January 21, 2020


By Kristi Kates | Dec. 10, 2016

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” – Glassnote

Donald Glover (stage name: Childish Gambino) offers a genre of hip-hop that’s evolved into something a shade or two different from anything you’ve heard before in that his infusions of ’70s rock, soul and funk are sifted in with more precise focus. “Zombies” is like Michael Jackson “Thriller”-lite with its spare synths and campy vibe, while “California” lives up to its name with its bright, convertible-ride notes; “Stand Tall,” while it falls into a few lyrical reruns at times, shows off Glover’s ability to fully construct an arrangement of voice and instruments that’ll keep you riveted until the end. ***

Various Artists – “The Hamilton Mixtape” – Atlantic

Even if you aren’t a die-hard “Hamilfan” of the musical, you’ll find this reimagined collection of tracks from the original score appealing primarily because of its artists. While the Broadway cast is fantastic on stage, these covers feature more familiar mainstream voices paying sharp, creative homage to the original songs; standouts include Kelly Clarkson’s interpretation of the observant “It’s Quiet Uptown,” The Roots’ extra-urban version of “My Shot” (with Busta Rhymes and fun.’s Nate Ruess) and Sia’s electro-take on “Satisfied” with help from the eminent Queen Latifah.  ***1/2

John Legend – “Darkness and Light” – Columbia
A dozen songs from John Legend are filtered through the expert ears of producer Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes) on this set, a collaboration that also fortuitously lined Legend up with the Shakes’ singer Brittany Howard, who contributes vocals (as do Miguel and Chance the Rapper.) The obvious highlights are the stadium-ready “Love Me Now,” which Legend co-penned with One Direction songwriter John Ryan, but it’s less-anticipated tunes like the quirky “Same Old Story” with its twisted vocoder and “Right By You” with its wounded resignation that really make an impact. ***

Original Television Cast – “Hairspray Live!” – Masterworks Broadway

Well, there are soundtracks like “Hamilton,” and then there are soundtracks like this one. While the intentions were probably good, considering the recent success of the similar live TV production of “Grease,” the cast here is somewhat subpar, as is the album. For every (great) Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Martin Short, and surprisingly skillful Derek Hough, you get a melodramatic Ariana Grande, an over-the-top Jennifer Hudson, and too-eager newcomer Maddie Baillio, who seems to have escaped from the talent portion of a Miss Teen pageant. *1/2


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