If I had to give this review a title, it would be “A Battle of Two Generations.” One generation is the legion of people who grew up listening to Jay-Z and appreciate his wordplay and his journey. Most importantly, they appreciate his ability to be a top-notch lyricist with the ability to tell stories and deliver jewels. The other generation did not grow up listening to Jay-Z and are currently at the forefront of a youth movement in hip-hop and popular music. Look at Jay-Z’s lyricism and jewel dropping as a direct insult to them and their way of life from an “old man.”
4:44 is an album from an artist who has absolutely nothing to prove. Jay-Z is considered to be on the level of success of Michael Jackson or the Beatles (in its first week of Tidal-exclusive release, the album went platinum), and he’s obviously in a very introspective mode on the new LP.
On “Kill Jay-Z,” the veteran rapper speaks of the need to express himself with truth—reconciling with his family and his responsibilities as a husband and father, and exercising friendship demons. As the song’s title suggests, it’s time to kill the character Jay-Z and allow his true self, Shawn Carter, to manifest. Jigga is in rare form as the album oozes honesty, with the finest of wordplay and wisdom beyond the years of the current hip-hop landscape.
Jay-Z breaks down the negative effects of success on the identity of black people in their culture on “The Story of OJ,” and the subsequent desire to separate from that culture after being successful. This track boasts one of the cleverest choruses of the year, if not recent history. Jay-Z has once again shown that age does not exist when it comes to creating dope music that is unapologetically hip-hop, but still appeals to the masses.
– Devin Anderson
The Vince Berman Trio
Are We Not Berman?
Panama City group pulls together some prominent musicians to create a fun jazzy project with flavors of everything—Beach Boys, rambling blues, Randy Newman. Yet even with such a mixed bag of styles and influences, the album comes together. It’s a joyful ride that works as a single listen.
– Nikki Hedrick
If you miss soaring guitars and a nearly operatic take on metal, Pensacola’s Foreseen is for you. With progressive elements and those big, loud moments that put heavy music on the map, Foreseen is a dynamic celebration of the genre. Standouts include the theatrical “My Hyde” and “Crossing the Line,” which touches on early thrash rhythms. Although each band member has ample opportunity to shine, kudos are very much due to the vocalist, who pulls off some very tough and notable high notes.
– Nikki Hedrick
Something to Tell You
The long anticipated sophomore album from the pop-rock sister trio stays true to their aura of effortlessness. On this album about heartbreak and yearning, however, they’re digging deeper. The accessibility of Haim’s music, with its exciting, undeniable rhythm, feels significant as these songs travel from euphoric to heart wrenching and everywhere in between. Haim is making infectious music that organically makes people dance and enthusiastically lip sync, but they are also doing the important work of being vocal about—even celebrating—the complexity of women’s emotions.
– Jane Morgan
If Imagine Dragons are indeed evolving, they’re moving in an alt-pop direction rather than rock. Yet they haven’t lost their edge. The new album is diverse, filled with hip-hop beats, ballad broodiness, and a generous infusion of clap machine rhythms throughout. “Whatever It Takes,” “Thunder” and current single “Believer” are all irresistibly upbeat, while tracks like “Walking the Wire” are slow and soulful. It’s a trifle overproduced and a little too slick at times, but Evolve is still ear-tickling good even after repeat listens.
– Joni Williams
I think this might be my first album from cornetist Knuffke. He, Jay Anderson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums) team up to pay double tribute to the free jazz works of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. The 12 tracks (more than an hour) feature seven by Cherry and five by Coleman. With only two guys backing him up, Knuffke seems to know what’s expected. He steps up and lets his horn talk, bold and almost non-stop. I heard ghosts of Freddie Hubbard and a little Woody Shaw, too. Be warned—it’s a trumpet player’s kind of album.
– Bruce Collier
On their long-awaited EP, Pensacola rockers Paracosm are about the melody in between the guitar riffs. With modern rock sensibilities and a DIY work ethic, they’re one of the most recognizable names in the area’s rock realm for good reason. Artifacts proves their staying power and their commitment to producing memorable tunes on their own terms. With multilayered production and a moody tune, the music is bound to turn up soon on a radio station near you.
– Nikki Hedrick
Marc Romboy and the Dortmund Philharmonic
Romboy is a “systematic recordings artist,” whatever that means. The Dortmund Philharmonic is…what it says it is. Last December, they met for a one-take recording (with audience) of edited, remixed, reconstructed music. The subject—or victim, if you prefer—is French impressionist composer Claude Debussy. Debussy might well have relished this riff on his freewheeling compositions. Or hated it. Four tracks include “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and “La Mer.” I’m a fan of Debussy, and I think his work is robust enough to withstand this and more. Fun, if you’re in the right mood.
– Bruce Collier
Pastel, Solo Piano
Italian pianist and composer Sportiello numbers boisterous guys like Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum among his influences. Though European conservatory trained, Sportiello says he strives to “make (jazz) understandable to everybody.” Pastel Solo Piano puts that into practice, offering a mixed, accessible menu of 13 tracks, including “Dancing in the Dark,” “When I Fall in Love,” and other standards. It’s easy listening, but in the best way.
– Bruce Collier
Out in the Storm
The new album from Katie Crutchfield’s project is one of the most gorgeously vulnerable albums of the year. The Birmingham native works through the demise of her relationship through lyrics that are cutting and gentle in the wake of intense, tumultuous heartbreak. She considers the loss of self in a painful relationship, and the process of regaining the self in the aftermath. Waxahatchee’s sound is at once beating and atmospheric, cinematic in its ability to comfortably carry her intimate storytelling. Out in the Storm is a probing, enthralling force.
– Jane Morgan
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