Sean Daly's CD picks: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Tom Jones

Beyonce

Album: I Am . . . Sasha Fierce (Music World/Columbia)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Pop's own Wonder Woman does the split-personality shtick on this double-platter, giving us one side of ballads (courtesy of power-piped Beyonce) and another of booty bumpers (courtesy of alter ego Sasha Fierce).

Why we like it: Three albums into her solo trip, Ms. Knowles has proved a fabu singles artist . . . but a disappointing maker of albums. The mellow cuts pack punch, allowing B to set free her steamy vibrato. But the bangers are a bore, lukewarm attempts to match Rihanna's hot, synthetic hits. Come on, Sasha! Who's the queen? Make Ri-Ri kiss that ring!

Reminds us of: The album's back cover shows Beyonce in a pretzel pose. Greatest. Picture. Ever.

Download these: If I Were a Boy, Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) and Ave Maria

Grade: I Am . . . B+; Sasha Fierce C

Roy Orbison

Album: The Soul of Rock and Roll (Monument/Orbison/Legacy)

In stores: Now

Why we care: One of the great tingly treasures on this four-disc retrospective is a radio spot from June 1, 1956, touting young Sun stars Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and "the new sensation Roy Orbison and his Teen Kings!" That kicks into Roy's first smash, Oooby Dooby, which featured his otherworldly alto and raw rockabilly guitar.

Why we like it: It's all here (Crying, Dream Baby, Go! Go! Go!) plus 12 unreleased cuts, including a jam of Elvis hits. The liners are sad, stunning, unfailingly cool.

Reminds us of: Orbison was called "the Big O." Otis Redding was also called "the Big O." Because I'm a rabble-rouser, I'll ask you this: Who was the better singer? Good luck.

Download these: Rockhouse, Running Scared, Crying, Not Alone Any More and A Love So Beautiful

Grade: A

Nickelback

Album: Dark Horse (Roadrunner)

In stores: Now

Why we care: If you ever liked Foreigner, or Boston, or .38 Special, you have no right ripping Nickelback. The most popular rock band of the 21st century (16-million albums moved), Nickelback is a corporate Canadian monster, an arena stuffer that excels at cheeze-dipped snacks that should be sold at 7-Eleven.

Why we like it: Despite having the great Mutt Lange as a producer, Dark Horse doesn't have the deep hit pool of 2005's All the Right Reasons. Suspiciously coiffed lead singer Chad Kroeger growls the heck out of each song, but they rarely catch. The worst track, Something in Your Mouth, is for stenchy fraternity parties. The best song, I'd Come for You, is for the morning after.

Reminds us of: "Feels like the first time! Feels like the very first time!"

Download this: I'd Come for You

Grade: C



Johnny Cash

Album: At Folsom Prison: Legacy Edition (Columbia/Legacy)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Jan. 13, 1968. Johnny Cash recorded not one, but two shows during his infamous visit to the stone state prison in Folsom, Calif. This two CD/DVD set includes remastered versions of both shows (the 9:40 a.m. gig became history; the 12:40 p.m. is being heard for the first time) plus a behind-the-scenes documentary.

Why we like it: The original At Folsom Prison is a country classic, but it's also the very essence of rock 'n' roll, as a cocky Cash swings for the sinners he loved. And yet, it's the previously unissued second show that's the real revelation here, as a wiped-out Cash, even though he knows he nailed the first set, plays one more time.

Reminds us of: Emcee Hugh Cherry's button-down wrangling of the inmates is hilarious.

Download these: Cocaine Blues (Disc 1) and Dark as a Dungeon (Disc 2)

Grade: A

Tom Jones

Album: 24 Hours (S-Curve/EMI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: The High Priest of Panties is 68 now. But if this album is as awesome as I think it is, he's about to have a major career comeback. Borrowing from the retro cool of Amy Winehouse and Duffy, TJ blends '60s horns, hip-hop beats and his indefatigable lounge-lizard holler to make the party record of the year. This is the Welsh Wonder's first U.S. release in 15 years.

Why we like it: Produced by the drum-and-bass team of Future Cut (Lily Allen, the Pussycat Dolls), the album ranges from the shimmering Piccadilly vibe of If He Should Ever Leave You to the overt grind of Sugar Daddy, written especially for Jones by none other than Bono and the Edge.

Reminds us of: The album's best cut is a soulful Stax take on Springsteen's boxing ode The Hitter.

Download these: I'm Alive, If He Should Ever Leave You, Sugar Daddy and The Hitter

Grade: A

Britney Spears

Album: Circus (Jive)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Awww, just look at that album cover. Hey, Mom, I want you to meet my new girlfriend! She's so pure! Forget about rehab and custody rights and that time Brit-Brit shaved her dome and attacked a sedan. Unlike '07 album Blackout, the new Circus is about clean-'n'-shiny resurrection. A few cuts offer a defense of her past; If U Seek Amy, with its hee-hee-ha chorus, blames the seducers not the seduced. But mostly, Spears is acting like all is well and the club is hot.

Why we like it: The synths pound, Britney's voice is Auto-Tuned to a sex-kitten buzz and the PG-13 come-ons are fast and furious. Hot producers Max Martin and Bloodshy & Avant bust out big hooks.

Reminds us of: Is calling yourself the "Queen of Pop" a good idea? Didn't work too well for MJ.

Download these: Womanizer, If U Seek Amy and Kill the Lights

Grade: B-

Gift cards, bottles of wine, potted plants — pfffft. We say it's time to take a stand, and pick out gifts that really say something. No better choice than music. You give your mom the new Tom Jones CD, you're telling her she's cool enough to appreciate a guy who defines hip. Give your grandson the 10-disc Philadelphia Orchestra set, you're saying you see some real potential in him. Give your niece the new Beyonce, you're saying you followed her gift list. Which is fine, but why not also tuck in something she may not know about? We listened to some of the biggest new releases of the season to help you send just the right messages.

Sean Daly's CD picks: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Tom Jones 12/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:07pm]

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