Dave Douglas Quintet (Greenleaf Music)
It is hard to imagine any other musician doing this collection of hymns as well as Dave Douglas. The trumpeter takes his work from avant-garde outlooks to bebop, so it is no surprise he could do a creative look at any music, even religious material. “Be Still” is centered on a remarkably touching group of hymns sung by Aoife O’Donovan and accompanied by the Douglas quintet. Their play takes each of the hymns into the land of jazz without ever being unfaithful to their meaning. Douglas, for instance, offers an intro to “God Be With You” that could have been done on any jazz ballad, but fits it easily with O’Donovan’s vocal. This new Douglas Quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Linda Oh creates soulful and harmonic backgrounds throughout, moving into driving gospel on “High on a Mountain.” The album also features three Douglas originals, which are not quite hymn-like, but mirror the contemplative tone of the album.
— Bob Karlovits
Tia Fuller (Mack Avenue)
Tia Fuller is a saxophone player who shows contemporary jazz has more going for it than the smoothies would have you believe. “Angelic Warrior” is an excellent display of her speed and dexterity as well as her approach to jazz. She does songs from the funky “Tailor Made” to a sizzling version of “Cherokee” that resembles the Ray Noble song in melody only. Not only does she play well on alto and soprano sax and flute, but she also is the author of all the songs but two. In an appropriate blend of performing styles, she is joined by singer Dianne Reeves on “Body and Soul.” But Reeves is not the only guest. Bassist John Patitucci joins her quintet on six of the 13 tracks and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington on three. Eat your reeds, Boney James and Kenny G.
— Bob Karlovits
‘Hope on the Rocks’
Toby Keith (Show Dog/ Universal)
Toby Keith understands honky-tonk life and all its nuances as well as any musician working today, even the parts in which nuance doesn’t figure into the equation. The Oklahoma country singer and songwriter who’s reached the top of the country charts with such quaff-minded odes as “Beer for My Horses,” “Whiskey Girl” and “I Love This Beer” clearly hasn’t exhausted that wellspring of musical inspiration yet, returning to the corner watering hole several times in the 10 new songs on “Hope on the Rocks.” The title track is the best, examining the rocky roads that often lead lost souls to seek refuge in drink. “Where do they go?” Keith asks from the perspective of a bartender who’s seen it all yet refuses to judge. “At the end of the day, I’m all they got.”
— Los Angeles Times
Calvin Harris (Columbia/Roc Nation/Ultra Music)
Creating high-energy dance songs for female pop stars is a crowded business in 2012, one dominated by professional hit-makers such as Diplo, Max Martin and Dr. Luke. So, you can understand why the Scottish writer-producer Calvin Harris, who broke through in the United States. last year with Rihanna’s chart-topping “We Found Love,” diversifies his attack on “18 Months.” The third album he’s released under his own name, it contains relatively grimy collaborations with English rappers (“Here 2 China,” featuring Dizzee Rascal) and a pitch-perfect piece of early-’80s slap-bass funk (“School”). Despite that variety, “18 Months” only deepens the impression that Harris is best when linked with a lady. In “Sweet Nothing” he frames Florence Welch’s disco-gospel wail with bleeping Morse-code synths. “I Need Your Love” makes an unlikely house diva of Ellie Goulding. The finest song here, “Thinking About You,” uses the underground bass-music vocalist Ayah Marar to call up very fond memories of work by Lisa Stansfield and Everything but the Girl.
— Los Angeles Times
“Goin’ Down Rockin’: The Last Recordings”
Waylon Jennings (Saguaro Road)
A few years before his death in 2002, when poor health started to overtake him, Waylon Jennings recorded these dozen songs, accompanied by just his acoustic guitar and the bass of Robby Turner. Now, Turner, who had played steel guitar in Jennings’ last group, the Waymore Blues Band, has fleshed out the tracks with fellow Waymore alumni such as guitarist Reggie Young and other simpatico players, creating a new last chapter that reaffirms Jennings’ greatness. Echoes of the defiant Outlaw who helped shake up country music in the ’70s can be heard on the rocking “Never Say Die” and “If My Harley Was Runnin’ ” and the Tony Joe White title song, an appropriately swampy duet. Strip away the bravado, on numbers such as “Belle of the Ball,” “The Ways of the World” and “Wastin’ Time,” and Jennings remains a remarkably straight-shooter, with performances that are among the most intimate and deeply personal of his life.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer