New releases from Kendrick Lamar, Paul Simon and Jimbo Mathus 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Kendrick Lamar
  • Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered


File next to: Schoolboy Q, Chance the Rapper

Unlike his cohort Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar never said he wouldn't issue his latest works on CD or vinyl — just that he'd take his time. Now that physical artifacts of this new collection of outtakes are available, it's clear that Lamar meets the famous Lou Reed claim, "My bullshit is worth more than other people's diamonds." After the monstrous award-winning 2015 work, To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar might appear to be treading water with these eight unnamed studio tracks from 2013-16. Don't believe it. Surprising lyrical turns and wry humor burst from all directions. Lamar can move immediately from the racial spoof "What does the Asian say?" to a serious slow rant on the economy and welfare. Some hip-hop and poetry geniuses feel they have to underscore their talents by making each move majestic. Lamar can make the crafting of an accidental masterpiece seem effortless. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Paul Simon
  • Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Stranger to Stranger

Concord Records

File next to: Van Morrison, Richard Thompson, T Bone Burnett

It's a pleasant surprise to see Paul Simon gain his first chart-topper in 26 years, since he's been talking about the inspiration of experimental pioneer Harry Partch's wild improvisations and homemade instruments. As with his '80s landmark Graceland — which never purported to be undiluted South African music — Stranger to Stranger filters Partch's influence through a variety of world rhythms to conjure very listenable pop filled with wry turns of phrase. Songs like "Wristband" and "Cool Papa Bell" are especially radio friendly, as Simon proves himself capable of adding new elements from unexpected realms to produce such centered, joyous songs. Would that every musician could emulate Simon's 50-year trajectory of combing muses from all over the map while retaining a musical identity that's entirely his own. Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Jimbo Mathus
  • Jimbo Mathus

Jimbo Mathus

Band of Storms

Big Legal Mess

File next to: JD McPherson, Dr. John the Night Tripper, The Replacements

Every so often, an artist comes along who displays a true understanding of what rock 'n' roll is really about. It's a mongrel with clear ancestry in blues, country, gospel, and even hokum of the 19th century. Only the rarest of musicians can resist the temptation to carve out some supposedly new genre (post-rock, anyone?) and instead make original rock 'n' roll with his or her own personal spin. Jimbo Mathus is such an artist. Whether he's serving up Southern rock with beefy horns (courtesy of The Bo-Keys' Scott Bomar), channeling Huey "Piano" Smith, raising the ghost of Johnny Cash, or paying subtle tribute to Big Star, Mathus proves that there's plenty of life left in this thing we call rock 'n' roll. One can hardly go wrong with any of Mathus' efforts, but Band of Storms may just be his best to date. — Bill Kopp

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