Justin Timberlake performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
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MAN OF THE WOODS
Justin Timberlake (RCA)
Don’t be fooled by the title or the latest images with Timberlake looking like he stepped out of a Timberland catalog. Even though there’s a song here called “Flannel,” JT hasn’t gone all Bon Iver.
To be sure, there are nods to Nashville here and there, especially on the title cut and whenever country maverick Chris Stapleton is involved as a songwriter, guitarist, or singer. But Man of the Woods could easily have been titled King of Funk Lite Volume 3.
This 16-track collection isn’t as exciting as the ex-N’ Sync heartthrob’s first two solo albums, Justified and Future Sex/Love Sounds, and, frankly, it’s about as unspectacular as 2013’s two-volume 20/20 Experience.
Working mostly with producers Timbaland and the Neptunes, JT shows a love for old-school soul. Too often the record comes across like Bruno Mars without the musical dynamics or contemporary words. “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Wave” are Mars-meets-Stevie Wonder looking for a more sophisticated lyricist. “Breeze Off the Pond” is anonymous breezy ‘90s soul, and “Montana” owes more to Earth, Wind & Fire than to Big Sky.
There are tips of the fedora to Prince, long an influence on Timberlake. The greasy funk of “Filthy,” JT’s current single, won’t bring sexyback but it will fill the dance floor. “Sauce” is odd and edgy with a typical old-school Prince couplet: “I love your pink/You like my purple.”
Maybe the sound the Memphis native was looking for was Southern soul, which is best exemplified on “Morning Light,” a sweet love song on which his voice is in full glory. Too often here JT’s voice is almost anonymous.
If he’s looking to break new ground, he comes closest on “Livin’ Off the Land,” a modern rhythmic workout with small-town country sensibility in the lyrics. It could have come from John Mayer’s Paradise Valley.
Man of the Woods may be where Timberlake, 37, married with a son, is at. The onetime boy band star grew up on his earlier albums. Now the woods man, all wrapped up in a comfy flannel blanket, is just too easy-listening.
— JON BREAM, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's 'Black Coffee.'
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa (J&R Adventures)
Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa’s third studio album of mostly soul and blues sticks to the formula of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” and it serves them well.
Hart, a powerful singer also capable of nuance, is a good fit with Bonamassa, a guitar whiz with a wide range of sounds. They are bonded by their shared intensity, and the well-chosen repertoire, including many lesser-known tunes, gives them 10 opportunities to realize their potential.
Etta James songs are a staple of the duo and here they take on “Damn Your Eyes,” from 1989’s Seven Year Itch, one of James’ multiple “comeback” albums across the years. R&B diva Lavern Baker gets two nods, “Soul on Fire” and “Saved,” while “Lullaby of the Leaves,” a ballad with a scorching Bonamassa solo a la Gary Moore, dates back to the early 1930s.
Other songs include “Joy” from Lucinda Williams, Kansas Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right,” and the title track, Ike & Tina Turner via Steve Marriott.
Horn arrangements from Lee Thornburg, tasteful backing vocals and excellent keyboard parts from Reese Wynans, who used to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan, all help Black Coffee percolate into a tasty brew.
Album closer “Addicted” is a real gem, originally released in 2007 by Austria’s Waldeck. It has elements of a James Bond theme, shades of the tango and, unsuprisingly, a certain European vibe. Hart imbues it with passion, as do the Bonamassa and Wynans solos.
The world is full of little underappreciated treasures. If Hart & Bonamassa and producer Kevin Shirley can keep finding them, there’s a bright future in the grooves for more albums like this truly fine effort.
— PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press
YobananaboY's 'Songs About Girls.'
SONGS ABOUT GIRLS
This locally produced EP is a light collection of testosterone-driven songs that one of Toledo’s most enduring pop vocalists, Steve Athanas, penned to express some of his — well — fascination of and affection for the opposite sex.
Most — though not all — of the songs were written in the 1980s when Athanas was in his 20s. Athanas has been involved with several groups, but is perhaps best known as the frontman for the Homewreckers.
While this EP shares some of that group’s quirky flair, it has its own distinct feel and has its name derived from a palindrome, meaning it is the same word spelled in either direction.
The group compares its sound to that of XTC, Squeeze, R.E.M, the Beatles and the Kinks, but I hear hints of rockabilly, a la the Stray Cats, in the opening number, “Girlaholic” and a thick country twang in the second song, “New Crush.”
The most well-rounded and complete song is the sixth, “Pretty Girl,” which features cool accordion and sax solos by Chad Smith and Bob Manley, respectively.
The most bizarre element is the seventh and final number, “Love Missile,” a PG-rated yet suggestive ditty that has a 22-second delay and has the feel of a raw, scratchy demo tape for a mostly spoken song that’s only 1:40 minutes long. Whatever, it’s unconventional.
YobananaboY consists of Toledo-area musicians Steve Athanas on vocals, Chuck Caswell on drums and percussion, Jon Diener on bass and background vocals, Dave Athanas on guitars, and Ron Gillmore on keyboards.
— TOM HENRY, The Blade
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