PLAY > SKIP: New Music for the Week of February 1
The elements collide in this first week of new February music. There are some earthy grooves from down South and across the Atlantic, courtesy of the Civil Wars and the Boxer Rebellion, while the North Mississippi Allstars have a jam-band fire sparking their sound. Unfortunately, Ricky Martin and newcomers the JaneDear Girls pour cold water onto the whole affair -- their two albums are so filled with mediocrity they suck all the air from the room.
SKIP: Ricky Martin, Musica + Alma + Sexo
Part of me wants Ricky Martin to win. The guy comes out of the closet, starts a family, and finds a whole new lease on life. You'd have be a hater to rain on that parade. And Musica + Alma + Sexo is a mainstream bilingual parade full of hope and cheer. Produced by veteran hitmaker Desmond Child, Martin's new album is all about uplift and unity. Songs like "Shine" and "The Best Thing About Me Is You" bang the kumbaya drum. I give Martin a pass for good intentions but a fail for originality. Musica + Alma + Sexo is one cliche too many and is short on memorable melodies. There's nothing wrong with getting positive on the dance floor, but don't you want some songs you can remember after the club shuts down?
WATCH the music video for "The Best Thing About Me Is You."
PLAY: North Mississippi Allstars, Keys to the Kingdom
Luther and Cody Dickinson's father -- legendary producer and pianist Jim Dickinson (that's him on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses") -- passed away in 2009, and his sons have chosen to celebrate his musical life rather than mourn his death. Keys to the Kingdom stares the Grim Reaper down not with fear but with 12 songs of Southern bluesy funk. It's not a perfect record, but neither is life. Or death. Still, the North Mississippi Allstars have made a fitting tribute to their pops. If life is short, then let the music be loud and filled with slide guitar.
PLAY: The Boxer Rebellion, The Cold Still
The members of the Boxer Rebellion come from England, Australia, and America and have had a rocky ten-year history below the radar. Despite touring with such heavyweight acts as the Killers and Lenny Kravitz, the Boxer Rebellion's self-released music (their one record label went belly-up in 2007) has been the object of fascination for a small audience of influential aficionados and music supervisors. Now enter producer Ethan Johns (Ray LaMontagne, Kings of Leon), determined to bring the Boxer Rebellion to the mainstream. Is the world ready for big panoramic guitars, vocals rich with reverb and romance, urgent rhythms, and epic songwriting? Please, if there's a God, let it be so. The Cold Still will send a shiver down your spine from start to finish. It's dark, broken, lovely music.
PLAY: The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
Joy Williams and John Paul White look and sound like the White Stripes' turn-of-the century country cousins. The duo has only been together since 2008, but they sing like they share the same mama -- or lover. Songs like "Barton Hollow" and "Poison & Wine" (trotted out on Grey's Anatomy) carry forward the work started by such cult roots heroes as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings -- adding a layer of California pop sensibility, courtesy of Williams' West Coast roots. It's emotionally raw stuff dressed up in an unapologetically tight production. Still, the heart of these songs never succumbs to the studio slickness. The Civil Wars could be the new front in the battle to save modern country's soul.
SKIP: The JaneDear Girls, The JaneDear Girls
On the surface, the JaneDear Girls would seem to share the same marketing plan as the Civil Wars: highly stylized country pop with a seriously stylized dress code. But unlike the Civil Wars, who are looking for sincere earthy cred, the JaneDear Girls are stealing a few pages from Katy Perry's playbook. Mix in producer John Rich (half of uber-country pop duo Big & Rich), and you get the idea. The JaneDear Girls' debut fills that imaginary void between the Dixie Chicks and your favorite porn-star-turned-country-radio diva. It's as catchy, hummable, plastic, and forgettable as that last song you swore you'd never forget. Until you forgot it.