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Reviews of new from pop, country/ blues, jazz and classical releases

The Philadelphia Inquirer –

Pop:

CHRISTINA AGUILERA “Lotus” (RCA, 2 1/2 stars)

There are vocalists whose every utterance is an unqualified thing of beauty. They could sing the phone book and make it sound as heavenly as the Bible. Christina Aguilera has that force — a voice with dynamic highs that could shatter glass-block, lows that could tear tar from the streets, lustrous subtlety that provokes tears.

The problem is that sometimes, after several phone books, it’s hard to get excited by sheer beauty alone.

On several cuts off her new album “Lotus,” the catty judge on The Voice seems hell-bent on woman-scorned vengeance. With lyrics seemingly directed at either her ex-husband or one of those co-judges she’s always yakking at, the thumping “Army of Me” and “Circles” play-act at anger in a way that’s noncommittal and forced. The R&B-pop crackle of “Your Body” — indeed, the topic of sex in and of itself — is better suited to Xtina’s heated vocals. With louche sensuality, she puts all of herself into its off-kilter groove. In the same way, only some of Aguilera’s slow numbers are true successes. “Sing for Me,” the obligatory power ballad, is too darn “universal” and cloying. But she’s at home with the intimate country-soul yawn of “Just a Fool” (with Voice judge Blake Shelton) and the lover-come-back blues of “Blank Page.”

Good, but not great.

—A.D. Amorosi

BRIAN ENO “Lux” (Warp, 3 stars)

Brian Eno has always been a musical intellectual, going back to his days as the glam-rock architect who made the first Roxy Music albums delightfully weird. “Lux” finds Eno working in the ambient genre that he created, a lineage that includes 1975’s “Discreet Music,” 1978’s “Ambient 1: Music For Airports” and 1993’s “Neroli.” This is music that melts into the background, deliberately and beautifully.

“Lux” contains four parts, each just under 20 minutes, each built on slowly dissolving keyboard notes, pinging gently in spacious washes of atmospheric drones. It’s abstract, nearly formless, very spacey. The precisely articulated tones reward careful listening — it’s a headphone album — but the music is also very soothing, and if it puts you to sleep, well, for an album like this, that’s a valid measure of success.

—Steve Klinge

BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW “Cobra Juicy” (Rad Cult, 3 stars)

On Black Moth Super Rainbow’s fifth album, “Cobra Juicy,” the Pittsburgh-bred ensemble revisits ground they first broke in 2003, when they first began to create an unsettling, endearing blend of psychedelic pop, BBC-esque library music, and freak-folk. Under the leadership of sometime solo artist Tobacco, “Cobra Juicy” sees the band retaining its electronic and psych influences, but with more focus on pop melodies. “Ganges in the Garden” is an electroclash/disco bit in the vein of Scissor Sisters, while the closing track, “Spraypaint,” is a wistful, radio-ready love song Air Supply would have recorded had expletives been a part of their vocabulary. While BMSR’s past albums had their fair share of apocalyptic and creepy melodies, Cobra Juicy sees the band a bit more aggressive, demonstrated in the compelling and animalistic “Hairspray Heart.” This uneasy balance of wistful ballads and Nine Inch Nails leaves “Cobra Juicy” lacking cohesion, even as many tunes are individually strong.

—Katherine Silkaitis

PAUL KELLY “Spring and Fall” (Gawd Aggie, 3 1/2 stars)

How good is Paul Kelly? Earlier this year the Australian released here in the States “The A to Z Recordings,” an eight-CD career summation, presented in live, mostly unplugged performances, that highlights the remarkably sustained high quality of his vast body of work.

And he’s not done. The new “Spring and Fall” is a song cycle with richness that belies the prosaic title. It starts with the blossoming of love in “New Found Year” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Then the bloom begins to fade, and the set concludes with the autumnal air of “None of Your Business Now” and “Little Aches and Pains.” As usual, everything is exquisitely understated, from the acoustic-textured folk-rock arrangements to Kelly’s vocals, letting the depth and power of the songs and performances cast a spell slowly but inexorably.

—Nick Cristiano

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Country/ blues:

JANIS MARTIN “The Blanco Sessions” (Cow Island, 3 1/2 stars)

ROSIE FLORES “Working Girl’s Guitar” (Bloodshot, 2 1/2 stars)

Back in the 1950s, the teenaged Janis Martin was known as “the Female Elvis” for her no-holds-barred rockabilly. The newly released “The Blanco Sessions,” her recording comeback, was cut in 2007, just months before she died of lung cancer.

You wouldn’t know the end was so near from these joyously robust performances. Martin may no longer have been a “Real Wild Child,” but she could still rip through vintage rockers like “Wild One (Real Wild Child)” with a conviction and undiminished lung power that belied her 67 years — and rendered moot the issue of a senior citizen singing from a teen viewpoint. Martin so enjoys cutting loose that for Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” and Bill Monroe’s “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine” (with Kelly Willis) she takes her cues from the rock-injected versions by the Kentucky Headhunters.

Martin, however, had more than one gear. Her beautifully heartfelt take on Gibson’s torch ballad “Sweet Dreams” gives Patsy Cline a run for her money.

“The Blanco Sessions” was coproduced by Rosie Flores, the veteran singer and guitarist who is one of Martin’s most ardent disciples. On her own new album, she performs Martin’s “Drugstore Rock and Roll.” As a rocker, Flores doesn’t have the heft of her idol, but she does have her strengths, and “Working Girl’s Guitar” is best when she veers from her Rockabilly Filly persona for the likes of the dreamy “Yeah Yeah,” the New Orleans-style R&B balladry of “If (I Could Be With You),” and a swinging, acoustic take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

—Nick Cristiano

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Jazz:

KURT ROSENWINKEL “Star of Jupiter” (Wommusic, 3 1/2 stars)

Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel invites you into his crystalline world. His two-disk set of originals is big into repeating figures that give structure. Grooves and vamps are part of the mystery here, and the leader’s soaring melodies impress.

The overall effect is pleasurable and unique. While he clearly draws from the airy lines of fellow guitarist Pat Metheny, Rosenwinkel sounds like no one else. His “Jupiter” world could be peopled by superheroes. He constructs cosmic confections and often sings wordlessly along with his sizzling solos. His industrial tone contrasts nicely with the sweeter surroundings.

Along with his longtime collaborators, pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Eric Revis, Rosenwinkel joins with rising drummer Justin Faulkner, one of the latest Philadelphians to find a place at the top of the jazz world.

Together they stomp nicely and often manage to find beauty.

—Karl Stark

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Classical:

ARVO PÄRT “Adam’s Lament” Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga, Vox Clamantis, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tõnu Kaljuste conducting (ECM, 4 stars)

After decades of writing intensely insinuative religious works, Arvo Pärt is being hailed for writing a piece that stands above the others — “Adam’s Lament” — and this new recording bears that out. The 24-minute work for chorus and orchestra is written in the composer’s characteristically spare, severe style, murmuring at length before a sudden, agonizing explosion. What sets the piece apart from his others is his strong response to the text, by the mystic Staretz Silouan, about Adam’s profound grief after expulsion from the Garden of Eden, yielding greater dramatic specificity, plus particularly penetrating effect, from only a few notes.

By no means is this the only major work on the disc. Besides a substantial “Salve Regina,” Pärt applies his contemplative sense of narrative to the biblical parable about the abbott and the leper in “L’Abbé Agathon.” Lighter works include a pair of lullabyes. Performances, led by Tõnu Kaljuste, are atmospheric and introspective, so much so that the music is best accessed on headphones.

—David Patrick Stearn

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