(The Inc. Record)
Ja Rule's fifth LP showcases a more reflective rapper who draws less on his past albums' thug-like lyrics and bling-bling'n stylized hooks and more on his highly publicized life during the past year (charges of assault and drug possession). Commentating on life in the hood, memorializing fallen soldiers in Iraq and deciphering the difference between strong women and, um, “lady friends,” R.U.L.E. is infused with powerful lyrics and smooth rhymes geared expressly for R&B crossover radio. Add to the mix appearances by Black Child, R. Kelly, Ashanti, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Trick Daddy, Chink Santana and many other current hip hop superstars, Rule's latest studio effort is sure to help bring Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. label into the national spotlight — as opposed to the national tabloids.
Producers: Ja Rule, Chink Santana, Gotti, Jimi Kendrix, Cool & Dre, That Nigga Reb, DJ Twinz. Engineers: Won “Engineer to the Stars” and Bee Allen. Assistant engineer: Gavin “YG” Johnson. Mixers: Milwaukee “Protools King” Buck, Brian Springer, Supa Engineer Duro. Studios: C.H. Studios, Right Track Studios (both in NYC), Circle House Studios (Miami), Larrabee Studios (L.A.)
(Rounder Records/Marsalis Music)
Branford Marsalis' Eternal is aptly titled. A collection of original and classic ballads, the disc is dedicated to the memory of some of the group's musical and life influences, with each love or loss somberly reflected through a lyrical, sensual music meditation. The adventurous improvisation and experimentation that is a hallmark of the group has been temporarily abandoned here. Eternal features songs made famous by Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday, Marsalis' title track and fine pieces by each member of the current band: drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts' “Reika's Loss,” keyboardist Joey Calderazzo's “Lonely Swan” and bassist Eric Revis' “Muldoon.” Conceptually beautiful and an enjoyable listen, Eternal is a newly minted jazz classic.
Producer: Branford Marsalis. Engineer: Rob “Wacko” Hunter. Recorded at Tarrytown Music Hall (Tarrytown, N.Y.), mixed at The Studio in the Country (Durham, N.C.), mastered at Sterling Sound by Greg Calbi.
— Breean Lingle
The Old Grey Whistle Test
The Old Grey Whistle Test DVD compilation was culled from the famous BBC British television program of the '70s and '80s that showcased up-and-coming (and a few established) bands from the U.S. and UK. What a treat it is to see early performances by the likes of U2 (still teenagers!), Bob Marley & The Wailers, Blondie, Emmylou Harris (with the first Hot Band), Talking Heads, The Police, The Specials, Roxy Music, R.E.M. (Michael Stipe with hair!), Captain Beefheart, The Ramones, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others — 28 acts in all. Camera work and sound are both superlative, and the extra interview segments revealing. A must-own for serious rock fans, and let's hope there's more to come from the vaults — after all, in England, there have already been three releases featuring many other British and American bands!
DVD producer: Jill Sinclair. Original producer: Mike Appleton.
— Blair Jackson
Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon
A little more than a year after Warren Zevon's death comes this excellent tribute album by a wide assortment of his musical friends and admirers. You'd expect spirited and passionate readings of Zevon tunes from L.A. brethren such as Don Henley (“Searching for a Heart”), Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt (“Poor Poor Pitiful Me”) and David Lindley and Ry Cooder (the little known “Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse”). But some of the gems come from unexpected sources: Adam Sandler with a surprisingly good “Werewolves of London,” The Pixies doing “Ain't That Pretty At All,” Zevon's son Jordan sounding eerily like dad on “Studebaker” and a wonderful live version of “My Ride's Here” by Bruce Springsteen. A labor of love that's full of heart, soul and great songwriting.
Compilation producers: Jorge Calderon, Jordan Zevon; individual tracks produced by Calderon, Waddy Wachtel, The Twangtrust, Brendan O’Brien, Evan Frankfort, Ken Stringfellow, The Pixies. Engineers: Noah Scot Snyder, Greg Hayes, Greg Ladanyi, Don Smith, Ray Kennedy, Doug Reid, Toby Scott, Nick DiDia, Brendan O’Brien, Paul Dieter, Evan Frankfort, Jim Mitchell, John Hoke, Bil Lane, Dave Shuman, Ed Cherney, Ben Mumphrey. Studios: Groovemasters, Pan 3, Record Plant, Sound Factory, The Cave, Dreamland, Would Work Entertainment, Krispy Kreme, Metamorphosis. Mastering: Gavin Lurssen/The Mastering Lab.
— Blair Jackson
Jakalope, the all-star industrial collaboration from Skinny Puppy producer Dave Ogilvie, should appeal to fans of current goth/industrial rock — inspired bands such as Evanescence, as well as old-school types who, like me, were into industrial during the Pretty Hate Machine era, and who listened to remixes of songs such as “Beers, Steers and Queers” and “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” NIN's Trent Reznor produced, wrote and played on several Jakalope tracks, including “Feel It,” which features the slow build to wall of angry guitars found on some of Reznor's own tracks. The core lineup includes Ogilvie, former Moev member Anthony Valcic, the “three Dons” (Harrison, Binns and Short) of Sons of Freedom and newcomer Katie B., while the stellar guest list includes members of Monster Magnet, Babes in Toyland and Sloan.
Producers: Dave Ogilvie, Anthony Valcic, Trent Reznor, Jamey Koch. Engineers: Valcic, Ogilvie, Phil Western. Studios: The Fudio, The Warehouse Studio, Orange Lounge Recordings. Mastering: Tom Baker/Precision Mastering.
— Heather Johnson
The Centennial Collection
There are so many Ellington anthologies available, do we really need another? Yes, and here's why: The single CD contains some of the expected Victor classics from the late '20s and early '30s (“East St. Louis Toodle-O,” “The Mooch,” “Mood Indigo,” “Rockin' In Rhythm”), but also includes seven tracks from a previously unreleased radio broadcast from 1941 featuring Ellington's great band with Ben Webster, Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges and Jimmy Blanton, et al. A companion DVD boasts a number of short films of Ellington and his band in various settings, including a fascinating one from 1937 that goes into vivid detail about how a record is made, from recording through mastering. Great for the casual fan or obsessive Ellington collector!
Reissue producers: Steven Lasker and Barry Feldman. Restoration/mastering, DVD production: Lasker. Original recordings span 1927 to 1941; various studios.
— Blair Jackson