Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:
Bruce Springsteen "High Hopes" (Columbia)
"High Hopes" is like the Boss' version of "Odds and Sods," a mash of outtakes and covers that don't add up to a proper 18th studio album. The tossed-off looking cover art even warns not to take it too seriously.
What jumps out on the back cover are the seven occurrences of "Featuring Tom Morello." The Rage Against the Machine guitarist makes his presence known right away with a typically wanky turntable-style solo on the title track, a Tim Scott McConnell song the E Street Band revived when he replaced Steve Van Zandt on the Australian tour.
Springsteen writes in the package that "Tom and his guitar became my muse" for this project, and they do share the album's most thrilling moment on a duet remake of "The Ghost of Tom Joad," complete with one of the hardest riffs you'll hear on a Springsteen album. Mr. Morello has a knack for going over the top, but his solo here is pure inspired lunacy.
He opts for a more majestic sound on the mournful "American Skin (41 Shots)," a controversial highlight (about police brutality) from the 2000 tour first released on the "Live in New York City" album in 2001.
As for the sods, look no further than "Harry's Place," a dated "Rising" leftover that's a top contender for one of his worst songs ever committed to tape. His cover of The Saints' gritty "Just Like Fire Would" is overcooked by the E Street Band and Ron Aniello, yet another Springsteen producer who insists on glossing the edges (see also Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream"). The gospel/worldbeat-tinged "Heaven's Wall" has way too many things thrown against the wall.
Better is the more stripped-down "The Wall" (lot of walls here). With an idea and title credited to Joe Grushecky, it's a tense little visit to the Vietnam Veterans memorial that has Springsteen singing through his teeth, "Apology and forgiveness got no place here at all."
A sure winner for the next tour is "Frankie Fell in Love," a rocker delivered with "River"-era jubilance and clever verses that find Shakespeare and Einstein weighing in on Frankie's good fortune.
It's more likely fans will be looting "High Hopes" for highlights like this than taking it as the uneven whole.
-- Scott Mervis, email@example.com
RHYTHM & BLUES
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings "Give the People What They Want" (Daptone)
It's about the music first and foremost, of course, but it's also about the context. And the circumstances behind the release of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' fifth studio album make you appreciate all the more the verve and vivacity with which the soul revivalist band put over the rawboned sound.
"Give the People What They Want" was originally scheduled to be released last summer, but it was pushed back after the 57-year-old singer was diagnosed with bile-duct cancer. After she finishes her chemotherapy treatments, Ms. Jones and her snappy Brooklyn band will return to the road next month, and although they were recorded before she became ill, songs like the lead single, "Retreat" ("Retreat! What a fool you are to be taking me on"), and "People Don't Get What They Deserve" take on added gravitas considering the troubles of the pint-sized powerhouse singer.
Not that "Give the People What They Want" is at all a self-serious difficult pill to swallow. What the people want from Jones & the Dap-Kings are hard-driving, old-school R&B jams in which the spirits of cherished singers like Otis Redding and Joe Tex are reanimated, and these 10 tunes take care of that business as effectively as ever.
-- Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer