CD review: ‘Complete Trio Collection’

hmo091916trioThe Complete Trio Collection, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Nowhere in the backstory notes to the The Complete Trio Collection does it say that when Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt finally found time to unify their voices in perfect harmony that lives were healed and Jesus wept. If you’ve heard even pieces of this landmark collaboration, though, you know this to be only a slight exaggeration. After all, we are talking about three singing supremes working their magic on 21 songs across two glorious albums. And now — in addition to both 1987’s Trio and 1999s Trio II — Rhino Records has collected an additional 20 songs from the ladies’ Grammy-winning sessions, some unreleased, some alternate takes of already-released Trio tunes. Among them: “Wildflowers,” Parton’s autobiographical outsider anthem split equally among the three singers, with Parton on the first verse, Harris on the second, and, finally, Ronstadt on the third (Dolly takes lead on the original, included here on the first Trio disc).

“Calling My Children Home” is transcendent, as their voices unite in splendid harmony for a rich vocal experience on this previously unreleased a cappella track, a gut-wrenching song by bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen. Top to bottom, The Complete Trio Collection is a body of staggering beauty. Ronstadt will break your heart as her voice glides through “The Blue Train.” Emmy’s breathtaking lead on “When We’re Gone, Long Gone” will lighten your load. All their voices in collective grace on the stunning “Farther Along” will have you feeling thankful that this project, despite the years it took to get these gals together, has finally seen the light of day.

— Chris Azzopardi



—  Arnold Wayne Jones

CD review: Nick Jonas’ ‘Last Year Was Complicated’

NickJonas20164Nick Jonas has never felt as processed, mixed, packaged and AutoTuned as many of his pop-music contemporaries. One reason for that is probably that he didn’t need to resort to those tricks. Early on, his fanbase of shrill teen girls didn’t require singing chops so much as pretty-boy sincerity. Growing out of heartthrob status — or rather, into adult-throb status, where more mature women and gay men are as sighingly captivated by his hunkiness as their pre-pubescent counterparts — is a skill not everyone can accomplish… although when they do, it’s usually by discarding the baggage of virginal imaging and adopting an edgier persona. (For many, it’s really about revealing their real personas; the music industry and superstardom are seductively corrupting.)

Jonas has aged well into his prime with brooding good looks that he capitalizes on with sexually charged performances (playing gay in the TV shows Scream Queens and Kingdom, which returns this month), and even saying just last week that “it would be lying” to say he has not slept with another man following his Method-y performance. Publicity tease to sell album and TV audiences… or an outright confession? Who cares — it’s what helps set Jonas apart from his douchier chart-mates. He’s a flirt with attitude, … and the pipes to keep the payoff coming once the headlines die down.

As far as corporapop music goes, Last Year Was Complicated, Jonas’ new LP (it drops tomorrow), capitalized on the Dallas native’s maturation away from girl-crush to reckoned-with solo artist. It’s a promising foray.

For me, the best track is “Unhinged,” ripe with Sam Smith-esque plaintiveness. It’s Jonas’ most impressive handling of the vocals, though “Close” — the disc’s first single, a duet with Tove Lo — is in the running as well. It’s Jonas at his purist without to much clutter and over-production.

“Champagne Problems” is a fairly familiar-sounding variation of the hip-hop trope of having too much of a good thing, but while the riffs and production aren’t exactly groundbreaking, the attitude is lightly ironic. “Touch” conveys an old-school R&B vibe, and he continues the urbane feel with rap solos from Ty Dolla Sign (on “Bacon”) and Big Sean (on “Good Girls”). The 12-track album has enough gems that, while it never takes off — like Sam Smith or Adele seem to do so easily — it definitely establishes Jonas as a solo artist of some skill.

Read our interview with Nick Jonas tomorrow in Dallas Voice online and in print.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

CD REVIEW: Celine Dion, ‘Love Me Back to Life’

HMO111113CELINETo have the glass-shattering lung power on which Celine Dion has built an empire of love songs on in the last 20-some years hardly matters anymore. Shock value, personal stories of triumph and/or tragedy and twerking — that’s how you’re supposed to sell an album these days, but Diva Dion isn’t about to rub up on Robin Thicke. So  the singer calling her latest CD — also her first English-language album in six years — an “edgier” affair isn’t surprising. There’s a new generation of Adele fans still waiting to discover Celine’s still-rollicking belt. And oh, does she belt.

