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New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 12/3

The Devin Townsend Project
Album – Addicted
5/5 stars
By Johnathan Newman

Devin Townsend is a god in the world of music.

He has had a music career spanning 24 albums, first beginning with his vocal work for Steve Vai on his “Sex and Religion” album in 1993. He has released albums under his own name, as well as with his band Strapping Young Lad. Having disbanded both bands, he took some time off to discover his roots and sober up. During this period of soul-searching, he wrote 60 or so songs, each with four distinct styles of music. He decided to create a four album series, under the moniker of the Devin Townsend Project, and came back with the very deep and very heavy “Ki” album, which was the first album, and also set the stage for what was to come. Six moths later, he released “Addicted,” which is a return to form of sorts, with more accessible songs.

“Addicted” starts out with a simple but heavy riff and the lines “Hey! You’re awake,” possibly an allusion that his last album put some people to sleep, which keeps in with the tongue-in-cheek lyrics you normally find in his songs. But under these normally silly lyrics, there is a deeper message of the pain and power drugs and alcohol had on him. The songs on this album may be heavier, but they also have a poppy feel to them as well, a very pop-metal album if you will, which is probably why these heavier lyrics could not be taken as seriously. But it’s hard to miss the point when you hear a slow riff, with Devin wailing “I don’t want to save my soul now. I don’t want to lose control. And even if it takes a lifetime to learn … I’ll learn.” It’s very melancholic, showing us he’ll try to write sober music, but it still is catchy. But really, the crown jewels of the album are the last three songs, “The Way Home!” “Numbered!” and “Awake!”

My favorite track, and quite possibly one of the catchiest and most beautiful songs ever written, “The Way Home!” starts off soft with a whisper, slowly building power and rescinding into a powerful and moving track about wasting time being high. “Numbered!” opens with vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen singing slowly and beautifully about how we are numbered over a heavy guitar riff, with the song building then suddenly dropping off to a cappella of herself. This leaves us with the track “Awake!” which opens with the same opening line as the first song. The song sends us on a trip of all of his musical styles, until finally climaxing the whole album into a slow descent into tranquility after a heavy section very reminiscent of “Strapping Young Lad,” making this seriously one of the best albums of 2009 and one of the best Devin Townsend albums to be put alongside “Ocean Machine: Biomech” and “Accelerated Evolution.” This album will have you addicted.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 11/24

Debut ‘Album’ not redefinition of rock
Album – Girls
True Panther Sounds
4.5/5 stars
By DJ Goof

San Francisco’s Girls combines the dreamy, surf-rock of the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with modern day lo-fi indie pop. The band’s debut album, titled “Album,” consists of relatively simply arranged songs that are quick to grow on you. The album paints a portrait of the young, free-spirited allure of San Francisco with lyrics touching on love, longing and drug addictions. Band member JR White’s production on the album creates an expanding departed atmosphere that is pulled back to earth by lead singer Christopher Owens’ direct lyrics. Owens’ lyrics roughly touch on his sad, incredible childhood.

Owens was born a follower of the Children of God cult. He spent most of his adolescent years alongside his mother and the cult drifting around foreign countries where he was exposed to prostitution while shielded from the outside world. Among an assortment of other rules, the children were only allowed to listen to music that was accepted by the cult’s elders. He was given his first guitar by Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer, also a member of the cult, and performed songs on the streets to raise money. At the age of 16, Owens saved up enough to flee his situation and move to Austin, Texas where he fell in with its post-punk music scene. Eventually, he found himself in San Francisco where he met White and Girls was born.

The album opens with “Lust for Life.” Here, bee-bop background vocals lay the foundation for Owens’ playful delivery of “I wish I had a father / Maybe then I would have turned out right.” This leads into “Laura,” an upbeat pop song that eventually opens up into a spacey jam of lead guitar and ambient vocal effects.

“Hellhole Ratrace” is a slow, genuine tune about pushing forward. Owens sings, “I don’t want to cry my whole life through / I want to do some dancing too / So come on and dance with me.” As the song progresses, distorted guitars and high pitch synthesizers rumble in as a backdrop but Owens’ tone remains cool and casual. The slight tension between the two keeps the song in focus for its near seven-minute length.

“Summertime” is another one of the gems that make up “Album.” Here, JR’s production offers layering effects that continually transform the song’s otherwise simple arrangement.

“Album” is not a redefinition of rock by any means. Instead, it is a perfectly packaged collection of familiar sounds and sincere themes that is sure to squeeze its way into a few top 10 lists before the year’s end.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 11/5

Mariah’s ‘Memoirs’ nearly perfect
Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel – Mariah Carey
Island Records
4/5 stars
By Mir.I.am

For almost two decades, Mariah Carey has been a consistent force in R&B/Pop music, with worldwide sales of more than 200 million copies and more number ones than any other solo artist.

The success and record-breaking achievements have made some wonder if Carey is still motivated and capable of making good music.

With Carey’s latest effort, “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,” she once again proves she is able to adapt and remain relevant in an ever-changing industry, while staying true to herself.

Just 18 months ago, Carey released the underwhelming and underperforming “E=MC2,” but she has picked herself up again, delivering one her best albums.

“Memoirs,” written and produced exclusively by Carey, Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, takes us on a musical journey through the ups and downs of love.

Together, the three manage to produce a cohesive blend of the urban pop mid-tempos and ballads we have come to expect from Carey.

The album starts out with the confrontational “Betcha Gon’ Know.” It’s an indication of the witty lyrical content and creative mid-tempo production heard on the album throughout.

Next is one of the two singles the album could have done without, the horn and bass riddled “Obsessed.”

Carey claims the childish song is not about rapper Eminem, and while it does deliver its fair share of funny lines — example: “See right through you like you’re bathing in Windex” — the small-mindedness of it takes away its punch.

Surprisingly the other song chosen as a single, “I Want To Know What Love Is,” falls flat, as Carey adds nothing of value to Foreigner’s ‘80s classic.

Moving on, “Candy Bling,” contains finger snaps and soft keys that will remind you of The-Dream’s “I Love Your Girl.”

Carey sings of a time when love was young and pure. The lyrics are simple and gimmicky, but wasn’t everything that way back then?

As “Memoirs” continues on, Carey shines with some of her best ballads since “Butterfly,” including “H.A.T.E.U” (Having A Typical Emotional Upset), “Angel’s Cry” and the stellar “Languishing.” It’s clear that Carey’s powerhouse vocals and range are still perfectly intact.

“The Impossible” sounds like a ‘90s throwback, courtesy Blackstreet or Jodeci. Somehow Carey is able to tackle the sensual slow groove as her whispery vocals ride smoothly over the seductive beat.

The album does begin to wane with the cluttered and uninspiring “More Than Just Friends” and over-produced “Ribbon,” while the standouts on “Memoirs” are the tales of love gone awry and the anger and bitterness that ensue. The modern doo-wop Motown inspired “It’s A Wrap,” sing-along “Standing O” and the bold “Up Out My Face” all contain clever punch lines which could have been delivered by your favorite rapper.

Although not as versatile as some of her previous work, “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel” is very personal and full of songs that will walk you through each phase of love.

Carey has once again proven that she is able to continuously evolve and transform, while never losing her core, which makes her imperfections perfect.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 10/22

Bull City band an ‘academic super group’
Silence Fiction – The Beast
Chakra Con Music/Robust Records
4/5 stars
By Mike Alston

I always say that if you’re going to be a nerd, you shouldn’t apologize. Be proud!

Herein lies my justification for being unapologetically nerdy about some things. I suppose the same applies for being a band: if you’re going to be socially conscious, be unabashedly so.

Judging by their first full-length release, “Silence Fiction,” Durham-based band The Beast must agree. Almost every track is infused with laments, celebrations, and everything in between concerning matters of religion, race, politics, Bojangles, and other matters of pertinence.

And there’s no vacillating on some of these issues. The Beast is in your face about words like freedom and about race issues. It’s no wonder, then, that emcee Pierce Freelon is a visiting professor in the political science department at the UNC-Chapel Hill and the founder of the blog blackademics.org.

Additionally, The Beast’s recorded lyrics are less the product of writing than freestyling, so Freelon’s messages are genuine, if a little overbearing at times. But if issues don’t get you excited about music, then that’s okay too. The Beast is anything but a one-trick pony. I’ll get to that shortly, but their formative process is a prerequisite to understanding their sound.

