CD reviews: Mariah Carey, Brat Pack, Al Jarreau

Posted at 07/27/2014 10:13 PM | Updated as of 07/28/2014 12:54 PM

Brat Pack
"Brattitude"

A bassist, a drummer, a pianist and a female vocalist who’s also a mean bass player are the four characters behind Brat Pack. Representing the Philippines, they landed among the top 10 out of over 100 blues bands from around the world which competed in this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, USA.

They’re the first Asian band to do the rare trick. Even rarer, they did it without a lead guitarist in tow who happens to be a standard fixture in conventional blues-oriented outfit. Think Cream to The Black Crowes to local trio Bleu Rascals and there’s the rub.

Brat Pack’s recently released debut album provides clues on how they surmounted imagined and real challenges. In eight songs, the band tapped into their roots in piano-driven jazz, sautéed it with the blues then flavored it with hot soul plus a dash of old-school Pinoy rock attitude.

“Kaskasero’ is a major highlight with its pay back to Maria Cafra’s rak en rol and forward push for today’s world beat a-go-go. Opening track “Kurakuchichas” swings high and low on the subject of government "kurakot."

The band shows off its individual chops in “Bust Out The Light” which starts and expands on an ‘80s soul-jazz motif. Title track “Brattitude” is one anthemic firecracker that shoots off in a lot of cool trajectories but keeps circling back to its original bluesy groove.

For recording freshmen, Brat Pack draws solid music from “old folks’ favorites.” The little girls, the ageing fogeys and their ladies will understand.

*****

Al Jarreau
"My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke"

“Smooth jazz” has a derogatory connotation unless it’s the marvelous Al Jarreau on the mic. Even the slickest music gets respectable when Jarreau sings, scats or otherwise spins his supple voice around the material.

In his latest album, Jarreau commemorates the music of old pal George Duke who passed away last year. Keyboardist Duke himself was no small-time patsy having pushed some boundaries at the junction of ‘70s rock and jazz. Jarreau actually got his start with Duke’s jazz trio in the late ‘60s.

So when the 70-year old maverick Jarreau pays tribute to his great friend, he is joined by other artists who have previous connections with the late George Duke. Dianne Reeves, Duke’s cousin, adds glossy counterpoints to Jarreau’s peculiar lead vocals in the quarreling lovers’ tale of “Someday.” Marcus Miller submits a squelchy sing-song and a pygmy rap to Jarreau’s straight reading of “Churchyheart.” Jeffrey Osborne teams up with Jarreau in a funky jam of “Every Reason To Smile/Wings of Love.” Duke himself tickles a clutch of warm keys in “Bring Me Joy” brought to life via the magic of studio technology.

Bassist extraordinaire Stanley Clarke leads the backing musicians and one of four producers behind the album. There’s some serious fusion going on in this laudable project and Jarreau promises it’s just the beginning of bigger things to come.

*****

Mariah Carey
"Me. I Am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse"

Mariah Carey’s a pop superstar, right? So, at least a billion people must know her by face or voice alone. Therefore, there’s something odd with the title of her latest album. Like, is it fair to introduce the best known pop star this side of Beyonce as a slippery nobody?

It’s likely that Mariah’s handlers want to air-brush her two-decade old reign at the top with a wisp of mystery. Next question: Does the thrill of the new seep into her music now?
Yes and no. No, essentially because Mariah’s so completely secure in her immense talents that it’s hard to imagine her going out of her comfort zone.

“Thirsty,” "Faded” and “Cry” off the new album, Mariah’s 13th recording, recall standard honeyed vocals soaring above streamlined R&B rhythms and billowing strings from her previous releases starting with 2005’s "The Emancipation of Mimi."

Yes too to the new because Ms. Carey and her producers attempt concessions to novelty in the form of the floorboard rattling disco of "You Don't Know What to Do," the Broadway-ish flair in "Supernatural" and a gospel-tinged cover of George Michael’s "One More Try."

Then again, ‘Me. I Am Mariah..” concludes with “The Art of Letting Go.”

Of course, Mariah isn’t leaving the pop music scene any time soon. She still got the flavor to remain a class act all by herself.

*****

Various Artists
"Walking on Sunshine" OST

The film “Walking on Sunshine” is a feel-good musical centered around troubles between two sisters on the eve of wedding day. It stars singer-songwriter Leona Lewis and its accompanying soundtrack features Katrina and The Waves’ massive hit from which the movie borrowed its title.

The cast led by Lewis performs other summer fun hits from The Bangles, Roxette, Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper. Only a cover of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” hints of summertime creepy blues. It’s ‘80s pop alright celebrated via time-bound synths and drum machines.