Enlarge Photo    
Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Brad Paisley

If you think Brad Paisley, reigning CMA male vocalist of the year, has earned the right to indulge himself in the studio, apparently so does he. The West Virginia native's new release isn't all about playing guitar, Paisley's favorite pastime, but it comes awfully close.

Eleven of the album's 16 tracks are instrumentals, and even the performances that feature vocals -- including those that team Paisley with Keith Urban ("Start a Band," the album's first single) and B.B. King ("Let the Good Times Roll") -- resonate with Telecaster-driven twang or piercing blues licks. The vocalists, living and dead, who turn up on this heavily overdubbed session contribute some pleasant surprises -- none more so than the late Buck Owens, who is paired with Paisley on the vibrant honky-tonker "Come On In."

Yet what sets "Play" apart is the unusually diverse assortment of guitar tracks, and the genuinely playful spirit that often prevails when Paisley and his numerous guests are flexing their fingers. "Cluster Pluck," for instance, may be a marvel of editing and engineering, but there's no denying the guitar jam's galloping momentum and streaming colors, produced by an all-star lineup: James Burton, Albert Lee, John Jorgenson, Vince Gill and Steve Wariner, among others.

In more spacious settings, Paisley's gift for composing shines through, particularly on "Turf's Up," a twisted surf-music novelty worthy of a Quentin Tarantino film soundtrack, and on "Les Is More," an evocative, lightly swinging tribute to Les Paul.

-- Mike Joyce

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Turf's Up," "Les Is More"



If Blaqstarr's hallucinogenic odes to sex, drugs and Baltimore don't make him a legend in his day, they should certainly cement his cult status in some dystopian future. The young producer's visionary spin on Baltimore club, Charm City's indigenous brand of breakneck dance music, often feels visceral, otherworldly and 20 years ahead of its time.

"I'm Bangin' 2" blurs Blaqstarr's most recent club anthems into one mix-tape-cum-hypnosis session. He raps, he croons, he transforms sampled vocal snippets into psychedelic dance-floor mantras -- all at 120-odd beats per minute. "Bang" flaunts his disparate sonic vocabulary, stacking vintage drum breaks, hypnotic vocal stutters and percussive jolts that resemble slamming car doors and/or gunfire. If that's not enough to conjure the end of days, "Get Up With Me" depicts a Baltimore plagued by violence and drug addiction with verses as playful as nursery rhymes: "My city on fire, my city on 'The Wire'/My city used to read . . . but it retired."

Yet despite his penchant for the apocalyptic and the apoplectic, Blaqstarr is remarkably subtle with "Get Up on the Floor," its minimal beat and trance-inducing vocal sample urging us to "Get up" more than 50 times in less than two minutes. Blaqstarr handles the singing duties himself on "Home 2 Gether," slurring his come-ons as if slaloming through the song's jaunty bass line. Coming from someone who specializes in soundtracking the urban bacchanals of tomorrow, its resemblance to a latter-day pop song feels purely coincidental.

-- Chris Richards

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Bang," "Get Up on the Floor," "Home 2 Gether"



In 1998, rapper Q-Tip left the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. On his first solo album, "Amplified," Q-Tip was just that. He ditched his colorful Afrocentric duds for a sleek look and a banging club sound. Then, in 2001, Q-Tip finished an album that defied all of his previous work: nine impeccable, melancholy songs he collectively called "Kamaal: The Abstract." L.A. Reid, the head of Arista Records, didn't know what to make of it.

Q-Tip did more singing than rapping. There were rock guitar riffs and long jazz vamps. Reid refused to release the album. The brilliant "Kamaal" went bootleg, and Q-Tip went into creative hibernation.

Seven years later comes "The Renaissance." It is a wonderful album. Q-Tip reaches back to his roots as part of the Native Tongues coalition in "ManWomanBoogie" and explores new musical territory with Norah Jones on "Life Is Better." The single "Gettin' Up" is one of the happiest songs that hip-hop fans could ever bang their heads to.

But Q-Tip seems caught between his tribal soul, his amplified persona and his abstract mind. In the end, he seems burdened by the task of making his music accessible. "It's up to me to bring back the hope," he raps in "Johnny Dead." "They always bring up Tribe. I mean, can I survive?"

Not this way. Perhaps the tens of thousands of fans who came to see the Tribe reunion at this summer's Rock the Bells tour won't buy "The Renaissance." Perhaps contemporary hip-hop radio won't play "Gettin' Up." But if Q-Tip embraces his grown-up self in spite of this, he can still kick it. Yes, he can.

-- Dan Charnas

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Gettin' Up," "You," "Johnny Dead"

© 2008 The Washington Post Company