The Beast could be called an academic super group. Freelon — whose mother is Grammy-nominated jazz singer Nnenna Freelon — needed a backing band for his thesis work in Pan African Studies at Syracuse University. He went asking at his alma mater, UNC-CH, and came back with three musicians all studying jazz.

While Freelon, Eric Hirsh, Pete Kimosh and Stephen Coffman were scoring the music for a film relating to the thesis work, they decided to stick together longer than originally intended. The result has been two EPs and an imminent LP that are refreshingly unique.

This distinctive sound is what, in my mind, makes The Beast noteworthy.

The band members are all students of jazz and manage to mix a vast array of musical influences. Their MySpace page will tell you they fit into the “Hip Hop/Jazz/Soul“ genre, but that is a bit disingenuous. The song “Translation” illustrates this point perfectly. It begins with an intense beat with Freelon rapping, but around the one-minute mark the band turns the song into what sounds like a salsa number, with some of the accompanying lyricism in Spanish. Such a tightly executed change of pace indicates quality musicianship and great production — courtesy of Sound Pure Studios.

The entire album is full of surprises similar to this one, as well as several points during which Freelon’s contagious energy culminates with a chant of “Whoo!”

Messages, influences, and production aside, this album is carried by its songs, each a unique story — some of them approaching didactic. Each song adds something new to the list of the things that The Beast does well, which in turn gives the album great replay value. “Silence Fiction” is long awaited but worth that very wait.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 10/7

Alice In Chains brings back old sound
Jonathan Newman

“Hope, a new beginning. Time, time to start living, like just before we died.” The opening riff, and line of the first new Alice In Chains album in 14 years does just that. It gives us hope that this 90s grunge band can move on after the death of vocalist Layne Stayley. This album is very nostalgic, bringing me back to the days when grunge ruled the music scene. Yet this is not just a simple grunge album — it is so much more. It shows us that a band can evolve and still keep the sound that made them famous. It shows us that we can fall in love with a band all over again. The first song of Black Gives Way to Blue, is quite possibly one of the most moving songs on the album, explaining essentially that this album is not the band you knew back then, but is a whole new beast. This song shows us we can have trust in them, to know that even though they can’t go back to where they started from, the same feelings that helped make their earlier music is still there. Hearing Jerry Cantrell’s voice and guitar work, mixed along with new vocalist William Duvall, who seems to channel Stayley’s voice, is a very haunting experience. Yet we never really get to hear much of the new vocalist, since he is mixed down a lot in most of the songs on the album. Yet when we do get to hear him sing, like on the song “Last of My Kind,” we see that he is truly a powerful vocalist, whose emotion seeps into every word that he sings.

While most of the songs on the album are heavy and very reminiscent of the old grunge scene, one of the best songs on the album is the acoustic track, “Your Decision.” It is a very mellow and very beautiful piece of song writing. Its lyrics can only be a tribute to Layne, as we hear Jerry mournfully sing lines such as “to feel the pain that spurs you on.” While this song may be one of the best, the track that is getting the most airplay, “Check My Brain,” is one of the weakest songs on the album, as it seems to be made just for radio play. It just seems out of place, having a semi-upbeat song on a dark album like this.

Despite all my praise for this album, it does have some faults. Not all the songs are stellar, and not all the fans of its earlier work will like the new Alice in Chains. I really wanted to hear more of the new vocalist, but he was mixed down in a lot of the songs, so we primarily hear Cantrell’s voice. Overall, I still loved this album and can’t wait for the next one, where I’m sure they will grow even more.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 9/29

Yim Yames, Tribute To
4.5/5 stars
May F. Chung

While most new indie artists come up with new and innovative collections of songs and lyrics, others pay tribute to classic singer/songwriters who still influence bands today. Phosphorescent’s tribute to Willie Nelson with To Willie, Beck’s nod to The Velvet Underground & Nico with his Record Club project, and finally Jim James of the My Morning Jacket fame with his project to the late, great George Harrison with Tribute To.

By far the most emotive and sincere tribute out of the aforementioned records, Yim Yames (as he monikers himself on this EP) creates an atmospheric twang sound all his own as he transforms Beatles and Harrison solo songs into almost different songs entirely. Recorded within days after George Harrison’s death in November 2001, Jim James played into a borrowed eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder and shared his introspective tribute. James’ interpretation of Harrison standards like “My Sweet Lord” and “All Things Must Past” are as unique as they are sobering and melancholy. A lone acoustic guitar, an occasional banjo and ghost-like backup vocals are all Jim James uses to cope with the lost of the former Beatle.

