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New recordings: Little Steven, Lil Yachty, Dion [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-MUS-ALBUMS:PH]

Little Steven

"Soulfire"

(Universal (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

If there's something familiar-sounding about Bruce Springsteen sidekick Steve Van Zandt's first new album in 18 years, it's because none of the songs are actually new.

Not that that's a bad thing: Starting with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' first and best albums in the '70s, Van Zandt has always written for others. Here, the Underground Garage satellite radio honcho covers himself, delivering soul-rock takes on tunes like the Springsteen co-written "Love on the Wrong Side of Town" (originally done by Southside in a similar arrangement) and "Saint Valentine's Day," which he wrote for Norwegian garage band the Cocktail Slippers.

Mixed in are touches of expansive Blaxploitation-era funk with the James Brown cover "Down and Out in New York City" and bold and brassy Chicago blues on the Etta James-associated "Blues Is My Business." Van Zandt may be vocally challenged compared to the singers who've sung these songs before, but his true-believer rock-and-roll spirit and intelligence as a Wall of Sound arranger won't be denied on this full-of-fire album, which is his least overtly political since the underappreciated 1982 classic "Men Without Women."

_Dan DeLuca

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Lil Yachty

"Teenage Emotions"

(Capitol (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

Positivism is not a hallmark of much rap, with its high-flying jousts known as "battles," its catchiest music bathed in sinister synths and chord changes, and its most poetic lyric sets filled with anxious rumination, incendiary violence, and machismo dipped in blood and guns. Which hip-hop figure do you remember more: the Fresh Prince or Tupac Shakur?

At 19, Atlanta trap rapper Lil Yachty is a (Fresh) Prince with cheery hip-hoptimism as his clever calling card. After two idealistic mixtapes, "Lil Boat" and "Summer Songs 2," the self-titled King of Teens brings uptempo emotional and Flintstones-simple musicality to the fore on the gritty nursery rhyme-ish "Peek A Boo" (featuring Migos) and the sing-songy "Bring It Back." On the reggae-lite "Better," the often-Auto-Tuned Yachty coo-croons "Everything in life could always be better / Don't settle for less because you'll miss out on more" as though he's a cooler Anthony Robbins. A little too positive? Maybe. He even confesses to being drink- and drug-free on the title track, which means (to many) the rapper could be missing out on the punkish angst of youth. Then again, when Yachty says, "If you had seen half the s- I'd seen / You would probably fiend for a taste of the cloud" on the lumpy, jumpy "Say My Name," it comes from a new place of making things happen rather than the sour taste of being held down and excluded. With that, Yachty preaches (or prays for) inclusion at a time when most feel subdivided.

_A.D. Amorosi

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Dion

"Kickin' Child: The Lost Album 1965"

(Norton (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)1/2)

It took more than 50 years, but Dion DiMucci's "Kickin' Child" is finally seeing the light of day. Not that it's completely unfamiliar. A handful of tracks have surfaced since Columbia Records refused to release the original album. But this is the first time it's appearing in the form in which the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer created it.

As fellow Bronxite Scott Kempner writes in the liner notes, "Kickin' Child" is Dion's "first true album." For those who know the singer mainly as the doo-wopper of "Teenager in Love," the macho man of "The Wanderer," or the solemn balladeer of "Abraham, Martin and John," it will be a revelation.

Tom Wilson, Bob Dylan's producer at the time, produced all but three of the 15 tracks, and the set brims with crisp, melodic folk-rock in which Dion the singer-songwriter comes across as earnestly searching and reflective without being solipsistic. The old street swagger resurfaces on his own "Two Ton Feather" and Mort Shuman's "All I Want to Do Is Live My Life," which also demonstrate Dion's affinity for the blues.

The album also includes three Dylan songs, and the self-penned title number echoes the Bard's contemporaneous, groundbreaking rock style. Not that Dion was a mere follower. As Kempner notes, he played a behind-the-scenes role in Dylan's historic shift from acoustic to electric.

_Nick Cristiano

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