“Thankful,” a gospel-tinged highlight, is the kind of classic Celine song where you can practically see her doing that signature “boob bop” as she goes in for a series of runs. And there’s a choir. And that dramatic pause. But there’s also those notes that carry out the tunes that sound raspy and strained, like she’s serious about taking a trip to the dark side — not Eminem-level dark, but “Somebody Loves Somebody,” putting a no-good flame in his place, bites down with a set of teeth that Dion, always so sweet and pure, has rarely shown.

Another glorious shift that goes gritty is “Breakaway,” a remarkable, spine-tingling showcase of the diva’s voice. Sounding smooth as silk, Celine reels it in on the refreshingly subtle “Thank You” and elicits man tears on “Always Be Your Girl,” a touching ode to her son. A collaboration with Ne-Yo, “Incredible” is a tepid mid-tempo, and the inclusion of two songs from her Vegas show — a cover of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and her duet with Stevie Wonder on “Overjoyed” — feel like padding on an otherwise strong, creative turning point in Dion’s career.

Three and a half stars.

— Chris Azzopardi

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘This Is… Icona Pop’

HMO101413ICONAPOPIcona Pop, This Is … Icona Pop 

Icona Pop seemed destined to fall into one-hit-wonder obscurity after “I Love It” gained ubiquitous exposure via club play, commercial spots and (not even kidding) as the theme song for MTV’s Jersey Shore spinoff Snooki & JWoww. Their other chants couldn’t be that fun, that infectious, that delicious.

Except they are. The Swedish synth-pop duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo — with their endearing, no-pretense irresistibility — could be your BFFs … if your BFFs wrote joyous dance-pop, bedroom-romping earworms; recorded “In the Stars,” a song that takes you to the sun; and had all the makings for one of the most exciting musical breakthroughs this year.

There’s really not a single miss on This Is …, unless you’re a sourpuss able to resist the nonstop rush of joyous synth bursts atop ’80s-inspired melodies. From bubbly second single “All Night” to “Then We Kiss,” a fun-loving coda with a Go-Go’s ilk, the girls keep the party balloons bouncing. And when they pop and fall to the floor — like on the lovelorn “Just Another Night,” the closest they come to a ballad, and its fight-song match “Hold On” — they strike a similar authenticity that expands their girls-next-door appeal. Yeah, even pop stars get broken hearts. As an introduction to Icona Pop, This Is … sounds both familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s not a game changer, it won’t revolutionize pop music, but it’s fun and unforgettable. I love it, and I don’t care.

Four stars.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Blurred Lines’ album isn’t much more than its racy single

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a video that was a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” single. Well, Thicke’s entire album is out, and our Chris Azzopardi has this review:

HMO080513ROBINIt’s probably safe to call “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous dirty ditty that your grandma can’t get enough of (hey, it’s catchy!) — the song of the summer. It’s the longest charting No. 1 single of the year so far, and because of its modestly produced, easy-on-the-ears groove, this is something we should all agree is a good thing. For Robin, it absolutely is; based on the single’s mega success, Blurred Lines the CD will likely be Thicke’s biggest disc (that’s d-i-s-c; not d-i-c-k) to date.

But should it be? It certainly keeps to the soul-daddy’s established paradigm of bedroom pillow talk and nightlife booty-bouncers, with “Get in My Way” — where he toughens up and drops the signature falsetto — thematically favoring a similarly named Kylie Minogue song and ranking high among the 11 tracks.