The record begins with probably the most solemn Beatles song Harrison ever wrote, “Long, Long, Long.” A quiet and slow song in its own right, Jim James’ cover captures the essence of the song with a few chord strums and string-picks going into a staccato in the chorus as his voice strains as he sings, “So many tears I was searching / So many tears I was wasting / Oh, oh.”

The record goes on with a lesser-known Harrison hit “Behind that Locked Door,“ although James’ cover is taken in a much different context than the original. His version is less romantic, but seems more consoling. His ethereal voice and slow tempo make this track hauntingly beautiful yet comforting. The same sentiments can be said for another underappreciated Harrison song, “Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll),” which both appear on Harrison’s All Things Must Pass disk.

In an approach all his own, Jim James’ rendition of a Beatles-Harrison classic “Love You To” replaces the psychedelic sitar with a much more heartfelt banjo. The strongest songs on the EP remain Harrison’s own most-listened-to solo material. Jim James’ “My Sweet Lord” still resonates with “Hallelujah, hallelujah / Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,” except instead of a more joyful disposition they are eerie and despairing, but gorgeous nonetheless. “All Things Must Past” completes this EP – just as our own personal troubles and turbulences affect our lives, Jim James’ cover reminds the listener of better times and overcoming sorrow, just as he does with the passing of perhaps one of his favorite artists. James does everything right by the late George Harrison; upon listening to this CD, any fan of the Beatles or George Harrison or music in general will believe so too. His heart, his confused feelings and his doleful voice immediately shine and open the listener’s ears to a very special tribute that is unlike any other.

A portion of the proceeds from this record will be donated to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 9/15

The Black Crowes get lost only to find something better with ‘Before the Frost’
4.5/5 stars
DJ Zuul

A swagger. A straw hat. A red blues guitar. Disco dance moves. A sly grin.

You’ll find all of it on Before the frost … Until the Freeze. The album boasts some of the best cuts the Black Crowes have to offer but better.

The new addition of Luther Dickinson (of North Mississippi Allstars) is present from the first guitar twang to the wanton lyrics of the last tracks. This is not the Black Crowes of the 1990’s; this is somewhere
better.

The album’s first track, “Good Morning Captain,” is a sure sign that the 20 track album is more than just good ole’ southern music.

It’s definitely blues but the piano chops are pop, the lyrics country, and the guitar a very distinct brand of rock, as only the Robinson brothers can do.

But don’t let the order fool you. The album is ripe with everything from country to disco, as evident on “I Ain’t Hiding.”

The reverberated vocals of Chris Robinson is perfectly paired to a syncopated beat and only matched by electric guitar riffs mid-song. This is Black Crowes hip hop, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the club scene picked up the track which champions late night escapades, “keep on rocking ‘cause it’s not even four.”

If the disco beats weren’t shocking enough to fans, “Garden Gate” will either upset a mash of headbangers or delightfully surprise those with country tendencies. The song could not be more country, but shies away from a pop feel instead opting for a folksy one.

The album in whole was recorded live in Levon Helm’s barn-studio, and perhaps that’s where this song belongs: to breezy barnyard doors occupied by wandering fiddlers.

The singer is awaiting a secret love, truly one that fans with understand. Perhaps, like the Black Crowes, they will shed their hardcore southern rock shells for a more tender country one, and thus proceed to the beautiful simplicity that is track 15, “Greenhorn.”

The most eclectic of the mix is the instrumental “Aimless Peacock.” The song is a psychedelic mix of sitar, harmonica and violin. It’s a magic mix of a culture infusion: not Irish, not Indian, not country and not quite just a jig. If you follow this track with “Roll Old Jeremiah” or even “Appaloosa,” listeners will find themselves back in the early 70’s, where the rock roots of the Black Crowes bleed through the new electric funnel sound that pervade all tracks.

On the whole, the album is testament to the creative genius that is the Black Crowes. Before the Frost … Until the Freeze is a sonic backdrop of soul-infused rock.

It’s part Crow, part Rolling Stones, and part Grateful Dead. Hardcore followers claim favorites off the big three, the former albums The Southern Harmony, Three Snakes and One Charm, and Amorica.

