Previewing new albums from the Chemical Brothers, Dawn Robinson, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams III, and more.
Last year, the Chemical Brothers previewed their new Astralwerks album, "Come With Us," with the techno-infused tribal jam "It Began in Afrika," which eventually topped Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. The second single, the glorious "Star Guitar" (complete with filtered rhythms and sun-bleached guitars) is already a top-10 hit on the same chart. It all bodes well for the continued crossover success of the U.K. duo -- Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons -- in the U.S.
Wonderfully diverse and accomplished, "Come With Us" deftly delivers the goods. A truly shining moment occurs on the chilled-out "The State We're In," which finds the Brothers, once again, collaborating with singer/songwriter Beth Orton. Nearly as perfect is the psychedelic, big beat-spackled closing track, "The Test," featuring former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft carrying on as if his life depended on it.
The set is the follow-up to 1999's "Surrender," which debuted at No. 32 on The Billboard 200 and featured the dance hits "Let Forever Be" and "Out of Control." The album sold more than 397,000 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan, and more than 2.3 million copies worldwide, according to the label. A North American tour is due to begin this spring.
New Day 'Dawn'ing
Dawn Robinson says she's both "thrilled and a little nervous" about the long-delayed release this week of "Dawn," her first solo album for Left Side Entertainment/Q Records. The artist co-wrote seven of the 12 cuts on the set, which comes on the heels of her stints with pioneering female group En Vogue and neo-soul supergroup Lucy Pearl.
The album features production by Travon Potts, Ivan Barrios and Carvin Haggins of the Mysphitz, Pajam, Kenni Ski, and Christopher Warrior. "What I liked about working on the album was that we went in with no preconceived ideas," Robinson says. "I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music, so I like to push the envelope creatively."
The infectious "Envious," which is No. 43 on Billboard's Hot 100 Single Sales chart this week, is sure to spark speculation about exactly who Robinson is referring to lyrically. "Sure, there are some overtones, and yes, I'm speaking to certain people, and they know who they are," she says. "I'm not trying to start any animosity. I just want it to be known that this time no one is going to stop me from doing what I want to do."
Though he recently celebrated his 65th birthday, Charlie Daniels shows no sign of slowing down. Combining staunch patriotism, unwavering faith, and Southern rock swagger, Daniels continues to keep audiences happy with new projects in both the country and Christian markets. He places his unique musical stamp on a collection of classic hymns with "How Sweet the Sound -- 25 Favorite Hymns & Gospel Greats," due this week from Sparrow.
"Sweet" is a 25-song, two-CD collection of mostly hymns, including such favorites as "How Great Thou Art," "Softly and Tenderly," "Power in the Blood," and a rousing version of "Amazing Grace." "I didn't want to do it in a churchy way," Daniels admits, "not that I didn't love it that way, because that's the way I've learned each song, but I wanted to do it like CDB [Charlie Daniels Band] would do it. We don't do the rest of our music like anybody else. I don't know why we should do our Christian music that way."
There's a fiery rendition of "I Saw the Light," which, Daniels says, is the "bluegrass in me coming out." There's a bluesy version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." Daniels also reprises the Dove-winning "Somebody Was Praying for Me" alongside such gospel chestnuts as "Old Rugged Cross," "Peace in the Valley," and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." The artist and his band hit the road March 1 in Plant City, Fla.
Breaking The Mold
Owning perhaps the most-revered pedigree in country music, Hank Williams III also possesses a fiercely independent streak that manifests itself well on his second Curb release, "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'," due this week. Produced by Williams and longtime friend Joe Funderburk, the set is spare and authentic in its presentation; hardcore, unflinching, and often dark in its themes. At times eerily reminiscent of his legendary grandfather Hank Williams vocally, lyrically the artist explores such themes as loneliness, detachment, and excess on such songs as "Whiskey, Weed and Women," "5 Shots of Whiskey," and the title cut.
"My intention was to not write one song for radio but to write them all for myself, and however it turns out is how it turns out," he says. "Drinkin', smokin', livin' on the road, heartbreak -- those are the topics I was living at that time. That's what's real to me."
"Lovesick" is populated by mostly acoustic, downtempo country blues, featuring skillful instrumentation and heartfelt, honest vocals from Williams. Often, the lyrics are disarmingly simple and straightforward, as on the exuberant "Mississippi Mud." The latter cut is a rousing uptempo number, as are the manic "Nighttime Rambling Man" and the syncopated rush of "Lovin' and Huggin'." But elsewhere, "5 Shots of Whiskey" is a slow waltz, as Williams observes, "I wasn't in no happy-go-lucky mood when I wrote that song."
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- R&B vocalist Jaguar Wright's "Denials, Delusions & Decisions" (Motive/MCA)
-- country artist Deryl Dodd's "Pearl Snaps" (Lucky Dog)
-- soul-leaning quartet Cooly's Hot-Box, "Take It" (Purpose/OmTown/Higher Octave)
-- veteran alternative rock act Cracker's "Forever" (Back Porch/Virgin)
-- jazz guitarist Jon Scofield's "Uberjam" (Verve)
-- progressive rock outfit Dream Theater's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" (Elektra)
-- the eclectic self-titled debut from solo artist Citizen Cope (DreamWorks)
-- a reissue of Steve Earle's acclaimed 1986 album "Guitar Town" (MCA Nashville)
-- modern rock act Unwritten Law's "Elva" (Interscope)
-- a best-of collecting cuts from Shaggy's tenure on Virgin, "Mr. Lover Lover - Best of Volume 1"