Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Late-Pass Reviews: B.Dolan, Aloe Blacc, Corinne Bailey Rae, Elzhi

Been trying to get up on some new music.  Well, new to me, haha.  I should also clarify-- since this is just my own site, and not any kind of official music publication, I'm not so much "writing reviews" here as I am just sharing some of my thoughts for my friends who read this site and like similar music.  I know most people wouldn't make that distinction, but as someone who is constantly criticizing the way that music is reviewed, I probably need to.

B.Dolan: Fallen House, Sunken City
If you think Dolan is just a Sage Francis clone, you need to check this one out with an open mind, because there's a world of difference between the two.  Both are big guys with beards, and both combine political messages with personal drama and a smartass attitude, but Dolan is much more of a pure spitter, and his voice is a little fuller and more powerful.  This album has the ambition of a weirdo-indie-rap concept album, but that ambition is backed up by a rock-solid delivery and production (courtesy of Alias) that bangs as hard as anything coming out of the boom-bap traditionalist camp these days.  Definitely one of the most slept-on albums of last year.

Aloe Blacc: Good Things
As much as people go nuts about Raphael Saadiq, I think Aloe Blacc does the throwback soul-man thing even better.  Admittedly, they're two very different artists, but "Good Things" was another unfairly slept-on album from last year.  I think my favorite thing about this album is that Aloe Blacc writes R&B music that isn't always about love and relationships.  That seems like such a simple little thing, but it really separates him from most singers these days and gives the album an edge.  "Good Things" is one of the best music purchases I've made in a long time-- listenable from front to back, with a half-dozen highlights.

Corinne Bailey Rae: The Love EP
This was an impulse purchase.  I really liked both of CBR's full-lengths, so I decided to pick up this little EP of covers too.  I can't say that I've listened to it much since buying it, though.  Covering Bob Marley, Prince and Paul McCartney is both safe and risky-- safe in the sense that they're well-known songs that people already like, and risky in the sense that you're attempting to stand next to some pretty big names; the covers here land somewhere in the middle in terms of quality-- they're well-done, but not all that different from the originals.  The EP finds more success, however, with the Belly cover "Low Red Moon," a more obscure track that CBR knocks out of the park (though it also isn't all that different from the original).  All in all, the EP is worth a listen if you're a fan, probably not if you're not.

Elzhi: Elmatic
If you haven't heard, this album is Elzhi, one of the best technical MCs in the game, re-imagining Nas' "Illmatic," generally considered the best hip hop album of all time.  Again, it's simultaneously safe and risky-- you know it's going to sound great, but can it even approach the quality of the original?  Does it matter?  This album raises some interesting questions about originality, ownership and homage in hip hop.  On a purely musical level, though, it definitely works.  Elzhi's flow is airtight, and the old "Illmatic" instrumentals are brought to life by live instruments in a way that captures the brilliance of the originals while propelling the album out of karaoke-land.  This isn't exactly hip hop boldly moving forward, but it is a lot of fun to listen to, especially if you're a rap head.

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