It's Tuesday, which means that it's time for Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment. This week we're joined by music critic Steve Hochman and Justino Aguila from Billboard Latin.
Artist: Neneh Cherry
Album: Blank Project
Release Date: Feb. 25 (available for pre-order now)
Song: "Blank Project" "Out of the Black"
Twenty-five years ago, Neneh Cherry was one of the most intriguing, dynamic and promising figures in music — her 1989 debut album "Raw Like Sushi" album and single "Buffalo Stance" presaging the full integration of hip-hop into pop culture we now take for granted. After a couple more albums she pretty much went away, with only sporadic appearances in group or guest contexts.
Two years ago the Swedish-born artist came back with a largely improvisational collaboration with the Thing, a Swedish group inspired by her stepfather, jazz iconoclast Don Cherry. That bracing album has now proved a table-setter for her real return, Blank Project, her first solo album in 16 years.
As the title implies, it's something of a blank slate, or at least feels as fresh and brash as the arrival a quarter century ago. The title song is about the tug of war for place and identity in a relationship, but the notions are just as applicable to an artist finding her place. She's approaching 50 now, so while the tone is mature and considered, but still retaining a brash restlessness and refusal to settle that was her youthful hallmark.
The album finds her collaborating with English duo RocketNumberNine and produced by English electronic figure, FourTet, the overall approach being a spare, rhythm-centric backing for her vocals, sung and spoken, playful and somber.
While her renown faded over the years as she stayed in the shadows, her influence can still be felt in many quarters of bold artists making daring combinations of dance, rap and pop as vehicles for strong, aware lyrics. One of them guests here, Swedish star Robyn duetting with Cherry on the spirited "Out of the Black." Let's hope she doesn't let the slate go blank again.
Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Album: Small Town Heroes
Release Date: Feb. 11
Songs: "St. Roch Blues" "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)"
Alynda Lee Segarra, who for all purposes is Hurray for the Riff Raff, is getting labeled a protest singer. But that tells you something when someone is thought unusual and forceful simply because she sings about the world she sees. Which is not to say that there is no protest aspect to the song "St. Roch Blues," an account of a teenager's murder spree in her New Orleans neighborhood and the centerpiece of the new Riff Raff album "Small Town Heroes."
She rhymes "People are dying" and "I feel like crying" as if it was the most romantically melancholy thing to say, which just deepens the impact of the couplet chorus, a truly emotional response, not a slogan or call to action per se. It's a perfect interweaving of documentary and art, each side making the other stronger.
The album's title and songs along the lines of "Crash on the Highway" — not to mention the common-people celebration of the band name — might bring Bruce Springsteen to mind, if the folky Americana sounds don't. There's also a clear nod to the Band, whose Levon Helm is memorialized in "Levon's Dream." But this is neither old-timey, nor old-timers music. It's shares as much spirit with young Lorde as with just-departed Pete Seeger.
And though she's based in New Orleans, this is not "New Orleans" music per se. Rather it draws on a full, varied life: She was raised in the Bronx and after running away at 17 lived a vagabond life around the country before settling in the Crescent City, eventually joining the vibrant world of street musicians and then the more formalized pursuit of a musical life. With a revolving cast of support, she has made several albums now as Hurray for the Riff Raff, building a colorful, confident artistry. This one has the feel, and the buzz, of a breakthrough, aided by her now being on the ATO label, founded by Dave Matthews with a roster that includes My Morning Jacket
Not everything is topical. The frisky country-esque "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)," among others, is about feeling. But then what's more topical than that? Nothing to protest here.
Artist: Romeo Santos
Album: Formula, Vol. 2
Release date: Feb. 25
Songs: "Odio (feat. Drake)", "Propuesta Indecente "
Romeo Santos, the "King of Bachata" music, returns with Formula, Vol. 2, his follow up to Formula, Vol. 1. The album's single "Odio" (Hate), already had a No. 1 debut on several Billboard charts; the song features Drake.
Santos, who a 17-time finalist in 14 categories including Artist of the Year for the Billboard Latin Music Awards, is back with an arsenal of music in the style of bachata, the Afro-Latino genre with its roots based in the Dominican Republic. While these sounds have been heard for many years, it's Santos' smooth vocals stands on their own. Then when you add collaborations with artists such as Nicki Minaj and Drake what you get a very modern spin that's made Santos a powerhouse of an entertainer resonating with millions of fans in a major way.
Santos' track "Propuesta Indecente" (Indecent Proposal) illustrates Santos' sound which works well in the bachata-style which he developed as part of the bachata boy band Aventura before going solo in 2011. Santos co-founded Aventura with his cousin Henry Santos and brothers Lenny Santos and Max Santos.
In "Odio" ("Hate") you hear the vocals of Drake's vocals and raps against the backdrop of the traditional bachata sounds: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, bongos and güira. Bachata music is really receiving a new audience and these collaborations also speak to the rise in the genre with Santos at the epicenter.
Artist: Ana Tijoux
Release date: March 18
Songs: "Vengo," "Los Peces Gordos No Pueden Volvar"
Ana Tijoux returns with "Vengo," another album that shows the French-Chilean's powerful raps in music that goes deep in theme, while having strong rhythmic appeal that's pointed, mesmerizing and stealth. Tijoux tackles ancestry, roots and mother earth in lyrics that really pop and give insights into the poetic mind of one of the most fascinating writers of her generation who is starting to reach a bigger audience thanks to her growing spotlight. Tijoux became more visible when the popular "Breaking Bad" series featured her music.
In the track "Los Peces Gordos No Pueden Volar" (The Fat Fish Can't Fly), Tijoux raps in a composition that has a jazzy/pop vibe in lyrics that speak to the injustices of life, In this rap you hear a concerned mother cautioning.
This album is the follow-up to Tijoux's critically acclaimed La Bala, which received Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations. The rapper, who was born to a French mother and a Chilean father in political exile during Pinochet's dictatorship, gives a refreshing, glowing worldview perspective that's reflected in her music.