Its melty flow almost masks the disc’s raciest come-ons (including turning his own last name into a penis pun, as he should), and its nasty-good rap from Kendrick Lamar (“Give It 2 U” is up there, too). But otherwise, there’s a lot of blurring here, and it’s not just the lines: Despite his kinky teases, Thicke, the vanillaest of artists, is unable to overcome his “second-rate Justin Timberlake” billing. His namelessness also hasn’t changed. The club-pop predictability of tracks like “Go Stupid 4 U” and “Take It Easy On Me” do him few favors, and “The Good Life” sweetens his horned-up image but still flops. Despite all the sex talk, Blurred Lines needs a Viagra. Two stars.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

ALBUM REVIEW: Canyons, Larkin Grimm, Rumer, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour and Chris Willis

These January releases go from blah to bliss while an overlooked 2011 album kicks ass

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Keep Your Dreams
Modular Recordings

Although they don’t want to be labeled as dance/electronica, electronica act Canyons provides multitudes of synth and drum machines in all 11 tracks of their latest album. Dreams starts off with a hip bass line and groovy beat in “Under a Blue Sky,” but that interesting minute is quickly put to rest with the inclusion of saxophone. Initially, it registers as fascinating, but quickly becomes abrasive, that they prove the point that saxes and electronica do not blend well and the song devolves into a melange of animal sounds, ethereal vocals and pretty much drivel.

The Aussie band fares better in “My Rescue,” a offering more focus with stronger beat with vocals. Then it regresses into the pedestrian “See Blind Through.” The album has major ups and downs that  aren’t worth the ride with the second half  merely a haze of irregular beats. Strangely, 11 songs are listed, but 10 show up. However, I doubt the missing song could have made the album anything better.

One and half stars (out of five).

—  Rich Lopez

Friday Listening Party: Jeffree Star's 'Beauty Killer'

This edition of FLP, we take on the chainsaw-wielding tatted up club kid, Jeffree Star, who churns out dance music with some major bite. But it might come with an infection after.

The Myspace star is starting to step away from finding pseudo-fame on the Internet by landing gigs on the Vans Warped Tour, releasing this album on a new label and working with some bona fide musicians and producers. But, how does his September release Beauty Killer stand up to the FLP’s usual suspects? Read on. Caution: Strong language ahead!

—  Rich Lopez

Friday Listening Party: Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers' 'The Bear' and a secret bonus listen

In this edition of the Listening Party, we’re giving a two for one deal. Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers’ CD The Bear excited us because of its well-styled album art. It looked a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. And surely if it looks good then it must sound good, right? Most of our previous LPs have been more pop or dance. When this crossed my desk, I knew we had to give it a shot. But we kinda missed our high energy bit too so the LP peeps, Chris, Kristina, Chance and I, decided to take on Lolene’s “Sexy People” single.

I’m still settling on a format. This one runs a bit long. Sorry, y’all. Here we go, track by track.

—  Rich Lopez

Friday Listening Party: Colton Ford's 'Under the Covers'


The Listening Party is back. We’ve been a little distracted lately or schedules just weren’t meshing but we’re glad to be back on track. This week, we’re listening Colton Ford’s Tuesday release, Under the Covers. I get a little worried about former porn stars crossing over into the mainstream. Clearly, ego blinds them to their diverse talents — or lack thereof. Colton Ford is way hot but how does he fare becoming the next dance music sensation?

With snarling good looks, silvery hair and chiseled body, Ford has our attention but we’re a little confused by this CD. Clearly he prefers to sing, a point his press release drives home (“Ford lives — and loves — to sing.”) but this ambitious sophomore release of cover songs threw us for a loop. What’s worse is Ford’s explanation. “Adding my interpretation to these songs gives a new perspective to these classic tunes, enabling me to show different sides of my vocal ability,” he said.

Um, O.K., now let’s see what the others thought.

—  Rich Lopez

Friday Listening Party: Stephen Dillard-Carroll’s ‘Introducing … Me’

Sometimes we get CDs to review that won’t make it in print because we may not have room, too many CDs to go through, etc. Instead, I decided to invite a couple of co-workers into my office and have a go at what made it into the player. For the musical entertainment, I selected out artist, Stephen Dillard Carroll‘s Introducing…Me.”I randomly picked coworkers Kristina and Chris to stop by the office for a listen.  We clicked each song, checked out the beginning, jumped to the middle, read the press package (including three letters about himself) and everyone had their say. Snag a listen here and join the party after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez