Tori Amos, “Midwinter Graces” (Universal) Once a strong feminist presence in pop music, Tori Amos lately has indulged in increasingly elaborate and ponderous album concepts, losing sight of the eccentric and incisive singing and songwriting that made her famous. Her latest sounds like a culmination of that long retreat: It's a “seasonal” album, which means Amos studiously rewrites well-known hymns to delve into their secular roots. “A Silent Night With You” and “Snow Angel” create fittingly wintry moods, but “Harps of Gold” not only cribs from Peter Gabriel's “Solsbury Hill” but also draws out the syllables “in excelsis day-ay-o” to hilarious effect. Tiptoeing around the Christian imagery of “What Child, Nowell” and “Star of Wonder” makes them sound awkwardly academic, and her resurrection of centuries-old carols comes off like a dry history lesson. “Pink and Glitter” at least wraps an Amos original in shiny big-band paper, and the jazzy setting suits her performance nicely. It'll make a good single, but otherwise this album is a lump of coal. HHIII — Stephen M. Deusner
Wale, “Attention Deficit” (Allido/Interscope) He has a funny name, raps over a go-go sound, hails from the land that pop forgot, and just turned 25. Six mix tapes, five years and four singles after making the scene, Wale finally drops his debut and it's a solid freshman effort. Born in suburban Maryland to immigrant parents, Wale (pronounced wah- LAY) cut his teeth as an MC while listening to Washington go-go music, all the while cranking out great mix tapes that whetted the appetite of attentive music lovers. This debut disc is more streamlined than his earlier work, and that's a good thing. From the jump the D.C. lineage is palpable without ever feeling exclusive, the horns are huge, the drums are deep and the beat is in the pocket. The man's rhymes fit perfectly on top of the sound, his release is natural and the lyrics tackle issues big and small with a deliberate and relentless drive. On “Attention Deficit,” we're treated to a rapper that uses hope and humor in addition to swagger and daggers. HHHHI — Dan Poarch
The Rolling Stones, “Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!: The Rolling Stones in Concert [Deluxe Edition Box Set]” (Abkco Records) In 1969 the Rolling Stones toured the great “Let It Bleed” album with their grittiest shows ever, having just added guitarist Mick Taylor to the fold. The famous live album that ensued, recorded at Madison Square Garden, now gets the deluxe, 40th anniversary treatment with a four-disc box. The original album is complimented by a second disc of five unreleased tracks — including the narcotic acoustic blues of “You Gotta Move,” a sloppily chugging “Under My Thumb” into the joyous “I'm Free”; while a third disc features brief opening sets by then high-moaning bluesman, B.B. King, and Ike and Tina Turner, whose raucous show is highlighted by slow-burning covers such as “Son of a Preacher Man” that showcase Tina's sultry pipes.
Finally, there's a DVD shot by the Maysles brothers (extra footage culled from the “Gimme Shelter” documentary), featuring performances interspersed with candid backstage footage of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and others. The unreleased tracks are a worthy addition to the original, Chuck Berry-inspired set, though we still don't get the accurate sequence for the concert. Also included is a 56-page hardcover book with memorable tour stories and a wordy 1970 review from spew-happy rock critic Lester Bangs, who describes the “essential crudeness” of the Stones as so highly refined it becomes “the absolute distillation of raunch.” Maybe for the year of our hippie climax and lunar landing, it was. HHHHH — Brent Baldwin
Meshell Ndegeocello, “Devil's Halo” (Mercer Street Records) Meshell Ndegeocello is never one to rest on the jilted lover, “payback-life” club themes of traditional rhythm and blues multi-instrumentalist. Her latest effort falls between her ultrasomber “Bitter” album and the bass-string poppin' funk of her debut, “Plantation Lullabies.” The pastiche of styles she weaves for this fluid, yet too-brief collection, seems made for the quiet meditative season of falling leaves, brisk winds and overcast skies. “Hair of the Dog” is a dreamy piece like waking up to cloudless morning of heartbreak, while “White Girl” and “Lola” charm with their rocking, elastic qualities. The patient and spacious “Tie One On” should be theme music for foreplay at its most thoughtful. Elsewhere, the queen of modern melancholy soul surprises stylistically with “Crying in Your Beer,” a spooky, banjo-laden refrain of longing. But “Love You Down” is the undisputed jewel here: This organic, expansive remake of Ready for The World's classic takes the song to places that make the original sound juvenile and vastly undeveloped. “Devil's Halo” is only a few extra songs from becoming a five-star experience. HHHHI — William Ashanti Hobbs
Tony Martucci, “Long Street Charm” (Sound Judgment) Virginia Commonwealth University adjunct professor Tony Martucci pays tribute to his own so-called college — the smoke-filled bars of the “chitlin circuit.” The drummer arrived in the '70s in the nearly century-old clubs where it was safe for black performers to headline during the segregation era. The bands were based in Columbus, Ohio, and played frequently in venues on that city's Long Street. Audiences were openly demonstrative — if they liked you they told you, and if they didn't you were loudly chastised. “This kind of affirmation mixed with tough love was referred to by some of my colleagues as “Long Street charm,” Martucci explains in the liner notes. This recording captures a burnished memory of that long-gone era and, appropriately, the CD has a midnight quality to it. Most of the songs are familiar, such as Charlie Parker's “Segments,” “Wives and Lovers” and “Autumn in New York.”
The band — except for Martucci — is made up of locally unfamiliar Washington stalwarts: the veteran Bill Heid on Hammond B-3, and two younger players, saxophonist Lyle Link and guitarist Geoff Reecer. Heid's combination of Larry Young's quiet sophistication and John Patterson and Jimmie Smith's old-school soul is the center of the sound, but each player brings just enough edgy individuality to keep things from becoming over-polished. As a drummer Martucci is a restrained player and great listener, seldom unleashing fireworks, always keeping things in the groove with bright splash of cymbals and crisp, well-placed accents. HHHHI — Peter McElhinney