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This CD cover image released by Motema Music shows "Breakthrough," by Eldar Djangirov Trio. (AP Photo/Motema Music)
Review: A look at some overlooked albums of 2013

First Published Jan 08 2014 03:01 pm • Last Updated Jan 15 2014 01:01 pm

A look at some of 2013’s overlooked albums, from rocker Joan Jett to rapper E-40 and the Craig Taborn Trio.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, "Unvarnished" (Blackheart)

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Joan Jett is at her best when she sounds angry (which is most of the time), and on "Unvarnished," she turns her ire on two targets: reality TV and the extent to which social media have rendered nothing about many people’s lives off-limits.

"Reality Mentality" takes aim at trash TV: "Wanna be a star? We’ll just lower the bar." And on "TMI" (as in "too much information"), she recoils in horror about what people will post about themselves for the world to see. "Soulmates to Strangers" is a wistful look at a relationship that withered and died, while "Make It Back" starts with insecurity that ends with certainty that things are going to be all right.

The prototypical tough-chick-with-a-guitar, Joan Jett has always been about straight-ahead rock anthems, sweetened with just enough melody to burn them into your brain. From her teen days with the ’70s girl group The Runaways through hits like "I Hate Myself for Lovin’ You," Jett has delivered the goods and the attitude, stood back and not cared about what people thought.

I wish there were 100 Joan Jetts, but since there’s only one, anytime she makes an album it’s worth a serious listen.

E-40, "The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 4, 5 & 6" (Heavy on the Grind Entertainment)

E-40 is one of the most respected rappers in hip-hop. He’s carved out a niche with his unique brand of West Coast slang and relatable stories that entail street wisdom, and he continued to showcase his talent in 2013 with the three-disc independent set "The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 4, 5 & 6." It’s packed with 45 songs featuring T.I., Chris Brown, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy.

The cameos are entertaining, from the Ross and French Montana-assisted "Champagne" to "Put It in the Air," featuring Mac Mall and San Quinn. But when E-40 raps on a track alone, the 46-year-old, who has delivered 20 studio albums, is top-notch. That’s certainly apparent on "What Kind of World," where the Bay Area rapper examines a variety of topics from failed marriages to poverty. On "Don’t Shoot the Messenger," the hip-hop veteran talks about his childhood, life’s troubles and the afterlife.


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E-40 is enduring.

Amanda Shires, "Down Fell the Doves" (Lightning Rod)

Amanda Shires was a big part of two albums you shouldn’t have missed in 2013. She plays the muse — and a little bit of fiddle to boot — on husband Jason Isbell’s "Southeastern," an album inspired by all the changes in his life spurred by his new love.

A few months later, she released her own "Down Fell the Doves," further proving she should be counted among the group of young, female singer-songwriters in Nashville who are making today’s most interesting country-influenced music. Like most of those songwriters, Shires isn’t getting any attention from country radio, and that’s a shame.

She’s at her best on songs like "Bulletproof," "Look Like a Bird" and "Wasted and Rollin’," infusing short storylike lyrics with a playful sense of rhythm and experimentation that should make more people take notice.

Eldar Djangirov Trio, "Breakthrough" (Motema)

Eighty-eight keys are a handful, but when jazz pianist Eldar Djangirov holds down the sustain pedal at the end of his original composition "In Pursuit," every note seems to linger. Like a great home-run hitter, Djangirov touches ’em all, and often.

His spectacular technique has never been displayed more impressively than on "Breakthrough," a trio album that can barely contain the many ideas at Djangirov’s fingertips. Notes rise and fall in torrents, but his playing is always headed downhill. There’s astounding rhythmic complexity, with bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso joining their bandleader in more stops and starts than a car chase.

Djangirov’s hardly a showboat, however. The 26-year-old Soviet emigrant tackles the Great American Songbook on Gershwin’s "Somebody Loves Me" and Berlin’s "What’ll I Do," never straying far from the melody but squeezing plenty of beauty from both chestnuts.

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