JOHN HIATT “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns”
“I got me a deuce and a quarter, babe / She will ride you right,” John Hiatt boasts on “Detroit Made,” singing of General Motors’ Buick Electra 225. The celebration of automotive style, craftsmanship and durability is fitting, since these qualities continue to mark the work of the 58-year-old Indiana-born singer and songwriter.
“Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns” shows Hiatt’s muse to be as sharp as ever. Amid another earthy amalgam of rock, soul, blues and country, Hiatt still writes about restless, haunted, and on-the-edge souls with the penetrating power of someone who’s been there. (“Have you ever been broken, really broken?” he asks on “All the Way Under.”) “Down Around My Place,” meanwhile, sounds like an allegorical State of the Union that’s all dark and foreboding. But “I Love That Girl” is unabashedly upbeat, and the somber remembrance of 9/11 that closes the album, “When New York Had Its Heart Broke,” ends on a note of stubborn resilience. It’s a trait that applies to many of the characters here — and to the artist himself.
LITTLE DRAGON “Ritual Union”
Swedish electro-skitterers Little Dragon traffic in coolness, a tough balance when you’re not particularly cool. Most electro-skittering these days comes with a retroactive feel (Washed Out) or a futurist aura (James Blake). But these sexy middlebrows come closest to an Everything but the Girl or a Roisin Murphy, who followed American beat influences like Timbaland rather than decidedly Euro drum-and-bass or trip-hop. As such, LD command an aura that’s torchier and classier than Lykke Li or La Roux. Yukimi Nagano has put in vocals for Gorillaz, Raphael Saadiq, and David Sitek, and she knows just how to curl around the hooky, laptop-lite environments here without breathing too heavily. The best of the tracks (like the stretch of “Shuffle a Dream,” “Please Turn,” and “Crystalfilm”) will have you rooting for more uncool.
RAHSAAN PATTERSON “Bleuphoria”
After the shaken cocktail that was “Wine & Spirits” (2007), smoky R&B singer/songwriter Rahsaan Patterson returns to the game with a bigger, bolder mess of holy-rolling, synthetically silken, ‘80s-ish soul and frank, loving funk. Patterson has shown great depth and talent in the pop eco-culture. Check out the hits he’s written for Brandy and Tevin Campbell, or past Patterson efforts such as “Love in Stereo” and “After Hours.” He’s an undervalued lover man on par with Maxwell, and he’s a music-maker/arranger on the level of a Raphael Saadiq. “Bleuphoria” is his best effort yet. With guests as wide-ranging as gospel guidance counselor Andrae Crouch and lady singers Lalah Hathaway, Faith Evans and Jody Watley, Patterson investigates funk (and a solid, up-tempo cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You”) before hitting his dramatic, romantic stride with the falsetto-filled “Miss You” and the liquid, Loose Ends-like “6 AM.” The ballads are sensuous (“Goodbye”), and, with Auto-Tune used only sparingly, the sound is marvelously human. But the strangest, yet most satisfying, move is Patterson’s take on big gospel in the self-penned “Mountain Top.” The loin-stirring devil might be in Bleuphoria’s sexiest details, but the hand of God is all over this new record.
RICHARD BUCKNER “Our Blood”
Since 1994’s “Bloomed,” his stirring debut, Richard Buckner has been releasing darkly poetic albums exploring a netherworld that combines literary singer-songwriter confessionals and alt-country textures with an experimentalist’s sense of space and quietude. “Our Blood,” his long-delayed eighth album, is of a piece with his past work: cryptic, melancholy, haunting.
Most of the nine songs build on a softly throbbing guitar strum, colored with electric piano and occasional percussion (Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley is on one cut) and/or pedal steel (from Buddy Cage, who played, among many other places, on Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”). Buckner’s weary voice wavers around notes; his uncertain pitch fits his somber themes. But while “Escape” and “Witness” rank among Buckner’s best, as a whole, the 36-minute “Our Blood” is too familiar: Too many melodies go places he’s gone before, and it lacks the thematic cohesion of high-water marks such as the electric “Since” or the character-driven “The Hill.”