Britney Jean is Britney Spears' eighth studio album and was released in late fall 2013. The album has been described by Spears as the most personal record from her catalog yet, and features collaborations with numerous producers including Sia Furler, will.i.am, William Orbit, and Naughty Boy. Spears co-wrote each track on the album, which is a concept album about the loneliness of pop life. Two singles have been released thus far, "Work Bitch" and "Perfume".
Us and Us Only picks up where Tellin' Stories left off and twists that album's virtues around. Where that record was essentially a stripped-down, straight-ahead collection, Us and Us Only dresses up the band's continually impressive songcraft in a moody atmosphere, borrowed in equal parts from Blonde on Blonde, Beggars Banquet, and the Chemical Brothers. The album unfolds in a haze of keyboards and subdued beats, and this murky veil never really lifts throughout the record, even as harmonics and acoustic guitars break through the mist every once and a while. Consequently, the album can initially seem a little amorphous, albeit intriguingly amorphous, filled with deep grooves and tantalizing sonic textures. Repeated plays reveal that Us and Us Only is merely a step below their previous high point of Tellin' Stories. If nothing is as immediately grabbing as "North Country Boy" or "One to Another," that's not a problem, since nearly every song works its charms with subtle grace and considerable muscle. "Forever" soon reveals itself as a minor masterpiece of swirling menace and swagger, while the Dylan inflections of "A House Is Not a Home" and "My Beautiful Friend" seem natural instead of grandstanding.
Goodrum has written songs that became hits for such performers as Kenny Rogers (What Are We Doin’ in Love), Anne Murray (You Needed Me), Steve Perry (Foolish Heart) George Benson (20/20), Toto, El Debarge, among others. This is his first album as a performer, and while nobody is likely to start thinking of him as a golden voice, it’s appealing to hear a good pop composer sing his own material. In this case it’s disappointing that Goodrum decided not to do any of his hits, singing instead eight of his mostly unrecorded songs, plus the sometime Chordettes and Harris-Parton-Ronstadt hit Mr. Sandman. The fact that Goodrum does all his own backup playing and singing, and even recorded the LP at his house, makes it a little sterile too. He nonetheless has a gentle touch as a songwriter—his tunes are full of sighs of regret—and his vocals bring to mind Michael Franks.
By 1988, Stevie Ray Vaughan, newly clean and sober, was playing with more conviction and clarity than ever before. This positive new direction resulted in 1989's In Step, his fourth and final Epic studio recording with Double Trouble. In Step reveals a newfound sense of depth in SRV's songwriting. And his trademark aggressive guitar playing is imbued with a cathartic intensity that kicks the band up to another level. In Step won Stevie Ray his second Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Recording and cemented his status as a guitar hero and an American music legend.
Nina Simone Sings the Blues, issued in 1967, was her RCA label debut, and was a brave departure from the material she had been recording for Phillips. Indeed, her final album for that label, High Priestess of Soul, featured the singer, pianist, and songwriter fronting a virtual orchestra. Here, Simone is backed by a pair of guitarists (Eric Gale and Rudy Stevenson), bassist (Bob Bushnell), drummer (Bernard "Pretty" Purdie), organist (Ernie Hayes), and harmonica player who doubled on saxophone (Buddy Lucas). Simone handled the piano chores. The song selection is key here. Because for all intents and purposes this is perhaps the rawest record Simone ever cut. It opens with the sultry, nocturnal, slow-burning original "Do I Move You," which doesn't beg the question but demands an answer: "Do I move you?/Are you willin'?/Do I groove you?/Is it thrillin'?/Do I soothe you?/Tell the truth now?/Do I move you?/Are you loose now?/The answer better be yeah…It pleases me…." As the guitarists slip and slide around her husky vocal, a harmonica wails in the space between, and Simone's piano is the authority, hard and purposely slow.