Ray Lamontagne, “Gossip In The Grain” (RCA Victor)
Don't let the lead track on Ray Lamontagne's third disc fool you into thinking he's gone totally white soul, abandoning his signature aching lyrics and simple strums. Sure, “You Are the Best Thing” finds the folkie successfully channeling his best Otis Redding flanked by funky brass, bass grooves and a doo-wop girl or two. But fans fear not, the heart wrenchers akin to older songs like “Burn” are still there for more than half the album. Lamontagne's best moments come when he lets his raspy vocals fly amid a tangle of guitar snarls and rambunctious drums. A wry sense of humor emerges on “Meg White,” a nod to the White Stripes' prettier half, and “Hey Me, Hey Mama,” a hard-nosed, toe-tappin' banjo number further explores roots music with durable twang. These moments of levity are brief, but bright. It seems possible that the sensitive troubadour is a little less fragile these days, though he could still use a hug. — Hilary Langford
Various Artists, “Little Steven's Underground Garage presents Halloween A Go-Go” (Wicked Cool Records)
Unwritten rule: If you're going to release a Halloween CD, you've gotta have at least one scary song. Little Stevie Van Zandt knows his old school garage rock: He's hosted the syndicated “Little Steven's Underground Garage” radio show weekly since 2002 — and this CD plays like one of his less-than-memorable theme shows, full of similar, up-tempo guitar rockers from oldies (Carl Perkins' “Put Your Clothes On”) and modern retro-throwbacks (the Chesterfield Kings) to the overplayed, too-obvious classics like “Season of the Witch” by Donovan. Mr. Bandana Man does include some cool numbers, though — including electrifying bluesman Howlin' Wolf, clocking in with “Howlin' for My Darlin,'” psychedelic casualty Roky Erickson's “I Walked with a Zombie” and the Fuzztones' “I'm a Wolfman” — but there's nothing remotely bone-chilling here, the subject matter limited mostly to goofy monsters and hazy, '60s biker dreams. Plus the self-serving addition of a Springsteen outtake from “The River” (“Restless Nights”) feels totally out of place. Those seeking something more sinister should try Nick Cave, Diamanda Galas (if you can stand caterwauling) or, if it's party music you want, Russian instrumental surf-monster music from Messer Chups. This mediocre collection is better suited for daytime pole dancing at the Bada Bing. — Brent Baldwin
The Jacksons, “Triumph” (Epic)
Released in 1980, “Triumph” is the Jacksons at their best, brimming with creativity, ambition and desire. The writing tandem of brothers Randy (not the one on “American Idol”) and Michael follow the energetic first track, “Can You Feel It?” with a potent post-disco funkfest (“Lovely One”) that finds Michael at the peak of his vocal powers, emotionally declaring his love for one who “wears the face that tells me you think my lovin' ain't true.”
Randy has a hand in some of the album's best moments, writing the ballad “Time Waits for No One,” and the funky “Wondering Who.” Although Michael gets all the lead vocals, the album is largely a collaborative effort, with brother Jackie also helping out with songwriting, Marlon making the most of his turn at singing lead (“Give It Up”) and Tito holding down guitar duties on every track. But it's Michael alone who produces, arranges and sings (background vocals too) the record's climax, “This Place Hotel (aka Heartbreak Hotel)” — a prelude to the themes of anxiety and confusion that would recur in his solo career, with spooky sound effects and lyrics about “wicked women.”
This reissue features remixes of the singles “Walk Right Now,” and “This Place Hotel (aka Heartbreak Hotel),” but the rumored outtakes “Slipped Away” and “Why Can't I Be” remain in an Epic Records vault somewhere. Even without the extras, the Jacksons' “Triumph” still is one. — Craig Belcher
Lahkeisha, (self-released) EP
Lahkeisha doesn't break any new ground with the four songs available on her MySpace page. The Richmonder isn't part of the retro-soul wave that R&B tastemakers have embraced, and her subject matter doesn't drift away from modern urban music's singular subject: love. In short, the singer makes songs that are ready for the radio and she's not too bad at it. On “So Blessed” Lahkeisha makes good use of her vocal gifts, hitting all the right notes in a typical R&B ballad that doesn't bother to distinguish itself. Overall, the production is competent and professional, with the exception of “Ladies Night II,” which buries the singer's voice beneath layers of electronic percussion and heavy synths. Lahkeisha isn't the next Aretha or Mariah, but she works what she's got fairly well. — C.B.
Check out her MySpace page for more information: www.myspace.com/lahkeisha.
D'Angelo, “I Found My Smile Again” (Virgin)
Fans looking for proof that a rejuvenated D'Angelo is hard at work in a Los Angeles studio won't find it in his new single, “I Found My Smile Again.” The vocal track is about 12 years old and was originally released, with different music, as part of the “Space Jam” soundtrack. The musical update, leaked to the Internet last year, is less than remarkable for the singer, which means it's still better than most of the clutter on urban radio despite the tired drum track. With his long-delayed comeback album delayed once again, D'Angelo has a lot to prove and this reheated track does little to make his case. — C.B.