Blasts from the musical past

September 14, 2004|by Tracy E. Hopkins and Jake Coyle

During her 10-year break from recording, soul siren Anita Baker traded the limelight for a starring role as doting wife and mother. The Grammy winner's comeback disc, "My Everything," reflects her family values.

The upbeat title song is a Valentine to her husband, and "Men in My Life" is a saccharin dedication to her two sons. But in this bootylicious era, where tabloid headlines attract more attention than talent, will the smoky-piped Baker's sentimental musings keep R&B enthusiasts interested? That depends on who's listening. "My Everything's" smooth-jazz production is strictly for the over 30, adult-contemporary-leaning crowd.

At times the music fails to reach the same heights as Baker's soaring vocals. "Like You Used to Do" is a bland duet with Babyface, and "How Could You" is a lifeless attempt at doo-wop. The production does, however, rise to the occasion on several of the disc's 10 songs.

The Latin jazz-tinged "In My Heart" recalls Rapture's simmering "Been So Long," and "Close Your Eyes" is vintage Baker: The song's building, quiet storm arrangement perfectly complements the chanteuse's smoldering, skat-inclined vocals. On that latter track, she muses, "be free to follow what you feel," and although the results are mixed, she gives "My Everything" her all.


Listening to the uninhibited blues of The Black Keys, the same question runs through your head again and again: This is two white guys from the Midwest?

The band's third album, "Rubber Factory," comes, as their last did, on Fat Possum, a label known for mining old, forgotten blues men in the Mississippi Delta. Guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach and gangly, bespectacled drummer Patrick Carney, however, are 20-something lawn-mowers from Akron, Ohio.

But their three-minute songs of greasy stomp and raw blues is 100 percent authentic. While two-person bands are oddly in vogue and neo-blues is all the rage, The Keys simply are electrified blues, sans the retro fitting.

Auerbach's primal howl comes from wherever John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters got theirs. Auerbach and Carney slow it down on "The Lengths," a bluesy ballad that may make you resign yourself to a happy life on the porch forever. The effect is similar on a cover of The Kinks' "Act Nice and Gentle." The lap-steel guitar on the track tickles it's so soothing.

And a word has to be said about the bridge to "Grown So Ugly," a cover of one of those old Delta Fat Possum men: Robert Pete Williams. The 30 seconds of that song's unexpected left-hand turn is one of the sweetest segues in rock 'n' roll history.

This simply cannot be two white boys from the Buckeye State. It can't.

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