Lil Wayne, My Morning Jacket Release New CDs

Music critic Josh duLac looks at some of this week's new releases, including albums from Lil Wayne, My Morning Jacket and Solomon Burke.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

OK. Come with me to the future. In the year 3000, the music...

MIKE PESCA, host:

In the year 3000...

MARTIN: The music you now have in mp3 form will be available on compact playable discs...

PESCA: Playable...

MARTIN: People will collect these discs. At first, they will be sold in tiny cases. Then, those cases will be sold in absurdly long boxes. Humans, their every need served by robots, will no longer need for the ability to access songs. With the touch of a button, scientists will develop a tape housed in plastic cassettes on which audio can be recorded, but only if you don't punch in the little plastic thingy in the corner. After that, there will be no music, so we'd better enjoy it while we can. So doomsday, right?

PESCA: Three thousand...

MARTIN: To that end, we bring into our very bizarre conversation all of a sudden, Josh Freedom Du Lac of the Washington Post, on the line now to decipher new offerings this week - this New Music Tuesday. Hi, Josh.

Mr. JOSH FREEDOM DU LAC (Music Critic, Washington Post): It's a good day to talk about the bizarre, I think, with the albums coming out. Yeah.

MARTIN: Good, because that's kind of how we're feeling. I'm going to start with Lil Wayne. His new one is called the "Tha Carter III." We've been hearing a lot of hype about this for a long time, mostly from the artist himself. Does it live up?

Mr. DU LAC: No. Comes a little bit short. I mean, there's been so much build-up. You know, "Tha Carter III" was supposed to be the most anticipated hip-hop album of 2007. Check the calendar, it's 2008. It finally came out. You know? And Wayne is a - was really prolific last year. Actually released so many songs through mix tapes, and you know, guest appearances on other people's albums that Vibe magazine rated the top 77 Lil Wayne songs of 2007.

He didn't release a real album last year. So you know, a lot of buildup for this, and it falls a little bit short. I mean, he's kind of a, you know, I guess, a little bit unfocused, which is sort of part of his genius, but here, it doesn't necessarily serve him all that well.

MARTIN: I want to get a sense of what we're talking about. Let's play some. The single from - his new one is already number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Let's hear a little bit of "Lollipop."

(Soundbite of song "Lollipop")

LIL WAYNE: (Rapping) Shawty Wanna lic-lic-lic-lick me Like a lollipop Shawty Wanna lic-lic-lic-lick me Like a lollipop Shawty Wanna lick me Like a lollipop I let her lick the rapper

Shawty wanna thug Bottles in the club Shawty wanna hump You know I like to touch Ya lovely lady lumps Static

Call me So I can make it juicy for ya C-Call me S-so I can get it juicy for ya C-Call me S-so I can make it juicy for ya...

MARTIN: So what up with that auto tune reverb?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, you know, that's Lil Wayne's effort see if he can play in the crossover commercial sandbox. And you know , it actually works. That's a rare Lil Wayne song in which you actually know what the song is about. It's a - obviously a lewd ode to oral sex. I mean, most of the songs on this album, though, you know, you listen to them, and you listen to them, and you sort of study the lyrics, and you never do figure out what they're about.

And I think that's because Wayne will go into the studio without having written songs, and he'll just kind of rap whatever's in his weed-and-cough-syrup-addled brain. And you know, it comes out, and it's often surreal. Sometimes really fascinating, often really fascinating. But you know, he takes you on this really strange journey.

MARTIN: According to Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne is the best rapper alive. Agree or disagree?

Mr. DU LAC: Disagree. He's definitely the weirdest and most magnetic rapper alive.

MARTIN: Well, that. People dig magnetism.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, and weirdness, that counts for something, too.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Now, in that best rapper alive, do you count Tupac or not?

Mr. DU LAC: No, I do not. He's left the building, as far as I'm concerned.

PESCA: So you are not in the alive camp. All right, fine.

MARTIN: OK, let's segue here, take a big turn, and talk about My Morning Jacket. "Evil Urges" is the fifth album for this Kentucky quintet. Their last two albums made them media darlings. Everyone was talking about them, especially NPR. Does their ascent continue with this one?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, it's definitely a big jump forward in terms of what they're trying to do. They've kind of wiped out a lot of the reverb that they've used on previous albums. They're - they got pigeonholed, I guess, as a southern rock band. I don't know what exactly people were calling them, but whatever you thought they were before, they're not now. I mean, they're channeling Prince on this album. There's a lot of experimentation. There's - you know, there's a song that I really like called "Librarian" in which they reference the Carpenters, which sounds like, you know, it's like a '60s British folk song, for crying out loud.

MARTIN: I think we've got that one...

Mr. DU LAC: They're all over the place.

MARTIN: I think we've got that one cued up. Let's hear some of "Librarian."

(Soundbite of song "Librarian")

MY MORNING JACKET: (Singing) Karen of the Carpenters, Singing in the rain. Another lovely victim of the mirror's evil way. It's not like you're not trying, With a pencil in your hair, To defy the beauty the good Lord put in there.

Simple little bookworm, Buried underneath Is the sexiest librarian. Take off those glasses and let down your hair for me...

MARTIN: So, as you said, you can take a little stroll through this album, and a lot of the songs sound like they might have been written and performed by different bands.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, I mean, there's prog rock on here, you know, very, very eclectic album. But when you listen to the thing in its entirety, it really holds together quite well. I mean, one of my friends has made the - come up the analogy that this is sort of like Radiohead's "Kid A." I don't necessarily know that I'd buy that. But you know, when all is said and done and the dust settles, this may end up standing as one of the, if not the, best rock album of 2008.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. DU LAC: Yes.

MARTIN: OK, you heard it here first, Josh Du Lac. So when people talk about My Morning Jacket, people put it in a conversation alongside Wilco as a good band. Or people just watch to see what they're going to come up with next. You can rely on them, basically, to give you something different. They're always kind of pushing it a little bit. What would you like to see from My Morning Jacket next album?

Mr. DU LAC: You know, it's too early for me to think about the next album because I'm still...

MARTIN: You're still thinking about this one.

Mr. DU LAC: Absorbing this one. You know, I think they can go it a lot of ways because of Jim James, his voice, you know. He has that great high tenor that we're hearing right now. But it's a really, really versatile voice. I mean, he can kind of make him sound like he's a front man for an AC/DC cover band. You know, he can sing a little bit like that guy from the Darkness. He can make himself sound like Prince on this album. So he has a really, really versatile voice, which I think they can - they can do a lot of things with that.

MARTIN: OK, so in the theme of bizarre-o New Music Tuesday, we started with Lil Wayne on the auto tune, which was bizarre. My Morning Jacket, a little Karen Carpenter reference, which is a little bizarre. And we will now turn to Solomon Burke. The new album is called "Like a Fire." What's bizarre about Solomon Burke's new album?

Mr. DU LAC: What's bizarre is it's called "Like a Fire." And Solomon, let me make this clear upfront, I think, is one of the greatest soul singers in history. Jerry Wexler has actually called him the best, period. This album is called "Like a Fire." Strangely enough, it's kind of missing the fire that he usually puts into his songs. So that's kind of strange.

MARTIN: So he has been doing some throwback albums in recent years. This one is mostly new songs, right? Is this a good direction?

Mr. DU LAC: I don't necessarily - you know, new songs, not a bad thing. You know, he had some heavy hitters come in, Eric Clapton, Keb Mo', Jesse Harris, who wrote some of those big songs for Norah Jones. But I think that the problem that I have here is that the material is a little too laid back, a little too breezy for Solomon. I mean, he's great at drilling down to emotional center of a song. Unfortunately, I think a lot of these songs there's just not much in the middle of them.

MARTIN: What about the whole entourage phenomenon? Keb Mo', Ben Harper perform on this. Eric Clapton writes tracks. And you see this a lot, older artists putting out new records having all these familiar voices come and collaborate. Do they have to do that for some reason?

Mr. DU LAC: I don't necessarily think they have to. But you know, in Solomon's case, it worked really, really well two years ago with "Nashville," which I think was one of the top albums of 2006. He, you know, Solomon, who had done some country music before Ray Charles, actually, you know, returned to that genre and released just an incredible album. He had a ton of people working with him on it.

I mean, Dolly Parton was a guest, Patty Loveless. You know, the great Buddy Miller produced it. But in that context, it worked. Here, it's - you know, a lot of these guys are Solomon's fans. I know that Keb Mo' is a fan. Ben Harper is a big fan of his. You know, I don't necessarily have a problem with it if the execution was better. You know, if the songs were better, I would say it's a great thing.

