Music » Album Reviews

Will Butler, Madonna, and The Staple Singers

Sound Advice

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Will Butler

Policy

Merge Records

File next to: Arcade Fire, Robert Gordon, Menace Beach

When siblings share duties in a band, it's sometimes the quiet one who ends up being the life of the party. Win Butler has always been the voice of Arcade Fire, with all the bombast that implies. Little brother Will provides the steady backbeat for the Montreal juggernaut, and has now stepped out on this brief but powerful eight-track solo album with a swagger that resembles Robert Gordon's, albeit in a high tenor. This works best on tracks of sheer exuberance like "Anna" and "What I Want," and least on songs — like "Finish What I Started" — that sound the most like Win. Moving Will to front and center does not mean Win and his wife Régine need to be overthrown from the Arcade Fire dynasty. But Policy does show that Will deserves a more prominent spot in the mix. — Loring Wirbel

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Madonna

Rebel Heart

Interscope

File next to: Charli XCX, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue

It's been 17 years since Madonna fans were bowled over by the unexpected freshness of Ray of Light. Madge has spent the intervening years trying to revive the imaginative spin of that album, with varied results. While Rebel Heart comes closest to realizing this goal, Madonna often limits herself by adherence to old models irrelevant to her middle age. This can be seen as much in the soft S&M cover art of Rebel Heart as in her bombastic live shows. To its credit, Rebel Heart offers some of her finest ballads ever, such as "Joan of Arc" and "Ghosttown." But the sprawling hour-long album is filled with club sex-and-drugs dance numbers recalling her mediocre mid-2000s work. Madonna seems anchored by obsolete symbols like the dominatrix whip and the pierced hands of Christ, anchors that obscure any rays of light. — Loring Wirbel

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The Staple Singers

Freedom Highway Complete

Epic/Legacy

File next to: The Blind Boys of Alabama, James Carr

On April 9, 1965, The Staple Singers performed at Chicago's New Nazareth Church, where the family gospel group introduced "Freedom Highway," its civil rights anthem, written in response to the march on Selma a month earlier. That show was recorded and edited down for an album. Now Freedom Highway Complete presents the entire show with no editing or audio trickery added. The result is a "you are there" recording of what was as much a worship service as a concert. Highlights include the back-to-back "We Shall Overcome" and "Freedom Highway," as well as a 25-year-old Mavis Staples' powerhouse voice on "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." Freedom Highway Complete is just short of a half-century old, yet feels as relevant and contemporary as it must have when the Staple Singers were in their traditional gospel prime. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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