Beyond Playlist: Kelly Clarkson and More

Kelly Clarkson My December (RCA)

How did I know that Ms. Clarkson’s latest would be a commercial disappointment? Because I kinda like it. Don’t get me wrong: The disc doesn’t exactly qualify as an artistic triumph – not given the surplus of mock-profound couplets exemplified by “I’m strong/But I break” (from “Maybe”). But producer David Kahne and guest musicians such as bassist Mike Watt (!) give songs like “Never Again” a tougher-than-expected edge, and Clarkson seems more emotionally connected to the material than if she were simply reciting the fruit of professional tunesmithery, like the majority of her Idol kin. No wonder Clive Davis is pissed at her. – Michael Roberts

Z-Trip All-Pro Soundtrack (Decon)

Z-Trip’s style is undeniably aggressive, and that’s usually a good thing. But throughout his latest CD, his approach is also too obvious, with the DJ consistently employing the most predictable effects in the least idiosyncratic ways. “Something Different,” with Chali 2na plus Keno-1 & the Hermit, is a forced attempt to create fare fit for a basketball arena, “Locked and Loaded” feels tired and dated despite the participation of the Deftones and Dead Prez, and the remix of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” is about as necessary as a second navel. All-Pro belongs on the bench–Roberts

David Murray Black Saint Quartet, Featuring Cassandra Wilson Sacred Ground (Justin Time)

The mainstream may not know it, but Murray is among the preeminent jazz saxophonists of his era – a man equally comfortable on songs that call for tender lyricism or balls-out skronk. His latest bookends a typically ravishing batch of originals with a pair of collaborations with vocalist Wilson, whose deep (in every sense of the word) tones are perfectly complimented by the bandleader’s unpredictable solos. The results pay tribute to the music’s traditions without being limited by them. – Roberts

Bobby Bare Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies: Legacy Edition (RCA Nashville/Legacy)

Although Bare never earned as much pub as fellow ‘70s outlaws Willie and Waylon, he was just as unwilling to toe the C&W line – and his good-humored orneriness comes through clearly on this thoroughly entertaining reissue of an early concept album. All of the songs on the lavishly refurbished two-disc package were partly or wholly penned by Shel Silverstein, whose wry story-songs bring out the best in Bare. Don’t miss “Daddy What If,” featuring the cutesy contributions of young Bobby Bare Jr., who’s grown up to be a hellraiser in his own right. – Roberts

Black Lips/Yacht “Wild Man”/“No Favors Policy” (Southern Comfort/The Fader)

The jukebox 45 is a dying format, but The Fader magazine, in conjunction with Southern Comfort, is keeping it alive via a new series in which young acts explore the vinyl solution. Black Lips kicks things off with “Wild Man,” a raucous cover of a ‘60s-vintage curio that mates wonderfully sloppy guitar mayhem with a snippet from, of all things, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” On the flip, Jona Bechtolt, aka Yacht, rips into “No Favors Policy,” a scorcher that’s funny and angry in equal measure. These cuts prove that while CD-quality sound has its attributes, there’s still nothing like tracks on wax. – Roberts

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Sean Cronin