JONAS BROTHERS "Jonas Brothers" (Hollywood) 2 stars
There will always be a market for tween pop stars and the new favorites come in waves. We're in the midst of one right now, the first major pop explosion since the turn of the millennium when Backstreet Boys, `N Sync and the "good" Britney reigned.
But unlike then, when MTV's program TRL dictated who ruled, that network has given way to the mighty Disney Channel, the hottest source for new pop acts.
Last week alone, Hannah Montana's Miley Cyrus and New Jersey family act the Jonas Brothers have albums in Billboard's Top 5. Aly & AJ and Ashley Tisdale, also Disney offshoots, recently had Top 20 CDs, and the infectiously fun soundtrack for "High School Musical 2" debuts at No. 1 with 615,000 copies.
Another difference: Some of these acts kinda rock.
Are today's pop stars simply more aggressive? Has rock reclaimed its place of favor with teens? Is it global warming? Who knows? The Jonases - ages 14 to 19 - might have their Hanson pop moments (nothing nearly as memorable as "MMMBop," though) but clearly they have been listening to pop/punk albums from Green Day.
Don't get too excited, mom and dad. The Jonas Brothers still cling to boy-meets-girl staples and they aren't out for anarchy. The music, like last week's No. 1 iTunes single "S.O.S.," is polished and catchy - OMG! "Kids of the Future" updates Kim Wilde's `80s anthem "Kids in America," too - but the vocals tend toward cloying, and 14 cuts is simply too much Jonas.
The two "High School Musical" or Hannah Montana soundtracks are better bets.
Pod Pick: "S.O.S."
JOE NICHOLS "Real Things" (Universal South) 3 ½ stars
Novelty has served Joe Nichols well, from a commercial sense, anyway. The fun lead single from his previous CD "III," "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," hit No. 1 but it also pulled Nichols away from what he was meant to do: sing traditional country.
"Real Things" returns Nichols to his early promise as a hardcore country singer and it's so good it should catapult Nichols to the A-list alongside George Strait and Alan Jackson.
When an old-timer like George Jones whines that Nashville isn't making real country music for the radio anymore, he's asking for an album like "Real Things," which could hold its own against his classics. Take "My Whiskey Years," an old-school country-blues piece that takes full advantage of Nichols' baritone and expressiveness. Though Nichols excels at acoustic ballads, a couple of country-rockers here - "Comin' Back in a Cadillac," "Let's Get Drunk and Fight" (which isn't as silly as its title implies) - kick as hard and as strong as guitar whiz Brad Paisley at his best.
Pod Picks: "My Whiskey Years," "Let's Get Drunk and Fight," "Comin' Back in a Cadillac."
LUCIANA SOUZA "The New Bossa Nova" (Verve) 3 stars
Souza's CD, which translates fully as "the new new groove," is a reminder of how much bossa nova lies embedded inside a whole strain of contemporary American music, as in the first two songs, by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor respectively. In the first, "Down To You," Souza sounds remarkably like Mitchell, or maybe it's because Mitchell's jazz phrasing is actually more akin to Brazilian.
The same is true for Taylor's "Never Die Young," which features the singer/songwriter. In this context, Taylor's relaxed vocals sound like so much "Musica Popular Brasiliera." The rest is material from composers from Randy Newman to Leonard Cohen, Sting, and the godfather of bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim. If one thinks of all those singer/songwriters on XM satellite radio's The Loft, which plays classics like Paul Simon as well as the latest batch of folkie/jazzy/funky singer/songwriters, it all adds up to an American MPB. "Musica Popular Americana."
In this spirit, the Brazilian-born Souza manages to sound true to both her birthplace and the United States. Her well-trained voice is comfortable with all idioms, backed by a tight Brazilian jazz combo. There is a new new groove abroad, which is to say, at home.
Pod Picks: "Never Die Young," "Down to You," "Waters of March."
VARIOUS ARTISTS "World Hits" (Putumayo) 3 stars
Can music be too successful? That is certainly what happens to mega-hits that make the cognoscenti weary, and it happens a bit in what we call "world music," which, for decades now, is the new pop. Is "Hot, Hot Hot" (not on this CD) a good or a bad song? Or has it been played once (or a trillion) times too often at weddings and on Caribbean cruises?
Putumayo, the great compiler of world music, is banking on some of the genre's hits to still work their old black magic with a public that has yet to discover world music. In all fairness, about the only "world hit" that may have gotten more play than some of us can take is the Gipsy Kings' "Bamboleo" (with Santana's "Oye Como Va" almost there). But, let's face it, first time around it sounded cool to a lot of people. Maybe it still does.
Here are Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger doing "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back," which Mick sang barefoot eons ago on "Saturday Night Live." Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" - the eponymous movie turned many neophytes on to reggae. Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata," which has been covered by just about everyone. Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man," a hit when Mongo was already a classic among jazz and Latin fans. Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" - we didn't know what the words meant but we loved it, which is as good a definition of world music as any.
Basically, these are catchy tunes - perhaps too catchy - by some truly serious musicians - even the Gipsy Kings, who spawned a mob of truly horrible imitators, had real flamenco chops. Indeed, give it to a friend with little musical literacy but an ear for hooks and you'll make someone happy. Or just pour a lot of rum and have a party. Hot, hot, hot.
Pod Picks: "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back," "The Harder They Come."