Feist, "The Reminder" (Cherry Tree)
Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist will break your heart and you will love every minute of it. A little bit of folk, a tad of white soul and an arsenal of eclectic instruments come together on the breakthrough album that should make Feist (also a member of Broken Social Scene) a household name.
On her third release, the songstress settles in among acoustic-based songs that saunter about, exploring love lost, apologies and impulses performing on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and banjo, backed by band members playing instruments from Farfisa and vibraphone to fluegelhorn. The upbeat "1234" gets stuck in your brain with its contagious chorus. "Sea Lion Woman" is a stand-out track that weaves hand-claps and blipping bass beats into a driving rhythm that eventually catapults into a full-on psychedelic riffed groove.
Vocally, Feist is more on point than ever, delivering poignant words with the ease of Joni Mitchell and the occasional dramatic soar of Björk. It's that kind of contrast that makes the disc an audible wonderland of unexpected sound and tremendous beauty. Hilary Langford
Feist performs June 13 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
Wilco, "Sky Blue Sky" (Nonesuch)
I've never thought of Wilco as an experimental band, no matter what you say about "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." To me, the group's always sounded more like polished, '70s FM rockers with a country twist; a group not afraid to wear their influences proudly, from The Band and Television to The Beatles, Big Star and prog rock.
On their latest, they may be inviting Grateful Dead fans to the party such are the bountiful, butterfly guitar jams and silky crescendos. A mellow affair, the album showcases the high level of musicianship in the current lineup. The fluid runs of veteran guitarist Nels Cline are all over the album (though nowhere near as interesting as his improvisations in a live rock context). Fans of Jeff Tweedy's haggardly soulful vocals and ease with coaxing subtle melodies will forgive the more meandering tunes.
Bottom line: This album doesn't have the instantly catchy songs fans have come to expect. There are inspired moments: "Impossible Germany" begs repeated listens, with its jazzy chord changes and cryptic lyrics; "Side With the Seeds" could be an early Steely Dan tune with its white soul punctuations; and the title track draws from a lovely acoustic melody that stands with Tweedy's best. Some songs grow on you, and the production has a crystalline clarity but the band seems obsessed with craft at the expense of the songs. Brent Baldwin
Redman, "Red Gone Wild: Thee Album" (Def Jam)
No one has ever rolled a blunt and acted like a fool with the humor and rowdy energy of Redman. The playfulness of his contemporaries like the more corporate-savvy, image-conscious Ludacris seems impossible without Brick City's "Funk Doctor," who appeared to have nailed shut the coffin on his career with the disappointing "Malpractice."
But "Red Gone Wild" is enough to suspect that Redman still has game. The Timbaland-produced "Put It Down" walks the line between a soundtrack for frat parties and mean-muggin' rivals in clubs. "Wutchoogonnado" moves with the gutter feel of Red's best, though singer Melanie Rutherford's neo-soul hook seems too delicate for the terrain unlike "Rite Now," which hits the mark with Al Green crooning the background. Redman is never one to let his love of weed go unnoticed: "Merry Jane" gives the topic a West Coast treatment with Snoop and Nate Dogg, and Method Man and Ready Roc step up in the smoked out "Blow Treez."
With songs that roll in under three minutes, Redman's latest feels ready for a mix tape. William Ashanti Hobbs