- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2011

I’m With You

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Warner Bros.


The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the Def Leppard of funk-rock. Just when you think the death or dismissal of a key band member has killed the group’s career, the guys bounce back with a newly shuffled lineup, eager to prove they’ve still got some fiery bite.

On “I’m With You,” the Chili Peppers find themselves working without longtime guitarist John Frusciante, who left the lineup in 2009. In his place is Josh Klinghoffer, nearly 20 years his band mates’ junior, who toured with the group as a backup musician during the final dates of the “Stadium Arcadium” tour. Conscious of being the new kid in town, he ducks and weaves his way around the arrangements, drenching everything in layers of electric guitar without showing off.

When Dave Navarro briefly joined the group during the mid-‘90s, the Chili Peppers changed their sound to suit their new guitarist. Mr. Klinghoffer doesn’t demand that sort of flexibility, choosing instead to mold his own style to the band’s familiar mix of funk, hip hop and alternative rock. If there’s a significant difference between “I’m With You” and the albums before it, it’s not the lineup switcheroo as much as Flea’s new grasp on musical theory, which he gained by taking classes at the University of Southern California and puts to good use on highlights like “Happiness Loves Company.”

Still, “I’m With You” feels more like a continuation of the band’s recent path than a detour. Red Hot Chili Peppers simply sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers, no small feat for a band whose 30-year anniversary is just around the corner.

Black and White America

Lenny Kravitz

Roadrunner Records


Lenny Kravitz’s music has always been a melting pot of various genres, but he boils things down on “Black and White America,” the first genuine funk album of his career.

Like its title suggests, the album deals with civil rights and racial politics, filtering both through Mr. Kravitz’s own experience as a biracial American. Some modern dance beats work their way into the mix, but most of “Black and White America” is distinctly retro, from the warm analog sound to the funky specter of Curtis Mayfield, whose influence is felt in the way Mr. Kravitz grunts, struts and croons his way around each horn break.

Like any musician who reaches for the rafters, Mr. Kravitz sometimes comes up short. There’s nothing as ham-fisted as “Fly Away” on this tracklist, though, and the album’s lyrics are weighty enough to warrant the moments where he loses himself in the music, shouting “Come on and git it!” like the second coming of Shaft. Before, it always seemed like Mr. Kravitz was lost in his own little world, too caught up in free love platitudes and rock & roll nostalgia to keep himself from drifting into cheesy territory. Here, he has a new sense of direction … not to mention some killer songs.


Butch Walker & the Black Widows

Dangerbird Records


Behind every great pop song, there’s a great producer. Butch Walker has occupied that role for years, producing hits for Katy Perry, Pink and Avril Lavigne when he isn’t focused on his own records. He puts the session work on hold and returns to his solo career with “Spade.” This collection of quirky alt-country and arena-rock tunes caters to a smaller audience - don’t expect any globetrotting hits like “Teenage Dream” - but it still packs one heck of a melodic punch.

If there’s one thing that connects Mr. Walker’s solo work with his behind-the-scenes gigs for other artists, it’s the importance of a good pop hook. “Spade” may push his music closer to the country camp than ever before, but it’s a pop record at heart, filled with the sort of breezy, sleazy melodies that suggest the Black Crowes after a mainstream makeover. Slinky grooves give way to buoyant handclaps on one track, and keyboards share equal space with honky-tonk guitars on another.

Those who’ve stuck with Mr. Walker over the years know that he changes direction the way other people change their socks, toeing one genre for a year or two before slipping his feet into something else. Even so, longtime listeners will draw a link between these songs and “The Weight of Her,” which kicked off 2008’s “Sycamore Meadows” and hinted at the heartland country-rock sound that comes to fruition here.

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