surge through the humid air, headed straight toward your unsuspecting soul. From the music comes a woman's voice, thick in its sensuality, raw in its expression. Such is the feeling you get when listening to Jennifer Leonhardt’s new album, Gods & Nations.

Impressive in its overall sound, the album comprises a mix of acoustic and electric-textured songs, evoking folk and blues in ways that sound contemporary, relevant, and most importantly, compelling. Such a mixture makes for great effect, like when the subtle yet affecting track, “Homeland,” bleeds into “City Stories,” which boils and builds toward a sonic collision. Percussion plays a vital role throughout the album, although more for purposes of accentuating rather than dictating the tempos of the tracks.

Weaved seamlessly through the album is Leonhardt’s voice, a striking and soulful instrument, which deftly varies in tone to suit the architecture of each song. On the bluesy “Love Junkie,” Leonhardt’s voice sounds gritty and bare. On the raucous “Here Comes Trouble,” it sounds like a roaring yet sultry siren.

The axis where the most stirring music meets with the most impassioned vocal is “U Wear It Well”. Possibly the finest track on the album, this song aches in an echo and sway of vulnerable tenderness.

Jennifer Leonhardt wrote all but one track on Gods & Nations (a riveting take on “Strange Fruit” being the lone exception). With her skill in creating and crafting quality songs, with her versatility in conveying those songs, Jennifer Leonhardt proves herself a genuine talent. Gods & Nations is the impressive result of her abilities and, based on this effort, it should merit this musician a promising future.

June 24, 2007

Mandy Moore Comes of Age

Mandy Moore has fared better as an actress than as a singer. However, if her latest album, Wild Hope, is a harbinger of things to come, her music career shows considerable promise.

Once a teen-pop princess who sang material virtually indistinguishable from her peers, Mandy Moore now sounds like a maturing young woman following her own intuition and muse. Her departure from prefabricated pop began with her previous album, Coverage, on which she interpreted songs by such accomplished singer/songwriters as Carly Simon, Joe Jackson, and Todd Rundgren. Subsequently, on Wild Hope, Moore had a hand in writing each song on the album.

Much of Wild Hope, with its lush string arrangements and vocal harmonies, sounds refreshing and, at the same time, reminiscent of music made in the heyday of Laurel Canyon by Carole King and the Mamas and the Papas. Moore's voice, which has deepened with age, resonates especially well on "Can't You Just Adore Her?" and the sparse title track.

By leaps and bounds, though, the standout song on this album is "Gardenia
." Co-written with Canadian singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, it merely features sad piano chords and Moore's soaring voice. The lyrics seem abstract if read on paper, but in the context of the song they yield the overall theme of the album: self-discovery. "It's been good/Getting to know me more," Moore sings in the refrain. With Wild Hope, Mandy Moore successfully conveys her individuality and ambition through song, which should bode well for her future in music.

June 20, 2007

Album Review: Bon Jovi - Lost Highway

The Nashville establishment can rest easy. A veteran rock band from New Jersey is not taking over the honky tonks of Music Row.

Bon Jovi’s latest album, Lost Highway, features songs with straightforward, narrative lyrics and acoustic-heavy arrangements, but such traits signal a concentrated focus on songwriting, not an opportunistic shift in genre.

Considering the crossover-to-country success of their last major hit, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” Bon Jovi could have very well followed it up with an album's worth of overt country songs. Instead, the band crafted a set of solid material by simply telling good stories. Songs about taking chances (“One Step Closer”), wishful thinking (“Seat Next To You”), and lost causes (“Whole Lot of Leavin’”) come across as authentic and inspired.

While the album sounds vital and new for the most part, certain Bon Jovi motifs and tricks seem recycled from previous works. The first single, “(You Want To) Make A Memory,” covers much of the same ground, musically and thematically, as “Bed of Roses.” And “We Got It Going On” features the familiar talkbox as heard on “It’s My Life” and “Livin’ On A Prayer.” However, it’s hard to fault a band as successful as Bon Jovi for borrowing from their own greatest hits.

Some of the songs on Lost Highway will sound better in concert. Most of them will sound terrific in a car. The most rewarding aspect of the album, though, is its believability. And selling a good song (or twelve of them) is by no means exclusive to country music. 

June 03, 2007

From Blues Power to a Higher Power: Jonny Lang in Concert

No longer a wunderkind of the blues guitar, Jonny Lang now incorporates elements of funk, soul, and gospel into his music. Still only 26, yet with over a decade of experience and five albums under his belt, Lang displayed the spectrum of his talent to a modest rain-soaked crowd at Jannus Landing on Friday night.

A persistent downpour made the audience impatient at times to hear familiar material, but Lang stood his ground, especially early on, playing tracks from his latest release, Turn Around, essentially a Christian-music album. Even so, songs like “Bump In The Road” and “Don’t Stop (For Anything),” both pulsating and funky at their core, went over well. Apparently, the message of God just comes across better with a bass line.

For those eager to hear more recognizable songs, Lang eventually delivered. “Give Me Up Again,” a soulful track from his 2003 album, Long Time Coming, worked just fine alongside the Prince-penned “I Am” and the title track of 1998’s Wander This World. The climax culminated with a thunderous version of the Stevie Wonder classic, “Livin’ For The City,” with Lang howling each verse while putting his guitar through a workout. For an encore, Lang returned to where he started, with his first hit, “Lie To Me”.

Seemingly content with not staking his career solely on his guitar virtuosity, Jonny Lang gave his fans a glimpse of his musical journey, from blues to soul, from funk to the praising of the Lord.