Karen O and Danger Mouse, “Lux Prima” (BMG)
This album shows how thrilling collaborations between two formidable artists can be.
You can hear the artistic push and pull between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman and the producer/musician who co-founded both Gnarls Barkley with CeeLo Green and Broken Bells with James Mercer.
The hushed “Ministry” feels like a continuation of Karen O’s last album, the vulnerable “Crush Songs” from 2014, as does the beautiful “Reveries,” where she is accompanied by only an acoustic guitar for the first half of the song. The funky, bass-driven “Leopard’s Tongue” could easily been on the last Broken Bells album.
However, it’s the way Karen O and Danger Mouse use their talents together to create new experiments like the catchy potential hit “Woman” that makes “Lux Prima” shine. On “Woman,” which fits in with Karen O’s idea to connect her music with motherhood as her first project since having her son Django in 2015, she uses her distinctive delivery to modernize the song’s girl-group backing vocals and percussion.
The sleek single “Turn the Light” has a pop feel, with bits of funk guitar and Karen O cooing, that sounds like a breath of fresh air compared with so many radio-friendly alt-rock hits these days. And “Redeemer” features some great Karen O lines like “I got lust and you got lost.” When she sings, “You’re not coming for me, I’m coming for you,” it sounds like it’s either a threat or a pickup line, which worked for a lot of Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs.
Because Karen O and Danger Mouse do not lack for ambition, they have used “Lux Prima” as the soundtrack for an upcoming art installation at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles. But these songs can all stand on their own as pieces of art and testaments to the power of collaboration.
Glenn gamboa, Newsday
Hayes Carll, “What It Is” (Dualtone)
This Texas tunesmith was fittingly bummed out on 2016’s “Lovers & Leavers,” a divorce album whose downcast mood muted a good deal of his trademark humor. His mood is more buoyant on “What It Is,” presumably due to the presence of fiancée Allison Moorer, who produced the album and co-wrote several tunes.
The charming love song “None’ya” — as in “none of your business” — sets an inviting and openhearted tone, but this isn’t simply a happy-to-have-a-second-chance album. The drawling talking-singing troubadour also directs his attention to the world at large, expressing heartfelt outrage at racist bullies on “Fragile Men” (written with Nashville songwriter Lolo) and promising to heed the call to tell a world’s worth of stories to be told on “If I May Be So Bold.”
Carll will never be a great vocalist. But he’s an astute observer and skilled storyteller, and at his best, as on the subtly moving, not-just-a-joke “Jesus and Elvis,” (originally recorded by Kenny Chesney but included in a superior version here), he’s tough to beat.
Carll performs March 29 at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Jenny Lewis, “On the Line”
• Andrew Bird, “My Finest Work”
• Lucy Rose, “No Words Left”
• Motley Crue, “The Dirt” soundtrack
• Strand of Oaks, “Eraserland”
• Tamaryn, “Dreaming the Dark”
• Lambchop, “This (is what I wanted to tell you)”