By Bliss Bowen 07/31/2014

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AIREENE ESPIRITU, Put Back Charlie (self-released): HHH½I

Throughout this nicely varied album, Oakland-based songwriter Espiritu’s dusky vocals are solidly supported by session aces like guitarist/producer Ed Tree, mandolinist Tom Corbett and percussionist Debra Dobkin, who shift comfortably from a slide-filled rewrite of the folk standard “Stagger Lee” to a grooving cover of Big Jay McNeely’s “There is Something on Your Mind” and the lively bluegrass closer “Wide Open.” Espiritu impresses most with observant originals like “Truth” (“Truth woke me early one morning/ And he asked me, How do you feel?/ Heart grabbed a chance to speak/ While mine was still half asleep”). At Coffee Gallery Backstage Thursday, July 31.

COMMON, Nobody’s Smiling (Def Jam): HHHII

Collaborating once again with producer No I.D., the thoughtful rapper/actor sets his latest album in his troubled hometown, and calls on rising Chicago rappers Dreezy and Lil Herb as well as poet Malik Yusef to provide gritty counterbalance to retro touches like the Biggie sample in “Speak My Piece.” Detroit’s Big Sean and Long Beach rapper Vince Staples also guest, and J Dilla’s ghost looms over the moving “Rewind That,” but they service Common’s core message of conscience and community. Highlights: the gospel-ized “Kingdom,” “No Fear.”

NOURA MINT SEYMALI, Tzenni (Glitter Beat): HHHII

“Mauritanian blues” that bears surface resemblance to Mali’s desert blues due to its utilization of electric guitar and rock rhythms, but without the droning patterns that lend a near mystical air to some Malian music. Aptly titled (a rough translation of “tzenni” is “to spin”), this earthy 10-track set aims to get listeners moving (“tzenni” is also the name of a Moorish griot dance) as Seymali’s powerful alto soars above husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly’s guitar and her own traditional nine-string ardine and rhythms that get downright funky.

WILDCAT! WILDCAT!, No Moon at All (Downtown): HHH½I

The LA-based trio — bassist Jesse Taylor, keyboardist Michael Wilson and drummer Jesse Carmichael — have a knack for sky-kissing harmonies and the kind of catchy riffs and progressions that play well in summer. Shadows dapple “End of the World Everyday” and “Circuit Breaker” (“Take your heart and run/ Is there anybody out there?”), but the album’s defined more by movie-ready pop tracks like the hopeful anthem “Hero” and “Garden Grays.” Recommended for fans of Chvrches and Fine Young Cannibals.


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