New albums: Shelby Lynne; Action Bronson; Jon Regen

---- Excellent, --- Good, -- Fair, - Poor

ActionBronson-MrWonderful-600
Action Bronson: "Mr. Wonderful."

Shelby Lynne

I Can't Imagine

(Rounder ***)

Shelby Lynne was already a veteran when she won the Best New Artist Grammy for 1999's I Am Shelby Lynne. But the deserved acclaim for that album, which last year was reissued in a deluxe edition, did not translate into long-term mainstream success, and Lynne has settled into a career as an outsider. I Can't Imagine, her 13th album (not including a Christmas collection), is another in a string of earthy, forceful roots records.

Recorded mostly in Louisiana with her touring band, I Can't Imagine ranges from the swampy "Paper Van Gogh" to the country-rock rave-up "Down Here" to the introspective, stripped-down "Following You." It includes two songs written with Ron Sexsmith and several cameo vocals from Clarence Greenwood (Citizen Cope). But Lynne's powerful, husky alto is the star. Her voice is world-weary and thoughtful, earnest and natural. I Can't Imagine isn't a surprising record, but it's a confident, reassuring one.

- Steve Klinge

Action Bronson
Mr. Wonderful
(Vice/Atlantic ****)

Action Bronson is a big man with a big beard, a broad sense of humor, and an even grander sound on this, his major-label debut. He's had a chance to ease into a sort of cut-and-paste R&B-rap, having released indie albums like the silly spook-house vision of 2011's Dr. Lecter. Once menacing and off-putting, his jokes are now part of a vision in which Bronson plays the mescaline bandito/hero "riding the Harley into the sunset," as on the closing track, "Easy Rider," to an arrangement of dozy samples, loping beats, and dizzying guitar solos.

With a voice part chocolate and part sand, Bronson manages his palette of laid-back beats and delirious instrumentation like Herb Jeffries on his horse: with likable, cool command. On "City Boy Blues," Bronson mumbles weird, woeful blues over a jazz-bar groove. Hysterically fantastical lyrics (as in "Galactic Love" or "Terry") portray how eerily expressionistic he can get. Light piano and a repetitive rhythm on the snare set the tone for "Baby Blue." Bronson's back-and-forth between grainy, soulful singing and rapping comes across like a modern-day Todd Rundgren circa "I Saw the Light."

Action Bronson is so good it hurts.

- A.D. Amorosi


Action Bronson will play at 9 p.m. Sunday at Theatre of the Living Arts, 334 South St. Tickets: $30-$35. Information: 800-745-3000, www.Ticketmaster.com

 

Jon Regen
Stop Time
(Motema ****)

A pianist who started out in jazz, Jon Regen has gone on to establish himself as a master of smart, sturdily melodic pop with some rootsy shades - a cross between, say, Billy Joel and Randy Newman. Stop Time shows the onetime protégé of pianist Kenny Barron taking another major leap forward.

This time out, Regen works mainly in a trio format, with his piano accompanied by Elvis Costello's rhythm section. (Guitar appears on just two tracks, and producer Mitchell Froom provides some subtle keyboard coloring.) The stripped-down approach suits the nature of Regen's plainspoken and down-to-earth songs, enhancing their emotional immediacy and an urbane grace, reminiscent at times of Allen Toussaint, that the singer exudes throughout these easy-rolling performances.

"How the hell did I go so wrong?" Regen sings on the New Orleans-flavored title song, the album's liveliest number. But it's clear that, from the songs to the execution, Regen has made all the right moves.

- Nick Cristiano


Jon Regen will play at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Tin Angel, 20 S. 2d St. Tickets: $15. Information: 215-928-0770 or www.tinangel.com