Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - MUSIC -

FOR the last three years or so, Chris Brown and his dec­i­mated, yet rav­en­ous, fan base have been try­ing to con­vince crit­ics and the gen­eral pub­lic to look past his rather ugly per­sonal de­fects and judge him solely on his artis­tic tal­ents. Fine, I will. For­tune is bor­ing. De­spite a laun­dry list of big-name pro­duc­ers, in­clud­ing Benny Be­nassi, Danja, Wil­liam Or­bit and Polow da Don, there’s very lit­tle here that rises above av­er­age.

The club tracks, like the slick Turn up the Mu­sic and the Au­toTune over­load of Don’t Wake Me Up, are ser­vice­able, but they’re vir­tu­ally in­ter­change­able with anything re­leased in the last six months by Usher, Flo Rida, and/or Nicki Mi­naj.

The pop bal­lads are mostly for­get­table, and in sev­eral cases, flat-out in­sin­cere and in­sult­ing — Big­gest Fan, for ex­am­ple, where he croons “I need to sex you babe, girl you bet­ter not change your mind.” …Or what?

Love him or hate him, he pretty much sums it up on the glitchy Bassline, sneering, “You heard about my im­age, but I could give a fly­ing (ex­ple­tive) who’s of­fended.” JUST in case you grey­ing Lit­tle Feat fans have lost track, the band’s lat­est al­bum, the pretty sweet Rooster Rag is its 16th stu­dio of­fer­ing. The Southern Cal­i­for­nia combo lost lead­ing light Lowell Ge­orge way back in 1979 and sadly, drum­mer ex­traor­di­naire Richie Hay­ward died nearly two years ago, yet the Feat walk on.

The new dozen-tracker has prac­ti­cally all the en­ergy and feel of some of the band’s clas­sic-era out­put, and that must be at­trib­uted to the group par­ing down to its orig­i­nal mem­bers only (save for drum­mer Gabe Ford and gui­tarist Fred Tack­ett). Their hip-loose and down-and-funky vibe is in­tact on in­stant win­ners like Salome, the ti­tle track and al­bum opener Candy Man Blues. In par­tic­u­lar, Paul Bar­rere’s slip­pery slide guitar work stands out, and with vo­cals han­dled by the band them­selves, it truly does sound like old-school Lit­tle Feat.

It may not be Sailin’ Shoes or Dixie Chicken but this rooster does rock. ½ FLO Rida has never been the main at­trac­tion on his own records: He’s best known for his col­lab­o­ra­tions with other artists. His first hit, Low, co-starred T-Pain, and sub­se­quent ones like In the Ayer fea­tur­ing Will.I.Am and Right Round with Ke$ha should have been an in­di­ca­tion of the ex­tent of his range, which is pretty lim­ited.

On his new nine-track al­bum, Wild Ones, he takes even more of a back seat than usual. But that’s not the only prob­lem: some of the tracks “con­tain el­e­ments” of var­i­ous songs, mak­ing the al­bum sound like some­thing you’ve heard be­fore — many times.

Wild Ones sounds like it ac­ci­den­tally in­gested beats from David Guetta or Pit­bull; it’s a con­fused mesh of rock, rap and dance mu­sic. Not even the J. Lo-as­sisted Sweet Spot stands out from the crowd of di­luted Eu­ro­pean dance sounds. The ti­tle track is some­what en­joy­able, but that’s thanks to Sia’s per­for­mance on its hook.

The al­bum’s worst of­fender is the in­ter­na­tional hit Good Feel­ing. It sam­ples Etta James’ Some­thing’s Got a Hold on Me — but it’s son­i­cally iden­ti­cal to the dance jam Lev­els by Swedish DJ-pro­ducer Avicii. Side ef­fects from lis­ten­ing to the tune might in­clude a chronic case of déjà vu and con­fu­sion. range of moods within its six pieces, two of which have solo roles for vi­olin (Char­lie Siem) and sax­o­phone (Martin Robert­son).

Banks’ lyri­cal bent is sin­cere and his sounds are com­fort­ably plush, if a bit be­nign as far as har­monic sus­pense is con­cerned. He doesn’t de­velop his ma­te­rial very well, re­ly­ing on mod­estly var­ied coun­ter­state­ments to fill out each piece, which re­sults in a fair bit of di­rec­tion­less ram­bling. Much of this feels like un­der­pin­ning for a lyric, dra­matic hap­pen­ing or vis­ual im­agery. By it­self, the mu­sic sounds more like char­ac­ters look­ing for an au­thor than sus­tained mu­si­cal ar­gu­ment.

This disc is cur­rently a big seller in the U.K. Fans of Ge­n­e­sis might want to in­ves­ti­gate it. ½ CAS­SAN­DRA Wil­son sounds oh so bluesy and sul­try what­ever she sings, even on a ver­sion of O Sole Mio on this 10-track al­bum recorded in Florence and New Or­leans, and fea­tur­ing gui­tarist Fabrizio Sotti as in­stru­men­tal­ist, co-com­poser and ar­ranger.

There are eight songs and two guitar in­stru­men­tals and Sotti’s ex­cel­lent guitar work is key to the disc. But it’s the singer you come to hear and opener Red Guitar and No More Blues are vin­tage Wil­son.

The in­stru­men­ta­tion is spare, em­pha­siz­ing voice and guitar, with per­cus­sion (in­clud­ing the great Mino Cinelu), elec­tric bass, and an ac­cor­dion that gives the mu­sic a Eu­ro­pean café am­bi­ence.

Wil­son’s voice and de­liv­ery are as good as ever, but this al­bum just doesn’t grab you like so many of her ear­lier record­ings. ½

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