For the Record: Various artists and Aimee Mann

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Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:

Various Artists 'The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings Volume II' (Average Joe/Scatter Records)

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

Since he died in 2002, the musical legacy of Waylon Jennings hasn't received nearly the attention it merits. Forty years ago, he and Willie Nelson, seeking creative self-determination, battled to free themselves from the control of Nashville record producers, the essence of the Outlaw movement. It's safe to say Jennings would flip in his grave seeing Music Row now recasting "Outlaw" as a marketing hook applied to lightweight young singers braying shallow, tough talking lyrics over generic Nashville accompaniment.

This is the second of a three-volume tribute (Volume 1 appeared last year) and has the blessing of Mr. Jennings' widow, singer Jessi Colter, and son Shooter. Most selections draw from his best-known material. Dierks Bentley offers a masterful rendition of "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and Montgomery Gentry add the right jocular edge to "Good Ol' Boys," the theme to TV's "Dukes of Hazzard."

Ms. Colter offers her composition, "Mama," and "Waymore's Blues" receives a searing treatment from Hank Williams, Jr. Jack Ingram, one of Mr. Jennings' younger friends, is as comfortable with "Bob Wills is Still the King" as Pat Green is with "Rainy Day Woman." Teenage traditional singer Wyatt McCubbin proves his potential with "A Long Time Ago," which delivers power, not posturing.

Other performances fall flat. Jewel's "Dreaming My Dreams" is characteristically lightweight and one-dimensional, as is Josh Thompson's mundane "Love of the Common People."

The worst of today's self-proclaimed "Outlaws," Justin Moore delivers an anemic "Ain't Livin' Long Like This." While the pre-Outlaw hit "Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line" lends itself to rap, Colt Ford's listless take doesn't begin to do it justice. All told, it's a worthy tribute, if an uneven one.

-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette


Aimee Mann 'Charmer' (SuperEgo)

3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

Aimee Mann has mastered the art of songwriting to the point her songs sound deceptively casual, as if she's just experimenting with ideas and hitting upon gems time after time on her new "Charmer."

The release is a culmination of experience that started in the 1980s, when Ms. Mann fronted 'Til Tuesday, and has continued with her solo career that launched with 1993's "Whatever." Her understated singing gives voice to smart lyrics that portray her as wry, bittersweet and oddly relaxed, as if she's resigned, but not defeated.

Like her previous work, "Charmer" builds on low-grade infection, with Ms. Mann dispensing philosophical zingers in near-offhanded fashion as her subtle hooks slowly but surely embed themselves into the psyche.

For some, "Charmer" will quickly have the appeal of a favorite old album, its comforting strains sounding familiar by the second or third listen.

The riskiest cut is a duet with James Mercer of the Shins, as Ms. Mann lets an outsider potentially shatter her private little world. However, the two prove simpatico, jointly singing the chorus, "I'm living a lie/You're living it too/Cause I live it with you."

Ms. Mann might be making a statement with the chugging title track as she observes, "When you're a charmer, the world applauds/They don't know that secretly charmers feel like they're frauds."

If that's a paranoid confessional on Ms. Mann's part, she can rest assured she appears to be completely genuine.

-- Chuck Campbell, Scripps Howard

New this week

Ben Folds Five, "The Sound of the Life of the Mind": Ben Folds Five have defied the convention of reuniting and releasing an album that merely sounds like a reunion album -- there is a lot of life in "The Sound of the Life of the Mind." Like cheese, wine, leather, et cetera, Folds's songwriting has aged marvelously, and he, conveniently, is in top form on his old band's first new recording in over a decade. And true, the haughty spunk that characterized the band's first three records is more or less missing from this one, but Folds makes up for it by re-approaching topics like lost love and remorse with a more seasoned perspective. (Morgan Troper)

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Kiss": Forget Jepsen's monster smash "Call Me Maybe" for a moment. "Kiss" is a remarkably strong, well-made pop album that works entirely because of Jepsen's talent as a singer. Also, she samples Sam Cooke and the result, amazingly, is not terrible. As time wears on, "Kiss" will not be looked at as one of the all-time great pop albums. Yet song for song, Ms. Jepsen proves she has more talent than half of the stars out there, managing to not only sell virtually every word on the album, but also managing to make it sound off-the-cuff and effortless, ultimately creating a bubbly pop playground. (Evan Sawdey)

Michael Jackson, "Bad 25": The Michael Jackson of the mid-'80s can lay claim to having a problem that no one in the world had ever run into at that point: How do you follow up the biggest-selling album of all time? The end result was "Bad," and looking back on it 25 years after its initial release with this multi-disc special edition released by Sony Legacy (entitled, simply, "Bad 25"), we are reaffirmed in everything we've always known about this disc: It's a dynamite sequel that exemplifies everything about the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy of success. It dares little, sounds like a carbon copy of its predecessor, but still manages to deliver some of those knock-out moments that Jackson became known for. It may not be perfect, but there's still a lot to love here. (Evan Sawdey)


Other notable releases

Band of Horses, "Mirage Rock": Fourth album from the Seattle indie band, produced by the legendary Glyn Johns, has a flowing folk-rock feel and finds a bigger role for guitarist-singer Tyler Ramsey.

P!nk," The Truth About Love": Sixth studio album from the hitmaker leads with the single "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)."

Nelly Furtado, "The Spirit Indestructible": The Canadian born singer said of her first English-language studio album since 2006's double-platinum "Loose": "This album is all about positivity, youth, good energy and the relentlessness of the spirit."

The Killers, "Battle Born": Fourth album from the glammed-up Las Vegas rock band.

Dinosaur Jr, "I Bet On Sky": Tenth album from the noise-rock legends who reformed in 2005.

Various Artists, "Cruel Summer": Double set features artists from Kanye West's label GOOD, including John Legend, Common, Q-Tip, Kid Cudi and Mos Def.

Rickie Lee Jones, "The Devil You Know": Ben Harper produced this collection of covers that includes The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Play With Fire," Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and The Band's "The Weight."

Corin Tucker Band, "Kill My Blues": Second album from the singer-guitarist since the Sleater-Kinney split in 2006.

Grizzly Bear, "Shields": Fourth studio album by the Brooklyn-based indie band.

Ne-Yo, "R.E.D.": Fifth album from the R&B/dance-pop star with title that stands for "Realizing Every Dream."

Little Big Town, "Tornado": Harmonious country quartet's fifth studio features the hit single "Pontoon."

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Meat And Bone": First studio album in eight years from the blues-punk primitivists.

Kreayshawn, "Somethin' 'Bout Kreay": Debut album from the female rapper features guest appearances from Kid Cudi, 2 Chainz, Chippy Nonstop and more.

Dwight Yoakam, "3 Pears": First new studio album in seven years features two tracks produced by Beck.

Big & Rich, "Hillbilly Jedi": Fourth studio album and first in five years from the country music duo of Big Kenny and John Rich features a song co-written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.

Sean Paul, "Tomahawk Technique": Fifth album from the Jamaican dancehall artist features Akon and Kelly Rowland.

Ryan Bingham, "Tomorrowland": Fourth album from the Americana singer-songwriter is his first independent release, and is co-produced with Justin Stanley (Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, The Vines).



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