>> Rock

Paul McCartney with Nirvana

Cut Me Some Slack: Digital Single

[Roswell Records]

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

Paul McCartney teamed with the surviving members of Nirvana – Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear – to track a new tune as part of Grohl's upcoming documentary, "Sound City: Real to Reel," a paean to the now defunct studio where Nirvana cut its "Nevermind" album, and so many classics of the 1970s and '80s were laid to tape. The impromptu band then performed the tune at the "1 2/1 2/1 2: Hurricane Sandy Relief" concert, and reprised it during last week's episode of "Saturday Night Live." The band absolutely knocked it out of the park, on both occasions.

It's a corker, too, a heavy slab of acid rock reminiscent of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter," and marked by a – perhaps surprisingly, given his age – blistering vocal from McCartney. Fans who have been paying attention to McCartney's work under the alias "The Fireman" will be less surprised by the urgent heaviness of the track, and it's ragged-but-right feel – the Fireman's "Electric Arguments" opens with a similarly bruising attack in the form of "Nothing Too Much Just Outta Sight."

Here, McCartney sounds positively invigorated by Grohl's bombastic attack on the kit, a Sturm und Drang responsible for propelling the song forward in a frenzied flight. While Smear and Novoselic lay down a meaty wall of sound, McCartney plays searing slide guitar figures on a newly acquired four-string "cigar box" guitar, sounding for all the world like he'd be as comfortable fronting a heavy rock band as he would be penning a harmonically elegant ballad. It's brilliant, a great teaser for the forthcoming full soundtrack to Grohl's highly anticipated documentary, due in March.

– Jeff Miers

>> Hip-Hop


Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head


Review: 3 stars

Opening with a Marvin Gaye sample, T.I.'s latest finds the Atlanta rapper spreading his wings a bit. The first new music he's dropped since being released from prison, where he served time for a probation violation, the album splits the difference between songs seeking some form of forgiveness for past sins, and others trading in self-affirming braggadocio.

Musically, the collection boasts an abundantly full and elegant tone, as warm bass pulses throughout and heavily treated synths float above. This is particularly effective during "The Introduction," which rather brilliantly employs the Gaye sample to form an indelible hook, while T.I. weaves an incisive rhyme around it.

"Wildside" offers up T.I.'s grittier side, with a voice-over pastiche of a scenario depicting one of the narrator's encounters with the law – this one involving a car ride with some friends "smokin' weed/ridin' chrome/only things I've ever known/a walk on the wild side." The chorus moves slow and easy, while the verses find T.I. hitting the ground running with hypersyllabic vigor. The combined effect is at turns trippily psychedelic and grittily realistic.

Where the album stumbles – "Can You Learn," a mildly overwrought bit of shared wisdom on the cost of crime, with a cameo from R. Kelly, and "Cruisin'," which sounds at best like a B-side and at worst like a complete throwaway – it does so based on what can't help but be perceived as a lack of effort on the part of its creator. Judicious editing might have helped. But all told, "Trouble Man" has plenty to recommend it.

– J.M.

>> Pop

Bill Withers

The Complete Sussex ?and Columbia Albums

[Sony Legacy]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

Of Bill Withers' extraordinary authenticity and power in his own self-generated genre, there is no question.

His advent was utterly remarkable: here was a singer of startling benevolence whose urban music was as raw and gripping in its way as Delta blues. "Grandma's Hands," "Lean on Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine" were little miracles of American popular music – rhythm chants both simple and utterly guileless and all the more powerful for being so.

What followed could be much darker – "Use Me," for instance. He'd begun writing songs, he said, "to the sounds of the aircraft assembly plants that I had worked in, and sometimes written to the sounds of my pawn shop guitar as I sat in solitude and reflected on things that had mattered to me the most over the course of my life."

All he needed was the right pair of ears. He found them with Booker T. Jones. What happened after that was a truly great story, a kind of chastening for everyone who heard this folk minimalist and modern urban bluesman. The question with this huge nine-disc box is this: is his career one that sustains over nine discs or is it one that's best heard in a greatest hits collection?

Listen to "Watching You, Watching Me" from 1985, the last album included in this Withers omnibus for an answer. The remarkable naive shock of him by then has worn off, but not what Michael Eric Dyson calls his "storied career as a gifted storyteller and wise philosopher whose lyrical genius ranges over big subjects. Love. Art. Work. Spirituality. The story of language itself."

It is the story of American music that its businessmen and producers always take rare and precious jewels and mount them in settings that invariably undermine their integrity.

But jewels they always remain whether Louis Armstrong, Nat "King" Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or Bill Withers.

Some of the production on that 1985 record is indeed unfortunate, but he was a remarkable figure, just as stark and indicative as he ever was.

– Jeff Simon

>> Classical

Nicola Benedetti

The Silver Violin

[Decca Universal]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

This lavish late Romantic disc is designed around movie music. The centerpiece is the Violin Concerto of the great film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a lush masterpiece that is happily being heard more and more. (Gil Shaham played it with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.) Also by Korngold are arrangements of two well-known excerpts from "Die Tote Stadt," which are heartbreakingly lovely.

This is a disc to hook the classical music newbie. It's close to irresistible. You hear the tango Al Pacino made famous in "Scent of a Woman," and Shostakovich's gorgeous theme from "The Gadfly." Piano and violin shine alone in the more modern, pared-back melody from the recent "Jane Eyre," by Dario Marianelli, and a cimbalom (it sounds like a zither) joins Benedetti in music by Howard Shore from the 2007 film "Eastern Promises." An interesting addition is the young Gustav Mahler's one-movement Piano Quartet, incorporated into Martin Scorsese's movie "Shutter Island."

At 25, Benedetti is turning into a fascinating violinist. This CD shows a different side of her than the Vivaldi disc released earlier this year. Her playing is passionate and only rarely strident. She is going for the wide audience here, and why not? If you're new to classical music here is a way you can get to know a few of the greats. It is performed with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Kirill Karabits, conductor.

– Mary Kunz Goldman