Earlier this year Dashboard Confessional heartthrob Chris Carrabba flew to Jamaica to hook up with Brian Eno protégé Daniel Lanois, who cut his teeth on all those atmospheric Joshua Tree anthems U2 conquered the world with. Carrabba had already spent some time on the road with U2 — and, as Dusk and Summer (Vagrant) reveals, he seems to have had every intention of trading his acoustic emo-boy romanticism for something grander and more atmospherically anthemic, with Edge-y guitars and yearning vocals. He also invited along another singer who likes to emote — Counting Crow Adam Duritz, the secret spark in the emo canon — to join him on the plaintive piano ballad “So Long, So Long,” Dusk and Summer’s duskiest summer song.
Acoustic soulstress India.Arie seemed custom built for Grammy nominations back when she debuted in 2001. She won two, then two again for her follow-up, 2002’s Voyage to India. And then . . . nothing for four years. She’s back, working with longtime collaborators Mark Batson and Shannon Sanders on Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship (Motown), with remixes by Swizz Beatz, Jazze Pha, and Akon. Earnest as ever, and with nothing but good advice to offer about life and how to live it, India’s more than likely on her way to another round of nominations — or at least a couple zillion spins at your local Starbucks — even if sitting through the entire album is not recommended for anyone with anger management issues.
The Chicago rapper Shawnna, Ludacris’ favorite girl from the ’hood, has always spent more time flaunting her friends than her flow. If hip-hop albums were rated by number of cameos, then Block Music (Def Jam) would be damn close to a perfect 10. Pharrell, 8 Ball & MJG, Field Mob's Smoke, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, and Too Short are just a few of the guests who drop by for the afterparty. And when Shawnna’s on the mic herself, whether she’s being cute or nasty as she wanna be, she sounds like she wants to own that Dirty South thang. Good thing her dad, blues legend Buddy Guy, shows up to solo on a couple of tracks -- it keeps Luda and his Disturbing Tha Peace crew on their best behavior. For a glimpse of what happens when daddy’s not around, check out the disc’s hottest single, “Getting’ Some,” reprised from DTP’s last disc.
If you haven’t already picked up on my yen for a good cover tune, then you haven’t been reading this column. When it comes to singer-songwriters like Grant-Lee Phillips, the one-time leader of’90s one-hit wonders Grant Lee Buffalo, there’s only so much introspective poetics and/or confessional storytelling you really need. So it’s nice to get a little respite like nineteeneighties (Zoe/Rounder), a full disc of mostly acoustic interpretations of tunes from the titular decade by the Cure, R.E.M., New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Pixies. This is the stuff that made Phillips want to pick up a guitar in the first place. And the fun he has with these mostly familiar tunes is nothing if not infectious, especially if you’re already a Phillips fan.