- - Monday, February 27, 2012

Release Me

Lyle Lovett

Curb Records


Lyle Lovett is finally ready to leave Curb Records, his record label for more than 25 years. Before he becomes a free agent, though, he’ll release one final album to fulfill his contract.

“Release Me” makes no attempt to hide its real agenda. This is contract filler, pure and simple, with a punny album title and symbolic cover shot - a black-and-white image of Mr. Lovett, his arms and legs bound together by rope to drive the point home. As if that weren’t enough of a kiss-off, the album focuses almost exclusively on cover songs, as though Mr. Lovett couldn’t be bothered to waste his originals on another Curb release.

As dashed-off as it may sound on paper, though, “Release Me” is actually pretty good. Part of the appeal is Mr. Lovett’s voice, which has toughened with age but still sounds smooth and sweet, like whiskey mixed with honey. The material is eclectic, too, touching upon most of the far-flung styles that he recorded during his time with Curb.

There are tenderhearted country ballads, fiery blues songs, classy jazz duets and dusty Americana rockers. There are cameos by simpatico roots-rock musicians like k.d. lang and Kat Edmonson. There’s even some gospel singing, proof that “Release Me” has a serious conscience beneath all the fun and games.

Mr. Lovett contributes two of his own songs to “Release Me,” both of them holiday tunes, but he sounds more convincing on the covers. Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean,” a prime piece of Depression-era blues, is turned into a swinging country number, and Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is presented as a slowed-down, midtempo soul song.

There’s no disguising Mr. Lovett’s motive - you can almost hear the excitement in his voice, the desire for independence after nearly three decades of label partnership - but “Release Me” is a proper send-off, one that pays tribute to the work he did under Curb’s umbrella.

All Of Me


HomeSchool/Atlantic Records

★★ 1/2

It took three long years to make “All Of Me,” Estelle’s third album. The effort shows … but not always in the right way.

The long shadow of “American Boy,” Estelle’s only American hit, looms large over this collection of R&B anthems and pop songs. She covers a lot of ground, rapping in a cocky British accent one minute and crooning heartbroken ballads the next, but no song manages to rustle up the immediate appeal of “American Boy,” which kicked off her career in 2008. At times, “All Of Me” feels like an artist’s attempt to escape one-hit-wonder status by throwing every color at the canvas, hoping that some sort of pretty picture will emerge from the mess.

Estelle might have been better served by limiting her palette, focusing on old-school R&B songs like the album’s “Cold Crush” and “Wonderful Life.” Equally interesting are the spoken-word snippets that pop up throughout the album, each of them lifted from a conversation between Estelle and several friends. The snippets’ theme is love - its allure, its hardships, the constant work it requires - and they help give the album a smart, almost poetic feel.

Cameos by Chris Brown and Trey Songz prove that Estelle is still interested in mainstream success, but the highlights on “All Of Me” are weirder and riskier than the mainstream usually allows. Maybe she doesn’t need another “American Boy.” Estelle just needs more confidence to blaze her own trail.


The Cranberries

Cooking Vinyl


Nearly two decades after their international breakthrough, the Cranberries reunite for one more romp through the lilting, folk-rock landscape they first plotted during the grunge era.

They’ve done some growing up since those flannel-wearing days. Dolores O’Riordan, her voice once characterized by a handful of polarizing tics, now sings with a smooth, mature alto, and her bandmates churn up an appropriate mix of adult-contemporary pop and midtempo rock beneath her melodies.

If the 1994 protest song “Zombie” was the product of a young band struggling to grow up, new songs, such as “Tomorrow” and “Fire & Soul” are the result of a band reaching its maturation and looking back with sharp, sober reflection.

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