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Pop reviews — week of April 13

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The Truth

Ledisi

Despite multiple Grammy nominations, being one of Michelle Obama’s faves and having a voice that is among the most beautiful you will hear today, Ledisi still hovers below the radar of mainstream listeners. Her latest studio album, The Truth, probably isn’t going to change that, but it’s a gem.

Ledisi’s voice is a multifaceted jewel that gives the album much of its sparkle: She’s bold but never brash, scats without overtrilling and can curl your toes with the bending of a single note. Even when she’s giving someone the emotional heave-ho, as on Like This, you’ll be more mesmerized by her performance than the pathos of the situation: If only all relationships could end with a Ledisi soundtrack.

Ledisi co-wrote all but one of the songs on The Truth, a rich blend of grown-folks R&B — sensual, soulful and heartfelt, without the oversexualized content, brand placements and ridiculous lyrics. On 88 Boxes, she sings about the pain of a union ending. The title track is another sweet-sounding song with a bitter message.

But it’s not all sugarcoated gloom. She’s irresistible when she’s doing the wooing, with songs like the up-tempo Blame You, the funky Rock With You and Missy Doubt. The album’s best moment? Lose Control, where she almost outdoes Beyonce with this sultry bedroom romp.

— Nekesa Mumbi Moody

Associated Press

Updike

Adam Begley

John Updike was acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of his generation, the poet laureate of middle-class, small-town, Protestant America.

From the time he was a boy, submitting articles and drawings to school newspapers, until his 2009 death at age 76, he produced an endless stream of short stories, novels, essays, poetry and criticism.

Now, after five years at work in the Updike archives, Adam Begley has written an indispensable guide to the man and his work. A former books editor at the New York Observer, Begley approaches his subject from the perspective of a literary critic, focusing mainly on biographical material that illuminates the work.

As Updike himself often acknowledged, his life was the basis for his fiction, and Begley carefully documents the similarities, identifying in short stories from the late 1950s, for instance, the first glimmerings of adulterous feelings that Updike would explore in 1968’s Couples.

“The more Updike one reads, and the more one learns about his life, the more blatantly obvious it becomes that he was enthralled by the detail of his own experience,” Begley writes. Yet “he selected, he edited … sharpening the blur of daily life so that meanings began to emerge.”

Updike called it his “relentless domestic realism,” and it reached its apogee in the four novels about everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, each one set in a different decade against the backdrop of a changing America.

Begley, whose father, novelist Louis Begley, was a classmate of Updike’s at Harvard, is particularly well-suited for the job of biographer. He recounts a family anecdote about Updike visiting his parents and showing off his skills as a juggler to the toddler Adam.

Begley has remained a fan, yet his affection hasn’t blinded him to Updike’s shortcomings, including the oft-heard complaint that he objectified women. He sees Updike’s strengths and weaknesses, and presents the full measure of the man in this engrossing and fair-minded book.

— Ann Levin

Associated Press

Everlasting

Martina McBride

Of all contemporary country singers, Martina McBride seems the most well-suited to interpret classic soul tunes. She has shown repeatedly that she can wail with sass and find the depth in emotionally complex material.

Still, on Everlasting, McBride begs comparison with such giants as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke by taking on their most potent performances and material. Working with producer Don Was, who brings an understated R&B pulse to the songs, McBride leans on vulnerability and purity of tone rather than the growling, rapturous release of the originals.

McBride presents several impressive performances, turning Little Walter’s My Babe into a funky, sexy love song and Fred Neil’s Little Bit of Rain into a tender treatise on separation that lightens the dark tones of versions by Linda Ronstadt and Karen Dalton.

That said, these takes lack the fierceness of Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, or the ecstatic joy of Van Morrison’s Wild Night and Diana Ross on The Supremes’ Come See About Me.

McBride offers up pleasantly listenable versions of baby boomer standards on Everlasting, an album that will please her fans and spice up her concerts but won’t replace any of the originals for R&B fans.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press


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