What our critics are listening to

10:47 AM, Dec 31, 2012

David Olney is a songwriter whose songs are fantastic atmospheres of love and dread. (Peter Needham)/


DAVID OLNEY

BODY OF EVIDENCE. “Watch your step, don’t talk to strangers,” David Olney sings in the opening moments of his mini-album trilogy. And if only the characters here, from crooks to Jesus Christ, had taken that advice. Olney, from the good side of Nashville, is a songwriter whose songs are fantastic atmospheres of love and dread. He’s as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter. The opening Film Noir is a detective story, Robbery & Murder the tale of two rough-hewn love affairs, The Stone is the crucifixion of Christ. These are worlds where dishonesty and grace crack heads, and neither is declared the winner; they simply co-exist. Olney’s re-worked some old compositions and weaves them through some new ones, although they’re never quite a complete story. Rather, each song’s nuances add up to the lyric equivalent of a soundtrack. — JEFF SPEVAK

NE-YO

R.E.D. Ne-Yo wears many hats — singer, actor, impresario. Like his diverse resume, his fifth CD is a mix of R&B, pop, dance and hip-hop grooves. Such genre hopping can be a good or bad thing. It’s a good thing when he sing’s “here’s a toast to the ladies with class” over a beat that thumps on the catchy “Don’t Make Em Like You.” Ever the storyteller, the melody is broody like a singer struggling to write a verse due to his demons in clever “Cracks In Mr. Perfect.” But the clever lyrics turn to vapid in “Forever Now,” an electric dance tune that sounds like a dozen other mind-numbing dance tunes pulsing in a club near you. In my book, Ne-Yo the crooner with a little hip-hop swag provides the hits that keep you listening. The dance/techno/pop Ne-Yo? Well, that guy sounds like too many others. — SHEILA RAYAM

DUKE ELLINGTON ORCHESTRA

BIGBANDS LIVE. Ellington accomplished something quite amazing in the rock-era ’60s — he kept his band together, on the road, always working. And he kept them great, even as some of the bands notable moved well into their senior years. In fact, Duke’s alter ego and writing partner Billy Strayhorn would be dead in just a few weeks after this March 1967 performance in Germany. Still, Cat Anderson, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Russell Procope, Jimmy Hamilton, and Lawrence Brown have serious moments of classic cookin’ over the 13 tracks, as does the Duke himself. Near the end, we finally hear the band’s greatest soloist, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, weaving his sensuous way through “Freakish Lights.” There are rarities for Ellington collectors (like me), including a version of Raymond Fol’s “Salome” that’s not duplicated in any of the scores of other Ellington discs in my collection. — JACK GARNER