Afghan Whigs, "Do to the Beast" (Sub Pop)
It's been 16 years since the last Afghan Whigs album, and the band doesn't gently ease back: "Do to the Beast" kicks off with the heavy grunt of "Parked Outside" as singer Greg Dulli snarls like a trapped animal. It's a powerful and misleading reintroduction, since the Whigs seem only capable of reclaiming their turf in fits and starts.
"Matamoros" is snaky and relentless, the low-key "These Sticks" throbs tensely, and the cinematic "Royal Cream" constantly catches its breath before leaping back to bite again. But those songs lurch so forcefully into focus precisely because far more of "Do to the Beast" is forced drama or, worse, Kings of Leonine busyness like "The Lottery." Throughout, Dulli effortlessly inhabits the skin of a man providing a thousand reasons not to go home with him at closing time. (The album's last line? "I've come to make you pay.") The difference is that back in the Whigs' prime, you would've gone anyway.
Marc Hirsh, Boston Globe
Ingrid Michaelson, "Lights Out" (Mom + Pop)
Pushing the door wide open, Michaelson has made her best album. She lost her voice for several months last year, so she has a new appreciation of her gift. Her voice is deeper and more soulful. And she still employs girlish "ooh-ooh" harmonies, but the result is more adult, at times like an ethereal Kate Bush. She experiments with many colors, from synth-pop to funk stomp to piano ballads. And she switches her approach from writing all the songs to using 10 co-writers.
Michaelson sings about loves lost, found, and otherwise, but there are breakthrough moments in the urgency of "Time Machine," the synth-pop of "Handsome Hands," and the surging "Wonderful Unknown,'' wherein she sings "nothing lasts forever, but the sound of love astounds me every time that it calls." You might expect a schizoid clusterbomb from "Lights Out," but instead it's an impressively seamless mix.
Michaelson performs Saturday at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Steve Morse, Boston Globe
Chuck E. Weiss, "Red Beans & Weiss" (Anti-)
Weiss has hung with the cool cats all his life. In his youth, he played drums with Lightnin' Hopkins and other blues legends. In the '70s, he palled around with Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, who immortalized him in her first hit, "Chuck E.'s in Love." Waits and Johnny Depp are executive producers of Weiss' fourth album.
It's a bluesy rock 'n' roll record, with Weiss playing the role of a goofy, grizzled raconteur and with excellent, raw guitar work from X's Tony Gilkyson (Depp contributes to several tracks, too). Weiss sounds a bit like Waits, especially on the unhinged blues shouts of "Dead Man's Shoes" and "Oo Poo Pa Do in the Rebop." He can be silly on novelty songs like "That Knucklehead Stuff," but his boho-hipster attitude makes everything cool.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer