taking a listen

reviews of local & state music CDs

L Shape Lot Looks Like Snow

L Shape Lot’s ( Looks Like Snow should serve as a reminder to country music hopefuls that, among the heartfelt balladry, the genre should still be able to get down like it used to. Between the spirited vocal harmonies created by Eric Miller’s commanding baritone vocals and Alex Lanier’s more traditional twang, there lies an intonation of an album that revels in its roots. It takes the most beloved qualities of Union Station, Alabama and the Del McCoury Band — albeit not quite as polished, of course — and rolls them into a comprehensive roots album that, in an overall sense, almost defies classification. They’ve dropped the mandolin that helped to define their sound for the initial years of their existence in exchange for a more amplified presence, but their penchant for vehement picking runs remains. It’s the gospel-laden, mid-tempo cuts where Looks Like Snow finds its strength, however. It’s primarily here, where they draw from Miller’s potent vocals to contrast against the airy pop instrumentation on songs like “Another Sunny Day” and “Who’d Ya,” that works so magnificently. That’s not to understate their ability to completely break off onto a sublime instrumental tangent, however. “Mountain” finds them venturing into Leftover Salmon territory with the electric intro and acoustic outro interplay, while the album’s unnamed closing track says everything that a wordless country rock jam should say. At 18 tracks — the final two tracks are mysteriously left out of the album credits — it probably should have been whittled down just a bit to exclude some of the monotony, but overall it’s a fine effort from a band that went to great pains to avoid the clichés that plague contemporary country. 68/100

Wale Back to the Feature

Back in the summer of 2008, when Wale’s (pronounced wah-LAY) The Mixtape About Nothing was anything but, he was dubbed a rapper who defied classification; not a club thumper, apolitical at best and absolutely, positively devoid of criminal nuance. Yet he managed to evade the belittling labels of backpack rapper or worse, a flower rapper, through his blazing wit and glib swagger to create one of the most respected hip-hop offerings of the year. Expectations mounted for his follow-up and through multiple delays, the doubters proliferated just as quickly his Twitter following.

With acclaimed NC producer 9 th Wonder (Little Brother) on board, Back to the Feature has finally seen the light of day, but those expecting the same centered dialogue from TMAN might be surprised. Like Wale says at the end of “Tito Santana,” the underlying theme of this effort is, “[People] be rappin’.” Without that kind of context, Back to the Feature would seem unfocused and cluttered, even for a mixtape. Taken into the proper perspective, you absolutely have to give a mulligan in that regard. It’s just a bunch of people rapping — a lot — and it’s mostly pretty clever at that. After contritely addressing his doubters in the album’s opener “Wordplay,” he gives lovers of TMAN a taste of the same high-stepping wordplay backed by 9 th Wonder’s proprietary funk chops. From there, it gets a little chaotic. There are so many guest spots that it’s almost impossible to keep track of who’s at bat, but once again, that’s prefaced early on. Even if it might require studious examination of the digital liner notes, the collaborations work for the most part. Wale’s in lock-step with some of Philadelphia’s finest on “Hot Shyt” and his alliance with Peter, Bjorn & John on “Nothing to Worry About” is one of the most strangely compelling pairings I’ve ever heard. Despite the overall lack of cohesion, this is an album that deserves your attention thanks to Wale’s ability to hold his own regardless of which names show up in the credits. ( 73/100

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