They will need to make room for one more.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Thursday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 11/12

Robert Earl Keen – The Rose Hotel
4 out of 5 stars
by Sweet Annie Rich

Robert Earl Keen has been a driving presence in Americana for the past 15 years, at the very least, and his latest offering “The Rose Hotel” only further cements his place in the alt-country pantheon.  While none of these songs are the next “The Road Goes On Forever,” it’s an album of solid Keen material that’s bound to become part of the drunken singalongs that are his live shows.

It’s certainly not a new outing for Keen, but at this point in his career straying too much from the beaten path would detract from his essence as an artist.  The title track is exactly what an opener should be – it’s catchy, mid-tempo, with an infinitely singable chorus.  But as always with a good Keen song there’s an undercurrent of sadness that keeps the twang authentic.

It’s this turn of phrase that keeps Keen fans coming back for more and makes even the most die-hard anti-country advocates stop and listen.  “Throwing Rocks” starts out like any other lazy good-time song but immediately turns on itself halfway through, going from rollicking love song to rolling story of revenge.  As such it’s a standout on a disc full of solid songs.

Keen pays tribute to his forebears appropriately, covering Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes” with a chunky bass line.  “The Man Behind the Drums” is a pure meta-country ode to Levon Helm.  It’s a refreshing sense of humility that Keen possesses in regard to these legends, as if he realizes that some put him on their level but knows in his heart of hearts that he can only look up to them.

Some songs don’t quite hit the emotional apex.  “Goodbye Cleveland” ought to be every bit the weeper, but something about the way Keen stretches out the words of the chorus just makes it another candidate for rowdy singing along, which is exactly what this song shouldn’t be.  Some songs are played for the laughs, which is always fun, but “10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar” still doesn’t seem to reach the funny bone quite like previous gut-busters (“The Great Hank” comes to mind).

As a whole, “The Rose Hotel” is fun, relaxed, and at turns surprising.  Keen’s attitude is best summed up in the song “Something I Do,” which with a chorus of “I kinda like just doing nothing, it’s something that I do,” encapsulates the easy and familiar feeling that fans have come to know and love.

Categories
New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 11/19

Other Truths dares you not to hum along
4.5/5 stars
by DJ Matticus Rex

Do. Make. Say. Think. A list of instructions; suggestions, perhaps. Sound strange to you? Well, welcome to

post-rock, where the music is almost as strange as the band names. For a genre this obscure, an introduction is in order; most people have never heard of it, and many who have still have no clue what it is, so don’t feel bad if it takes a bit of explanation.

Post-rock is, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge) “the use of ‘rock instrumentation’ for non-rock purposes.” There are rarely any words. Post-rock is what you listen to when you want music, but you also need to be able to think about other things, or when you don’t want to think at all. It lacks the aggressive demand for attention of most popular music, and that can be a welcome change for many.

Toronto natives Do Make Say Think, whose sixthalbum “Other Truths” came out October 6th, are considered forefathers of the genre, alongside bands such as Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. I’ll be honest; I’d listened to them quite a bit, but I had never quite “clicked” with their music until this release. They’ve often been criticized for being minimalistic, boring, and repetitive, and until now I would have agreed wholeheartedly. This album, however, is something different. I can no longer step away from my iPod. My personal relationships have suffered because of this album, and strangely, I don’t mind. It’s just that good, and I hope I can explain these four tracks that stretch about 43 minutes well enough that you’ll understand why.

Perfumes are described as having sets of “notes,“ which unfold slowly and work together to make a (hopefully) pleasing blend. Many of DMST’s songs could be described using the same metaphor (though, incidentally, more literally). Track one, aptly named “Do,” begins with a lone, undistorted electric guitar picking out an achingly beautiful melody. One by one, more instruments are added as both volume and anticipation build to a climax, as is common in post-rock. Several of these climaxes come in quick succession, and then the track begins to devolve in an orderly fashion to a serene, ambient electronic melody, eventually fading to a close.

“Make” begins (gradually, as usual) with a pseudo-European tribal feeling that is realized several minutes into the piece with a low chanting. The track continues its journey with a growing “rock” vibe and builds to the album’s climax (which, as in life, comes in the center), but just when you think you’ve caught on, the track changes direction and slows down, ending in a slow dirge of horns and quiet guitars.

