Strong Love Affair
Ray Charles (Qwest 46107)
A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but a foolish inconsistency is what ends up hobbling Ray Charles' latest album, "Strong Love Affair." With most of the album given over to richly orchestrated tracks produced by Jean-Pierre Grosz, the bulk of "Strong Love Affair" hearkens back to the glory days of the late '60s, when Charles fused funky soul and mainstream pop with consummate ease. From the brassy blues of "Everybody's Handsome Child" and "The Fever" to the mannered melancholy of "Say No More" and "Angelina," these tracks recall the strengths that made Charles the most influential soul singer of his generation. But four of the album's 12 tunes are produced and performed by Charles alone, and though the songs themselves are solid, the cheesy home-studio sound he gets from his synths makes them sound markedly inferior to the other tracks. "I Need a Good Woman Bad" soft-pedals that effect somewhat by using well-chosen samples to make the rhythm bed seem more contemporary, and the vocal chemistry between Charles and Peggy Adams Scott is a welcome diversion from the rinky-dink electronics on "If You Give Me Your Heart," but even so, those selections needlessly weaken an otherwise strong "Love Affair."
I'm With Stupid (DGC 24951)
Too often, guitar pop emphasizes only the shallowest aspects of songwriting, substituting cleverness for intelligence, hooks for resonance, irony for depth. Maybe that's why Aimee Mann's "I'm With Stupid" stands out from the crowd. Sure, she's a master tunesmith, equally at home with the edgy enthusiasm of "Superball" and the moody languor of "All Over Now," but what sets her work apart is that unlike the lyrics of other songwriters, who use wordplay to conceal their emotional wounds, hers cut to the heart of the matter. Mann would rather sift through the emotional wreckage than simply tuck it all in under a blanket of clever language, but rather than spinning into self-indulgence, songs such as "Ray" and "Amateur" convey their hurt in terms any listener can relate to. Best of all is the way songs convey the grace and ingenuity of "Revolver"-era Beatles without ever sounding like throwbacks. From the funky rhythms chugging beneath "Long Shot" to the production effects that animate "Frankenstein," the album has a thoroughly modern sound and feel that effectively frame her droll, understated vocals. Don't be stupid -- get with Mann today.
The Wallace Roney Quintet
The Wallace Roney Quintet (Warner Bros. 45914)
Older jazz fans may feel a certain deja vu when looking at Wallace Roney's new album, "The Wallace Roney Quintet." Between the stark modernism of the artwork and the curved-shoulder stance Roney assumes on the cover, the young trumpeter looks uncannily like the mid-'60s Miles Davis. He sounds the part, too. Some of that sound may be the work of Teo Macero, who produced the bulk of Davis' work after 1956, but mostly it's because Roney and his quintet work the same stylistic turf Davis did before going electric. Between the tart, airy tone of tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney and the lean, coloristic chording of pianist Carlos McKinney, Roney's group easily evokes the sound of Davis' work with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Unfortunately, that's not the same as equaling it, and though the lean angularity of playing can be thrilling at times, as on "Geri" or the breathless "Astral Radium," it can also be maddeningly trite (check the trumpet solo in "Love for Sale," ++ and ask yourself if Roney still sounds like the new Miles). For all its potential, it sounds as if the Roney Quintet needs a little more time to mature before it can truly fill the Davis Quintet's shoes.
Music From the Motion Picture (Elektra 61888)
As much as older rock fans might complain that "they don't write 'em like that anymore," the fact is, they don't sing 'em like that anymore, either -- and the soundtrack album from "Beautiful Girls" is a case in point. Mixing classic rock and R&B; with cover-heavy material from such alterna-rock favorites as Chris Isaak, Roland Gift and the Afghan Whigs, the album looks as though it's meant to bridge the gap between then and now. Try as they might, however, the younger singers rarely measure up to their forebears. Former Fine Young Cannibal Roland Gift is stirringly soulful on the Otis Redding hit "That's How Strong My Love Is," but neither his vocal nor the vintage arrangement matches the might of Redding's original. Still, at least he seems in control of the song, which is more than can be said for the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, who howls tunelessly through "Be for Real" before deflating the Barry White chestnut "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Babe." Apart from Chris Isaak's "Graduation Day" and Pete Droge's Tom Petty-ish "Beautiful Girls," the new material included on this soundtrack does little to demonstrate the vitality of new music.