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RECORD RACK

'Southern Voice' by Tim McGraw; 'Colour Me Free' by Joss Stone

October 21, 2009|Randy Lewis; Mikael Wood; Greg Kot | Chicago Tribune

Tim McGraw

"Southern Voice"

(Curb Records)

** 1/2

Tim McGraw sharply criticized Curb Records about this time last year for issuing a third "greatest hits" collection from the country star rather than release this album, which sat on a shelf for nearly two years after it was completed. McGraw sees this, his 10th studio effort, as a way of reclaiming his voice, and bucking the powers that be might well be one facet of that voice.

If only more of that feistiness were evident in the songs he's selected.

Things start out promisingly with "Still," by Lee Brice, Kyle Jacob and Joe Leathers. It's got a pulsating modern rock beat behind his Louisiana twang -- think of it as Coldplay with a drawl -- but lyrically it digs a bit deeper than the melodramatic but superficial hits so closely associated with McGraw: "Don't Take the Girl" and "Live Like You Were Dying."

Then Troy Olsen and Marv Green's "Ghost Town Train," about a long-lost love, taps the kind of wistful folk-country that brings Gordon Lightfoot to mind. The leadoff single "It's a Business Doing Pleasure With You," written by Brett James, Joey Moi and, of all people, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, has some fun, as one-dimensional as it is, with the up-tempo lament of a poor schlub who falls for a gold digger.

But it's back to hyper-emotional business as usual with "If I Died Today" and "I'm Only Jesus," two of three songs in which Brad and Brett Warren are among the multiple writers. Tom Douglas and Bob DiPiero's title track doesn't go much beyond running down a laundry list of important (mostly) Southern writers, musicians and politicians.

Gretchen Peters made a good point about these Big Picture country numbers in her song "The Secret of Life," which Faith Hill -- Mrs. McGraw -- recorded a decade ago, by suggesting there really is no secret, other than cultivating the ability to appreciate even seemingly inconsequential moments.

If McGraw can hone his musical vision, that Southern voice might find something even more potent to sing about.

-- Randy Lewis

Want a latte with that rebellion?

Joss Stone

"Colour Me Free"

(Virgin)

** 1/2

Joss Stone makes for an unlikely symbol of artistic defiance. Since she emerged in 2003 with a cutesy rendition of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl," this English soul singer has become a favorite of romantic-comedy music supervisors and the folks who put together the in-store mix at Starbucks. If your goal is inspiring the bonhomie required to make somebody spring for biscotti, she's your gal.

Yet here we have the second album in a row on which Stone declares her unwillingness to conform to anyone else's creative vision. In 2007, after a pair of tidy retro-R&B efforts, came the more free-spirited "Introducing Joss Stone," with a title that spoke for itself.

Two years later, the first track on "Colour Me Free" makes it clear that Stone still feels hemmed-in: "Don't tell me that I won't/ I can," she sings over a bass-heavy funk groove, "Don't tell me that I'm not/ I am." Beneath the sleek surfaces of Stone's work rage the stormy waters of self-definition.

In a strange twist, Stone produced "Colour Me Free" -- physical copies of which her U.S. label is selling exclusively through Target -- with Jonathan Shorten and Connor Reeves, both of whom contributed to Stone's 2004 disc, "Mind, Body & Soul." That means, of course, that she's now collaborating with the very oppressors who necessitated her reintroduction in 2007. Tricky stuff, record-industry rebellion.

Whatever its convoluted back story, "Colour Me Free" succeeds about as well as Stone's other records: It's quite good in the up-tempo bits -- check out "Big Ole Game," featuring the incomparable Raphael Saadiq -- and a little soggy in the ballads.

-- Mikael Wood

Not quite music worth dying for

Various Artists

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon"

(Chop Shop/Atlantic)

**

Oh, to be young, sexy and a member of the undead. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," the latest Stephenie Meyer novel-turned-movie, is a sequel to the 2008 hit "Twilight," and is due out Nov. 20. Its accompanying soundtrack was overseen by Alexandra Patsavas, who is among the savviest music supervisors in Hollywood with a resume that includes series such as "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl."

Here, she strikes again with a solo track from Radiohead's Thom Yorke, whose skittering electro-ballad "Hearing Damage" is appropriately spooky. But though the contributors are mostly A-list alternative or indie-rockers -- including Grizzly Bear, Death Cab for Cutie, Bon Iver and St. Vincent -- the overall tone is a bit muted.

Only the Killers, with Brandon Flowers channeling Bauhaus' Peter Murphy, bring a welcome dash of Gothic flamboyance. Much of the rest is midlevel and middle-brow from respected artists who have done better work elsewhere.

-- Greg Kot

Chicago Tribune

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