The River in Reverse
ELVIS COSTELLO & ALLEN TOUSSAINT
There are musicians who make bigger hits and play to bigger houses and make bigger money, but I can't think of one who has an artistic deal as sweet as Elvis Costello's. Under the Universal Music umbrella, he's free to hop around from label to label, delving into an eclectic array of projects, more or less following whichever way the creative wind blows.
This time it's The River in Reverse, Costello's second full-length this year, a foray into New Orleans rhythm-and-blues with one of the city's monarchs, 68-year-old pianist/singer/composer/arranger Allen Toussaint. Costello, a stylistically chameleonic Brit, takes to the Crescent City sound naturally, and while his strident, occasionally overzealous singing smothers a song or two, the whole deal works extremely well.
Costello brought his Impostors rhythm section; Toussaint brought his horn ensemble; they called in ace producer Joe Henry to bring it all together in a program that includes a number of Toussaint chestnuts ("On Your Way Down," "Tears, Tears and More Tears," "Nearer to You"), a handful of new tunes co-written by the tandem, and one selection, the title song, penned by Costello alone.
Most of the songs, be they driving NOLA funk, gospel-hued mid-tempo tunes or ballads, deftly meld the sonic elements into a powerful whole, anchored by Toussaint's rolling, boogie-fied piano that's a hallmark of his hometown. The album's emotional centerpiece, though, is a duet pairing Costello's vocals with Toussaint's piano: "Ascension Day," a minor-key re-imaging of "Tipitana."
Costello's lyrics, about desolation and redemption, are genuinely moving — and contain the disc's only obvious reference to Katrina: "Not a hound was howling/ or whimpering or prowling/ Now the wind had departed/ Not a leaf was hanging on the tree like when it started/ But I know they will return/ Like they've never gone away/ Come Ascension Day."
It was probably tempting to make The River in Reverse a lament or a screed or a polemic about the hurricane, but I think Costello and Toussaint were smart to avoid the urge. You might say that now's the time for healing, and this CD just might play a role in the process. 3.5 stars
— Eric Snider
JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
Blackheart Records Group
All but four of the tunes on proto-riot grrl Jett's first American full-length of new material in a decade appeared on '04's import-only Japanese release Naked — which means most of her diehard fans already have most of this sex-themed hard-candy rock. There's still plenty here to re-introduce her to mainstream American audiences, though, particularly the Sinner-only opening double salvo of "Riddles" and "A.C.D.C." A few songs, like the surprisingly bloodless version of The Replacements classic "Androgynous," fall short, but Jett and a cadre of co-writers (including starmaker Linda Perry and Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna) have crafted two-thirds of an album's worth of able, engaging rock 'n' roll. 3 stars
— Scott Harrell
Brightblack Morning Light
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT
Brightblack Morning Light's self-titled debut charts new territory in the gettin'-it-on genre. Alternately sweet and dirty, Brightblack main man Nathan Shineywater sings so languidly that he may've well been recorded while under hypnosis. Droney drums fill in the space not occupied by Shineywater's voice or bandmate Rachel Hughes' omnipresent Fender Rhodes, which helps the music come across as decidedly Southern. Shineywater and Hughes, California transplants from Alabama, make the most of their heritage, coming up just short of sounding hammy. 3.5 stars
— Mark Sanders
Ying Yang Twin D-Roc and producer Mr. Collipark strengthen their coterie's stranglehold on Southern club-rap with this new franchise featuring Roc's brothers Mr. Ball and Da Birthday Boy. Da Muzicianz's debut is by turns both more ambitious and more pared-back than the syncopated crunk sound that made Ying Yang famous. Tracks like "Go Dumb (Remix)," with its jazzy intro and twisted carnival soundtrack, suggest a wider net of influence, but most of Da Muzicianz takes the sparse, hi-hat-hand-claps sound of the Twins and strips it way down, revealing crunk to be a much closer relative of Miami bass and 2 Live Crew than some might've expected. 2.5 stars