What our critics are listening to

11:40 AM, Feb 11, 2014


BROKEN BELLS

AFTER THE DISCO. Everyone’s listening to this, so I figured, just once, I’ll get on board with the crowd. After the Disco is the second album collaboration by singer James Mercer of The Shins and Brian Burton, the uber-producer known as Danger Mouse. And this sounds very little like their other projects. Broken Bells is big, lush, otherworldly and awash in technology; but it’s live technology, not the heavy sampling of Danger Mouse. The rhythms are lively, the shimmer like so many MTV bands of the ’80s that I’ve long since forgotten. “Holding on For Life” sounds just like a Bee Gees song, it’s almost eerie. But Mercer can hit a pretty, high falsetto that does seem to fit that era. It’s a lovely record, a melancholy reflection on emptiness, but there’s not enough there for me. — JEFF SPEVAK

TONI BRAXTON & BABYFACE

LOVE, MARRIAGE & DIVORCE. These two R&B stars have enough Grammys between them to prove their success over the years. You’d think a CD of duets by two award-winning crooners would be all flowers and rainbows, but it feels more like a breakup CD. “I’m sick of tired of going through changes. I love you, I hate you,” Braxton sings on “Roller Coaster.” “Let it go, let it go girl, what do we keep fighting baby” Babyface sings on “Sweat.” And Babyface continues with the love-gone-bad vibe as he sings “Although I love you, there is something I need to say. I thought a lot about it and I think I’m gonna leave today” on “I Hope That You’re OK.” I’m not sure it’s a good idea to put this CD in your Valentine’s Day rotation, but you’ll enjoy hearing these two sing together. — SHEILA RAYAM

FRANK WESS

MAGIC 201. This is presumably the last album we’ll have from the magnificent saxophonist and flautist Frank Wess. He recorded it in September 2011, at age 89, and died Oct. 30, 2013 at 91. A legend in his years with the Count Basie band, he was also a fine small-ensemble player. This swan-song album was recorded around the time of its predecessor, Magic 101. Both co-star pianist Kenny Barron. 201, however, also features the wonderful guitarist Russell Malone, who manages to make this largely ballad-filled set even more graceful. Wess is heard on tenor throughout, with the flute only making an exquisite appearance on “The Summer Knows.” The album uses mellow swingers — “It Could Happen to You” and “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” to bookend the disc’s other five tracks, sublime ballads all. My favorite is “Embraceable You,” an object lesson in the perfect jazz ballads, with lovely line readings, poetic improvisations, and honest affection. — JACK GARNER