R. Kelly, "The Buffet" (RCA)
Kelly has turned a corner in his career with his new album.
After he was acquitted on 21 charges of making child pornography stemming from a videotape that allegedly showed him having sex with a 14-year-old girl, Kelly released two distinctly nonthreatening albums to try to repair his reputation. In 2013, he reversed course, releasing "Black Panties," a sex-filled album designed to show he would no longer run away from his past.
With "The Buffet," Kelly now seems like he's ready to focus mainly on making music, not broader statements. These songs outpace anything he has released in years by leaps and bounds. The single "Switch Up," which features Lil Wayne and Jeremih, shows Kelly still knows how to push R&B forward, using glitchy beats and plucked strings to build a new sound. He adopts a bit of the Weeknd's icy vibe for "Wanna Be There" and he loads up on old-school soul in the album's second half, especially the slick one-two punch of "All My Fault" and "Wake Up Everybody."
On "Let's Be Real Now," he teams up with Tinashe to tear down relationship expectations lyrically while building another catchy dance beat. That's not to say Kelly has left his bad-boy image behind. He opens the album with "The Poem," filled with all sorts of double entendres about sex and food, and follows it with the laughable "Poetic Sex."
Whether the mainstream should once again embrace Kelly will no doubt be debated, but "The Buffet" is his first album in years that will actually push for an answer.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Bob Dylan, "The Cutting Edge 1965-66: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12" (Legacy)
In the 15 months of recording sessions documented on these six discs, Dylan cranked out three masterpieces — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde and Blonde." During this time, he committed to electric rock instrumentation after years as an acoustic troubadour, switched producers and experimented with elastic, surrealistic wordplay and different lineups of musicians.
Many of his best-known songs went through a series of changes before settling into their finished form, notably "Like a Rolling Stone." An entire disc is devoted to tracing the song's transformation from a leaden waltz into a modern classic based on gospel/blues call-and-response patterns. A looser, funkier, grittier "Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence" outstrips the rarity presented on the first Dylan bootleg box in 1991, with Michael Bloomfield's guitar snapping like a Doberman and Dylan's voice spiked with screams and wicked bravado ("Well she's good alright / But she ain't as good as this guitar player that I got right now"). And Dylan cracks up when he tries Al Kooper's slide whistle for the first time on "Highway 61."
There are also some telling insights into Dylan's relationship with the Hawks, who later became known as the Band. While the Hawks proved extraordinary foils for Dylan on stage, the results were far more problematic in the studio, particularly as they wrestle with "Visions of Johanna." The Hawks jump into the tune eagerly, but never quite nail its sense of longing to Dylan's satisfaction, and the singer eventually settled on a far different take with different musicians. These revelatory recording sessions are also available in several versions: a compact two-CD or three-LP set and a 379-track, 18-CD cinder block.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune