DAVE MATTHEWS & TIM REYNOLDS
Live at Radio City Music Hall
Matthews and guitarist Reynolds played gigs together in the days before fame struck, and last paired up for a record about 10 years ago. Here, their obvious musical chemistry is revisited in intimate versions of Matthews Band staples Crush, Grace Is Gone, Don't Drink the Water and Gravedigger, along with warm readings of Neil Young's Down by the River and Daniel Lanois' The Maker. The previously unrecorded Sister stands out here as the sort of sensitive-guy anthem Matthews excels at, while the more familiar Dancing Nancies rocks as hard as the meandering, eight-minute Lie in Our Graves does not.
Prince gets a pass because, well, he's Prince, a fact he likes to remind us of every so often with either a gangbusters tour or a throwdown performance at halftime of the Super Bowl.
But when it comes to his recorded output of late, his means of getting music to the people - either by including CDs with the purchase of concert tickets or by giving them away as freebies in a Sunday newspaper, a stunt he recently pulled in Britain - has shown far more creativity than the music itself.
Even if his comeback albums Musicology and 3121 helped lift him from his mid-to-late-1990s artistic dead-spin, they've failed to capture the public's imagination the way Prince did so freely at his 1980s creative peak.
So while Planet Earth is the best of Prince's recent efforts, it only shows glimpses of the genius that was once his Purpleness' hallmark.
It's not for a lack of variety. The album flirts with a number of Prince's most recognizable styles, from glittery pop to rock to R&B. But it doesn't push boundaries the way his albums once did.
It's a decent Prince album, which at this point might be the best you're going to get out of the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The best track is Mr. Goodnight which sounds like Prince remaking the Notorious B.I.G.'s Big Poppa. He's in classic ladies man form as he raps his come ons, enticing a woman by telling her, I've got a mind full of good intentions/and a mouth full of Raisinets, and later promising to screen Chocolat with her before hitting the pool. Now that's romance.
Mr. Goodnight exudes effortless, sexy charm, which is in short supply elsewhere on the record.
The album-opening title track is a clunky, if well-meaning, plea for the environment that begins with a simple piano and builds to a guitar implosion, but never finds its center.
It's not that Prince isn't having fun - Chelsea Rodgers is a full-on funk party that likely would be a blast live, and The One U Wanna C sounds straight off of Sign 'O' the Times - but you get the feeling he's simply spinning his wheels.
Prince is still Prince, of course, but Planet Earth will not be the catalyst for another purple reign.
THE NEW BOSSA NOVA
A few months ago Gilberto Gil performed at Carnegie Hall and played a memorable bossa nova version of the Beatles' When I'm 64. He remarked that a lot of Beatles songs were just right for bossa nova. It raised a question: How much can bossa nova accommodate? What are its fixed qualities? An acoustic guitar with some particular harmonic voicings and a leavened samba rhythm; an overall weightless feeling. Then what?