Listening Post: Mary J Blige/Benjamin Booker/Jon Mayer/Dan Auerbach
Our weekly wrap of new music.
Mary J Blige
Strength Of A Woman
When Mary J Blige sings "you got to love yourself if you really want to be with someone else, you got to feed yourself before you feed somebody else, you got to stay open and not be foolish because everybody don't mean you well", you know you are listening to someone who has discovered self-empowerment through trial and tribulation. One of four collaborations — and underscored by a poignant rap and arrangement by Kanye West — Strength Of A Woman is Blige paying respect to the kind of faith and belief that rises above egotism and personality. The backbone of her faith is beautifully expressed in Hello Father and the gently powerful supplication of Telling The Truth but, as a soul singer whose body of work is as imposing as Aretha Franklin's, this is an album that should resonate with both women and men.
Hot soul with a bullet. That's Benjamin Booker for you: a young gospel lover with a punk sensibility. Witness, Booker's second album, is a hell of a record. It's a smorgasbord of American roots music all tightly held together with Booker's cutting fuzz guitar, the the work of someone fired up with a newfound political passion. Booker wrote much of the album in Mexico, watching racial chaos in his native USA unfold from a distance, and his despair shows. There are lovely quiet numbers — The Slow Drag Under, with its echoes of 'isolation' — and plenty of rockers. All Was Well sounds like Reverend Gary Davis with a garage band, an updated gospel tune delivered with venom. Even Mavis Staples gets in on the action, whooping it up on the glorious Witness. Powerful stuff.
The Search for Everything
Even though The Search for Everything comes off the longest gap in John Mayer's recording career – it's his first in four years – don't expect any drastic changes. It's pretty much standard Mayer here, gentle country mixed with slow ballads and oh-so-smooth funk. There's an additional Grateful Dead tinge as well, a by-product of his time spent with Dead satellite group Dead & Company. It's easy to spot on tracks such as Roll it on Home and theme from The Search for Everything. Yet he still brings the soul, most notably on opener Still Feel Like Your Man and the funky Helpless. It does have its weak points. Some numbers are a bit too laid back for their own good, while Mayer's romantic confessions get tiring (a common John Mayer problem, as fans know).
Waiting On A Song
Whoever would have guessed that the driving force behind the Black Keys would ever be waiting on a song. But here it is in black and white, the title song of his new album struggling to find the words and music for a song that eventually manifests itself as an effortlessly countrified piece of radio friendly ear candy. Auberch sounds as if he needed to break out of his rock-rootsiness with a sound that is more poppy — Malibu Man doesn't quite hit the mark that it's soulful funkiness intends to — but there are some classic retro-sounding numbers where he has called on pals such as John Prine, Duane Eddy and Mark Knopfler to conjure up a sound that points to the direction he intended without necessarily nailing it as anywhere near as original as what he has produced with the Black Keys. Maybe next time.
- Sunday Star Times