Whether recording White Stripes albums with his first wife Meg or overseeing Loretta Lynn's 2004 comeback, Jack White has done his best work with women. So it's no surprise that in his latest band he shares top billing with Alison Mosshart-or that its gothic, psychedelic blues metal sounds like an overanxious attempt to make sure no one confuses White's present with his past. Apropos of nothing in particular: a Bob Dylan cover that does for "New Pony" what Jimi Hendrix did for "All Along the Watchtower."
"Tell me," sings the former Cranberry on her second solo album, "where did all the time go?" And the most likely reason she can't believe it's been 16 years since she scored her first international hits is that she sounds exactly the same, from the way her voice dips and soars along the contours of her music's glistening hooks to the way she pronounces words just funny enough to make sensitive folks afraid to wonder (aloud) whether it's her Irish brogue or a speech defect that's to blame.
The reasons to check out this eighth album by one of CCM's most sound-shifting bands have little to do with its lyrics. While John Cooper's acknowledgment that he may be his own worst enemy ("Monster") might be groundbreaking in some quarters, Nick Lowe beat him to the beast-in-me theme years ago. So why listen? The way the industrial metal textures intertwine with the looser ends of Cooper's shredded voice, for one thing-and the sonic tonic that his wife Korey provides in the call-and-response numbers for another.
Stretched over this album's 47 minutes and 13 songs (14 if you buy it whole from iTunes), the considerable charms of this gifted Long Island singer-songwriter wear a little thin. One reason is that the sensitivity to the conundrums of romance that Smith ably demonstrates is one she shares with Alison Krauss and Julie Miller (to cite just the most obvious of Smith's contemporaries). But programmed in LP-side-length stretches, Smith goes a long way, especially at those times when new releases by neither Krauss nor Miller are imminent.
For the first seven songs on George Benson's latest album, the 12-song Songs and Stories (Concord/Monster), it's business as usual for the 66-year-old: smooth soul-lite vocals, smooth jazz-lite guitar, smooth scat singing matching guitar solos note for note, and smooth covers both familiar (James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight") and obscure (Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free")-material the likes of which Benson has long proven he can do in his sleep, sometimes by sounding as if he were asleep when he did it.
'Round about the 35-minute mark, however, he wakes up, the better to tend two lengthy, slowly simmering funk-lite instrumentals (Marcus Miller's "Exotica," Lamont Dozier's "Living in High Definition") and two better covers (Tony Joe White's familiar "Rainy Night in Georgia," Smokey Robinson's obscure "One like You"). When at disc's end he begins nodding off again, on a slowly shimmering instrumental version of Christopher Cross' "Sailing," he has more than earned the respite.