MARTIN: Let's...

PESCA: I think, though, I was just going to say, don't you think that it works the other way, where all these artists want to work with their musical idols? I mean, Maybe Clapton didn't get into music because of Solomon Burke, but Ben Harper very well may have.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, you know, it's a great opportunity for them to try to flex their muscle and try and show that they have the chops to, you know, to do something great with a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, which, you know, Solomon was inducted, I guess, what? 2001? You know, I don't really have a problem with that. It's just the execution has to be there and unfortunately in this case, I just think it falls a little bit flat.

MARTIN: OK, let's get a sense of this. This is a song called "A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray." It's by Solomon Burke, off the new album "Like a Fire."

(Soundbite of song "A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray")

Mr. SOLOMON BURKE (Singing): Though my heart is heavy with grief, my faith is strong. Bring me relief. Sometimes my dreams are closer. Sometimes my feelings are so far away.

You've got a minute to rest and a second to pray.

Now I've got to fall down on my knees. You can face the west, you can face the east. My tired eyes can see, the coming of a better day.

MARTIN: I mean, that sounds good to me, but I have to say, hearing it, it sounds really polished. And oftentimes, we're used to hearing people like Solomon Burke with a little bit more texture in the recording, you know, a little bit of fuzz. Does that clean sound, that polished sound, hurt the soul at all? Or I'm just being a little nitpicky?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, you know, I think you can have the polish and the grit sort of coexisting. You know, that is one of the better songs on the album. But I just think overall - my big problem here is that, you know, Solomon sings with so much conviction, and fervor, and just so much emotion in his voice. That just seems kind of like it's, I don't know, suppressed a little bit throughout this album. And I blame the material. I mean, you know, I've spent a lot of time listening to Solomon Burke's recordings, and you know, I think the material is critical.

MARTIN: When you say the material, what specifically would you have liked to have seen changed?

Mr. DU LAC: Well, part of it is the way the songs are framed, and you know, the sound, and style that they're using. I mean, it's just sort of this laidback, sort of breezy groove, kind of a blues/folk thing. I mean, Solomon can sing slow plaintive songs and just hammer them home. I mean, that "Nashville" album makes that incredibly clear. I just think that there's something about the way that these songs came together.

And I don't know if, you know, if it's these artists, if it's, you know, the material itself. You know, you think if Solomon Burke covered a Norah Jones song, if he covered "Don't Know Why," which Jesse Harris wrote, would it sound good? I don't know. It might just be a little too mellow, and maybe that's the problem. These songs - the sentiment is just a little too - a little too casual.

PESCA: I've got an assignment for you. Once you get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, how many great albums can you possibly come up with after that? I was looking over the list of everyone inducted. It seems like that doesn't really help you come up with good albums in the future. There are a couple exceptions.

Mr. DU LAC: Yeah, "Nashville," 2006, Solomon Burke. There's one. I do think it's difficult, but you know, I don't know. I don't know. I still think that there's - Solomon has some great albums left in him.

MARTIN: Josh Freedom Du Lac of the Washington Post. Hey Josh, thank you for helping us decipher these somewhat bizarre offerings for this New Music Tuesday. We appreciate it.

Mr. DU LAC: Thanks.

MARTIN: Have a good day.

PESCA: The Bryant Park Project is directed by Jacob Ganz and edited by Trish McKinney. Our technical director is Manoli Weatherall, ably assisted by engineer Josh Rogosin.

MARTIN: Our staff includes Dan Pashman, Ian Chillag, Win Rosenfeld, Angela Ellis, Lauren Spohrer, Caitlin Kenney, Paul Peshinger (ph), Zena Barakat and Laura Silver.

PESCA: Laura Conaway edits our website and blog.

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PESCA: Our senior producer is Matt Martinez. Sharon Hoffman is our executive producer.

MARTIN: My name is Rachel Martin.

PESCA: I am Mike Pesca. We are online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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Tha Carter III [Deluxe Edition]

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Tha Carter III [Deluxe Edition]
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Lil Wayne
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2008

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Evil Urges

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Evil Urges
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My Morning Jacket
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Red
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2008

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Don't Give Up on Me

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Don't Give Up on Me
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