Twin pieces “Say” and “Think” depict a much more pensive and haunting scene, and while they more often slip into repetition, they never truly become a bore (even to my wife, whose idea of being driven to insanity involves being forced to listen to old Do Make Say Think on repeat). These tracks are mellow, but still lend themselves to further inspection for their complexities if one has the time. “Think” draws to a close at a haunting whisper, providing a perfect end to an album that accomplishes the goal of all cerebral music: to portray life as it is, in all of its raw comedy and tragedy.

Give this album a try. Who knows, you might be able to add a new genre to that “Music” block on your Facebook.

88.1 WKNC DJ Pick of the Week is published in every Tuesday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

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New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 9/8

Whitney “The Voice” Houston delivers with new album

Released 8/31/09
4.5/5 stars

When Whitney Houston first burst onto the scene in the mid 80s, she was the pinnacle of musical perfection. Modelesque looks, catchy songs, style, poise, undeniable stage presence and most importantly, a voice with limitless potential. Success surely followed, as Houston eventually sold more than 170 million albums, broke #1 records set by the Beatles and Elvis, earned more than $500 million worldwide at the Box Office, influenced a generation of singers and became the most awarded female artist of all time.

In the seven years since Houston’s last album Just Whitney, the musical landscape has changed a great deal. Record sales are at an all time low, the digital era has become even more dominant and vocal talent is no longer required to have a hit record, auto-tune and nakedness are. Just as the record industry has changed, Houston’s personal life has not gone without its share of transformations as there was the end of a tumultuous marriage to bad-boy Bobby Brown and stints in rehab.

With the release of Houston’s long-awaited “comeback” album, I Look To You, critics and fans alike have asked the question, “is there room for Whitney Houston in this new age?“ The answer is quite simply, yes.

I Look To You begins with the catchy first single “Million Dollar Bill,” produced and written by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats.  "Million Dollar Bill" is an up-tempo, bass driven track, with a retro-disco vibe and is one of the albums best.

Next is the Danja produced, up-tempo, synth-driven “Nothing But Love.“  Houston shares how she has nothing but love for those who have hurt her in the past, while accepting responsibility for her own actions. Other up-tempos include the club worthy Euro-pop “For the Lovers” and the Leon Russell penned classic, made famous by Donny Hathaway, “A Song For You” which starts out as a piano-driven ballad, but soon turns into an electronic techno-smash.

With I Look To You, Houston sings some of the best mid-tempos of her career including the R.Kelly written, Tricky Stewart produced, “Salute,” “Worth It” and the Johnta Austin penned Stargate produced “Call You Tonight.“ "Salute” is the ultimate brush-off anthem done with class, while “Worth It” is the perfect love song reminiscent of Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”. The Stargate produced, contemporary “Call You Tonight” has Houston singing to a potential love interest that she doesn’t have to time connect with.  Any of the aforementioned would be viable singles.

Houston, known for her ability to interpret songs, rather than writing, pens two of the albums island-influenced mid-tempo’s, along with R&B singer Akon. The duet “Like I Never Left”, sounds as though it could be directed to the a past lover or the to public in a plea to love her like she never went away. With “I Got You”, Houston talks of love and loyalty and how neither distance nor time can separate loved ones.

Houston is a self-described “balladeer’, so naturally an album from the legendary Icon wouldn’t be complete without a couple of power ballads. With both “I Look To You” and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,“ Whitney comes from a spiritual place, sharing that when she was lost, it was her faith that brought her through.

Houston covers all bases with an album that will make you want to dance, cry, make love, feel inspired and everything in between. Vocally, the highs may not be as high and the lows are lower, but Houston still delivers and is able to convey each song with the feeling,  power and emotion as only she can. If you are expecting “The Bodyguard” era vocals, you will be disappointed. Whitney’s voice has undergone its share of changes, but is still better than the majority of who you’ll hear on the radio.

Houston and "industry father” executive producer, Clive Davis have managed to blend experience with relevance, in keeping with tradition of the classic Whitney we know and love, while remaining fresh and current. Overall, I Look To You is the perfect blend of ballads, mid-tempos and up-tempos from arguably the greatest female vocalist of all time. Welcome back, Whitney.

88.1 WKNC DJ Pick of the Week is published in every Tuesday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.

“Saturday Night Soul and R&B” with host Mir.I.am airs weekly from 9 to 11 p.m.