Our reviewers give you the low-down on new and notable recordings

Survivor Columbia

Ever since Destiny’s Child got pared down from a quartet to a trio, people have been comparing today’s hottest female vocal group to the Supremes, though the lesser-known Emotions seem a more accurate stylistic measure. This becomes especially clear as the three young women blend their voices in billowing cotton-candy harmony on an a cappella gospel medley that draws from the pens of Kirk Franklin and Richard Smallwood, as well as from the public domain. But whereas neither the Supremes nor the Emotions had much of a creative hand in their music, the mark of nineteen-year-old Destiny’s Child member Beyoncé Knowles as a songwriter and/or producer is on all fifteen tracks of the group’s highly anticipated third album, including a winning remake of Samantha Sang’s 1977 Bee Gees-penned smash “Emotion.” Working with a host of collaborators, including Bay Area hitmakers Walter Afanansieff and Dwayne Wiggins, Knowles displays a keen sense of craftswomanship throughout, wedding catchy pop melodies to slappin’ R&B beats, juxtaposing sexual and feminist messages in material designed to maintain the Texas trio’s dominance as role models for a generation. –Lee Hildebrand

Speaking in Tongues Alligator

Like many African-American singers, the Holmes Brothers got their start in the choir of their hometown Baptist church. Their parents provided music lessons, and fostered the brothers’ interest in soul and blues, as well as gospel music. The brothers moved to New York in 1959, playing in blues, funk, and soul bands until 1980, when they began performing as the Holmes Brothers, with drummer Popsy Dixon complementing the front line of Wendell Holmes (guitar) and Sherman Holmes (bass). All three sing. Even on secular material, their vocals have the sanctified power of the best gospel music, so it’s wonderful to hear them unleashing their vocal prowess on this collection of spirituals–traditional, self-penned, and covers of tunes by Dylan, Gamble and Huff, and Ben Harper. On Harper’s “I Shall Not Walk Alone,” listeners get a soul-stirring dose of the group’s spine-tingling harmonies, accompanied by sparse sustained chords. “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down,” a standard by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gets an energetic workout that shows the spiritual roots of funk, while Wendell’s “Jesus Got His Hooks in Me” is a throwback to the energetic jubilee style of the late ’40s and early ’50s. Superstar Joan Osborne produced, but had the good sense and enough respect for the brothers to keep her ego out of the way. The sound throughout is crisp and clean, with her vocal harmonies on tunes like “I Want to Be Ready” providing a serene female counterpoint to the brothers’ grittier style. –j. poet

Caetano Veloso
Noites do Norte Nonesuch

Caetano Veloso has long been one of the most skillful and inventive practitioners of Brazilian music. Fans who’ve been intoxicated by Veloso’s ecstatic comingling of Afro-Brazilian percussion, cool-bop jazz, and modern electronica may find themselves briefly nonplussed by his latest release, which has a slower, more deliberate pace and a troubling impenetrability which is difficult to pin down. In part this may be due to the subject matter: Noites is one of Veloso’s most overtly political albums, a complex exploration of Brazil’s history as a nation that was founded entirely on a slave-based economy. It’s a mournful love letter to the soul of Brazil, typically poetic, elegant, and allusive. On several tracks Caetano tips his hat towards his fellow artists, including an ear-piercing tribute to Raul Seixas, one of Brazilian rock’s most chaotic figures–that nation’s answer, perhaps, to Iggy Pop or Lou Reed. He also covers Jorge Ben’s “Zumbi,” a ’70s samba-soul ballad lauding the semi-mythic leader of one of Brazil’s legendary slave rebellions; Caetano’s version is full of precise, restrained percussion that echoes and amplifies the wistful lyrical air of the original. As ever, Veloso’s music discloses itself gradually, revealing a depth and grace that is all too rare in modern pop. —Lawrence Kay

Self-Titled Debut Warner Bros.

Names sure can be deceiving. Case in point: Hesher. With a rockin’ moniker like that, you’d expect a bunch of zitty white dudes from Lodi trying to be this millennium’s answer to Rainbow. Not exactly. Hesher is one guy with a bunch of friends in high places. Illustrious luminaries such as Everlast and Biz Markie contribute to this musically scattered debut that bounces to the ghetto and loads up on hip-hop, then jumps across the pond to Merry Olde England, returning home with a suitcase full of Britpop. The result is an album that tries hard to please everyone–and with the exception of a few clunkers, it just might. “Presto Chango” desperately wants to get the Fred Durst seal of approval, and the very dumb “Lighter Thief” recalls Suicidal Tendencies pining for their Pepsi. Stoners in Lodi will love it. The situation improves with the Run-DMC-ish “Whose Generation” (a snarly remake of “My Generation”). And Oasis called and it wants its melancholy ballads back. Surprisingly, the reflective “Out My Window” (complete with horn section and brooding piano) proves Hesher does mopey Manchester pop better than the real thing. “Thanks to You” is an opulent affair that could be a lost McCartney/Lennon outtake. Mom will hum along as the frat boys scratch their heads. –Michelle Turner

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