RECORDINGS : Quick Spins
RECORDINGS : Quick Spins
One of the best pop albums released this year sounds like it came from outer space. Or the future. Or maybe heaven.
That's because 19-year-old Cassie's voice is part angel, part android. Perhaps you've heard her standout summer hit "Me & U" -- the model-turned-singer cooing mechanically amid a vapor of sci-fi synthesizers. Nothing on her self-titled debut strays far from that blueprint. These songs are clinical, uncomplicated and extremely satisfying.
Cassie's voice is thin. Janet-Jackson-after-20-flights-of-stairs thin. But it's also incredibly sweet and somewhat hypnotic. Delivering every syllable with machine-like consistency, she courts crushes and dumps chumps with the same anesthetic purr. Keyboards buzz and flutter around her as she beelines through "Just One Nite," bass-heavy bombs dropping somewhere in the distance.
The man detonating those bombs is young producer Ryan Leslie. Remember the name -- it might be the chilling sound of hip-hop's future. The Diddy protege creates an enchanting, crystalline soundscape for Cassie's icy airs.
The girl still summons a genuine blush during "Ditto." Despite those sugary synths, that carefree beat, the adorable chorus, the song makes a significant point: Cassie's human after all.
-- Chris Richards
Cham -- formerly Baby Cham, after the soft drink -- caused a stir when he released a dancehall reggae tune called "Ghetto Story" late last year. When reports surfaced that the song was banned, Jamaican officials denied that they had censored the record. (At least one island radio station did prohibit its airplay.)
"Ghetto Story" confronts the poverty and violence of Kingston's tenement yards. The song begins, "I remember those days when hell was my home." The narrator goes on to describe a childhood torn apart by murder, giving rise to a shapeless rage. His friend Mikey immigrates to the United States only to become a kingpin who supplies his old neighborhood with guns. When Mikey calls to check in, the narrator boasts, "Now a we lock di city and dat is well known!" That's just the first verse. Two more versions, featuring Akon and Alicia Keys, don't seem enough.
"Ghetto Story" is one of the best songs of the year, but on the album that shares its title the song is an outlier. R&B singers like Beyonce began enlisting dancehall stars like Sean Paul for street cred a few years ago; now Caribbeans like Rihanna (who guests here on "Boom Boom") and Cham are reversing the equation with island-centric pop. Over bleeding-edge beats from veteran producer Dave Kelly, Cham proves he's a crowd-pleaser on tracks that include "Bad Boys" and "Vitamin S." Cham's mix of Marleyesque eager-to-please ambition and Nas-style storytelling is intriguing and compelling. "Ghetto Story" signals the arrival of a major talent.
-- Jeff Chang
Once you've toured the country calling women's rear ends "badonkadonks," what's next? For country hunk-of-the-moment Trace Adkins, the next step is more dignified and less catchy. The follow-up to his 2005 smash "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" is "Swing," which uses the old baseball metaphor to illustrate the challenge of picking up women in bars.
Adkins, who is from Sarepta, La., and has recorded six CDs in 10 years, has more brains and depth than your average Billy Ray Cyrus. He also has The Voice, which dips occasionally into Dwight Yoakam territory, giving unexpected empathy to "I Came Here to Live," about a prayer for a struggling premature son, and "The Stubborn One," about a crusty, baseball-loving grandfather on his deathbed. It also enlivens throwaway rockers such as "Ladies Love Country Boys" with a certain dance-floor swing.
He's on mushier ground with "I Wanna Feel Something," a strong premise about a man numbed from experience. But the feeling he wants back is pure cliche -- "Once I was kissed / By a red-headed girl with cherry lips / On her porch when I was 16 / And I felt it somewhere in my soul and time stood still." Adkins's voice is almost enough to overcome the usual lines about Jesus, fast trucks and Hank Jr. But not quite.
-- Steve Knopper
Trace Adkins is scheduled to perform at the Great Frederick Fair in Frederick on Sept. 22.