Jennifer Nettles, “That Girl”
When a country singer signs up Rick Rubin to produce her record, she knows what she’s getting. Credibility, a touch of “class,” an earthy antidote to Music Row’s slickness — a sound as upscale-organic as a hemp NPR tote bag. But is the Rubin touch so tasteful that it’s dull? That’s the dilemma faced by Sugar front woman Jennifer Nettles, one of the country’s most vivacious and charismatic stars, who decamped to Rubin’s Malibu ashram to record her first solo album. On the first single, she sounds like she made a good choice. The music is definitely Rubinish: a warm, homespun groove that splits the difference between country, blues, and soul. But Rubin stays out of the way, training the spotlight on Nettles’s voice, one of the boldest in any genre. It helps that the song is good: an emotionally complicated cheating song — a Nettles specialty — with a lyric that winks at the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene.”
Parquet Courts, “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now”
Parquet Courts are making a run at the title of New York’s Best New Band. On their 2012 self-released debut, Light Your Gold (rereleased this year by the label What’s Your Rupture?), they whipped up an impressive punk-pop racket, but the magic was in the tunes, and on the lyric sheet. “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” offers more of the same: The guitars grind and bleat, and singer Andrew Savage yelps couplets that sound like they’ve been hiding in plain sight since 1977, waiting to be discovered by some sharp-witted punk: “Toothache's better than heartache, baby / I've figured that much out / And I thought I knew a thing or two about the blues / But you’ve got me wonderin’ now.”
Coco Carbomb, “Reel Alligata”
Coco Carbomb, I gather, is the nom de guerre of the South African rapper-producer Carmen Incarnadine. Hentai Waterfalls may or may not be the nom de guerre of a musician who also goes by the name Tedy Brewski — who may or may not have produced this track. The Internet has offered no trustworthy clarification on these points. (If anyone out there knows the deal, please let it rip in the comments section.) In any case, I stumbled on “Reel Alligata” a few weeks back, and I can’t shake it. Coco Carbomb’s rap is nothing much: some very smutty rhymes by a self-described “white slave at a death rave.” The production, though, is killer: just a few chiming keyboard notes and some percussion, as menacing — and as pretty — as any beat I’ve heard this year. There’s a NSFW video, too, featuring (I think) Carbomb/Incarnadine herself, in various states of undress.
Robbie Fulks, “Guess I Got It Wrong”
This is how you write a weeper. The saddest song on the new album by Robbie Fulks, the best country singer in Cook County, surveys a ruined romance with stoicism worthy of George Jones: “I thought love was just one sweet song / Guess I got it wrong.”