Sunday, July 13, 2014
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New Recordings: Robert Ellis, Jennifer Nettles, Jennifer Holliday

Robert Ellis: "The Lights from the Chemical Plant"
Robert Ellis: "The Lights from the Chemical Plant"
Robert Ellis: "The Lights from the Chemical Plant" Gallery: New Recordings: Robert Ellis, Jennifer Nettles, Jennifer Holliday

Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor

Robert Ellis

The Lights from the Chemical Plant

(New West ***)

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  • Robert Ellis is an exacting songwriter. On his third album, the Lone Star State native, now living in Nashville, goes to work with Tom Waits and Kings of Leon producer Jaquire King. He presents his detail-oriented narratives in a variety of settings, from bossa nova to bluegrass. As he flirts with jazz and honky-tonk, and faithfully covers Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years," Ellis is musically promiscuous but narratively precise. His nasal vocal delivery recalls Willie Nelson, but there's nothing casual about it; he's not the kind to leave a word or a note out of place. Is he "Texas' next great singer-songwriter," as Texas Monthly magazine recently declared him to be? Time will tell on that one. For now, he's a disciplined and demanding young talent, an old soul of 25 years whose best songs - like the title cut and especially the closer, a self-critical, non-sentimental and, frankly, depressing tune titled "Tour Song" - point to a promising future.

    - Dan DeLuca

    Jennifer Nettles
    That Girl
    (Mercury Nashville **1/2)

    This solo turn by the singer for the lightweight superstar country act Sugarland was inevitable. With her powerhouse voice and vivacious presence, Jennifer Nettles had already pretty much established herself as an individual star.

    For That Girl, Rick Rubin, the big-time, credibility-bestowing rock producer, does his best to lend Nettles some gravitas. He frames her in mostly acoustic-textured arrangements whose restraint is admirably matched by the singer (at least after the wailing melodrama of the opener, "Falling") and her songs - she wrote or cowrote all but one of the 11 tracks.

    The strategy works, to a point. The set tends toward slow to midtempo numbers that are more earnest than anything - the album could use more of the snarky cynicism and roadhouse jump that enliven "Know You Wanna Know." But there are some standouts: "Good Time to Cry" slips into an inviting, Dusty in Memphis-style soul groove, and Nettles manages to rescue "Like a Rock" from its car-commercial purgatory with a soul-inflected take that reminds you just how good the Bob Seger song really is.

    - Nick Cristiano

    Jennifer Holliday
    The Song Is You
    (Shanachie ***)

    Twenty-odd years have passed since her last secular album, but it's not as if Jennifer Holliday's presence hasn't been felt. During Broadway's original run of Dreamgirls, the Tony-winning actress/singer set the standard for belting out emotional songs of independence with "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going." With that ringing barnstormer, Holliday opened the door for a million vocal competition contestants, the best of whom, Jennifer Hudson, won an Oscar for the film of Holliday's hit musical.

    The 53-year-old diva didn't benefit as much from her Dreamgirls fame as Hudson, but Holliday is three times the vocalist when it comes to both thunder and quiet nuance. (She doesn't get enough credit for the latter.) The native Texan relies on her roots in the church and gospel for her husky, holy inflection. "Are You Leaving Me?" is a bold proposition (who could, with that hypnotic pleading of hers?). Then Holliday turns around and offers a warm and intimate embrace (on Bacharach/David's "The Look of Love") and a sassy, jazzy, big-band feel in the title track. This is a well-rounded, much-welcome return to form.

    - A.D. Amorosi

     Top Albums in the Region

    This Week Last Week

    Locally   Nationally   Locally   

    1   1    Various Artists Frozen   2    

    2   2    Various Artists   2014 Grammy Nominees  -

    3   3    Beyonce Beyonce   3    

    4   8    Bruce Springsteen High Hopes   1    

    5   4    A Great Big World  Is There Anybody Out There?  -

    6   7    Young the Giant Mind Over Matter   -    

    7   6    Kidz Bop Kids Kidz Bop 25    4    

    8   5    Lorde Pure Heroine   6    

    9   11    Imagine Dragons Night Visions   9    

    10   9    Katy Perry Prism   12    

    SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 2/8/14 © 2014


     On Sale Tuesday

    Broken Bells, After the Disco;

    Tony Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce;

    The John Butler Trio, Flesh & Blood;

    Mary Lambert, Welcome to the Age of My Body

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