Bedingfield's "Sunshine" is a ho-hum winter blunder


Natasha Bedingfield (Epic)

Grade: C-

Natasha Bedingfield may be the girl next store with the blond hair and the straight teeth, albeit with more powerfully soulful pipes and a peppy dancing demeanor. But when her tunes play during hair-product ads, MTV’s “The Hills,” or wherever it is they sound out constantly, the first question that comes to mind is, “Who’s that singing?” For the life of me, no matter how often “Unwritten” plays, I forget it’s Bedingfield — lost as she’s become in the tangle of nowhere girls, like Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, who haunt the zeitgeist. Maybe it’s not Natasha’s fault. Maybe the soundtrack to your life is just that boring. But the cold clingy nag of the title track and the desperately dry-as-dirt R&B of “Happy” don’t do much to set Bedingfield apart from the aforementioned pack. Though “Pirate Bones” pings and pongs niftily, her duet with spry, reggae-fied youngster Sean Kingston, “Love Like This,” seems to have squelched even his enthusiasm with her dullness.

—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer


Cat Power (Matador)

Grade: B

Chan Marshall, the sultry-voiced woman who records as Cat Power, follows up her 2006 breakthrough “The Greatest” with an album of mostly covers. (One exception is a touching if minor Dylan tribute, “Song For Bobby.”) Marshall can be downright brazen when it comes to revamping other people’s material, and nowhere does her chutzpah pan out as much as on “New York,” a transformative cover of Frank Sinatra’s signature song in which she reshapes the melody and drops the Big Apple’s name once rather than twice. Elsewhere, she’s similarly bold with Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” and James Brown’s “Lost Someone,” though not as thrillingly so. Though now clean and sober in real life, Marshall still has a tendency to settle her interpretations into the dark corners of a smoky barroom, and while that can make for lush and lovely music, it’s not so consistently gratifying here as it was on the sublime “The Greatest.”

—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer


Ringo Starr (Capitol)

Grade: C

There are a few absolute clunkers, like the Spanish ballad “Pasodobles,” on this album by the affable guy who used to play drums in the greatest pop band of all time. And there are a couple of undeniable keepers, the best by far being “R U Ready,” an old-time country intimation on mortality. Elsewhere, Ringo Starr, working with the aid of Eurythmic Dave Stewart, comes off as the charming guy who sang the all-hands-on-deck sing-alongs from the early ’70s, such as “Photograph” and “You’re 16” in a foghorn voice. Borderline bombastic songs such as “For Love,” “If It’s Love That You Want,” and “Love Is” on “Liverpool 8” are not as good as those early solo career hits — though the sweetly sentimental “Give It a Try” is. But even on the more labored numbers, he comes across as good-natured, honest and true. And he’s a Beatle, to boot.

—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer


Drive-By Truckers (New West)

Grade: A-

The eighth album from this protean band completes one of the widest mood swings in recent rock history. After specializing in thematically cohesive albums and a revitalized brand of Southern rock, the Athens, Ga.-based Truckers are now all over the place.

That figures, given the changes in the group’s core makeup. Rock-leaning guitarist Jason Isbell has gone solo, founding guitarist and pedal steel player John Neff is back, soul eminence Spooner Oldham plays piano and organ on the new album (in stores Tuesday), and bassist Shonna Tucker contributes her first songs.

The result is a sprawling, 75-minute immersion in the dynamic between Patterson Hood’s Neil Young/Tom Petty-influenced folk and rock and Steve Cooley’s mix of Rolling Stones, stone country and Band-flavored folk-rock.

It’s tied together by the Truckers’ customary focus on characters coping “in a world turned cold,” pushed to the edge by various forces — internal compulsions, military orders, financial desperation. It’s not just good old boys this time. In “Goode’s Field Road,” a successful family man carefully plots his own demise.

The CD starts with a dream of heaven and ends in an encounter with John Ford, whose words of wisdom have been clearly heeded by the Truckers: “Tell them just enough to still leave them some mystery/A grasp of the ironic nature of history.” That’s a wrap.

—Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times