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Lovin' With Lenny
When Lenny Kravitz titled his latest effort "It Is Time for a Love Revolution," he wasn't playing around. His eighth album kicks off with that demand and, over the next hour, he makes a good case for a new world order based on his favorite four-letter word.
"Love Revolution" and "Bring It On" get things started with back-to-back blasts of retro rock. The riffs are as solid as ever, and Kravitz sounds confident but not cocky.
He gets romantic on the gorgeous, slow-burning "I Love the Rain" and the funky "Will You Marry Me," while "Love Love Love" tastes a bit like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. An orchestra pops up on "I'll Be Waiting" to reinforce a sensitive promise, and saxophonist Lenny Pickett makes "Dancin' til Dawn" feel like Saturday night.
But it's not all about Lenny's luck with the ladies.
On his first album since the death of his father in 2005, Kravitz wrestles with their relationship, which went sour after his parents' divorce. "Papa, what did you gain/To leave the love you had for a two-bit dame?" he asks in "A Long and Sad Goodbye." Kravitz works out his abandonment issues over an epic, anguished guitar solo and a short, bittersweet piano coda.
Fatherhood also comes up in the album-ending "I Want to Go Home," which takes the perspective of a soldier who'd rather meet his baby than fight far from home. Here, Kravitz carves a space where war supporters and detractors can meet.
A more blistering take on foreign relations is "Back in Vietnam," which pairs a classic guitar riff and soulful doo-doo-doo-doo-doos with rousing lyrics: "We're gonna fly over the world on our giant eagle/We do just what we want and don't care if it is illegal/We're on a horse that is high, we think we're so damn regal."
Whether he's singing about the state of the world or more intimate bonds, Kravitz makes a strong argument for launching a love revolution.
And if not now, when?
Even a nasty bout of bronchitis hasn't stopped him. A February hospitalization interrupted his tour, but he returns to the road next week and plans to spread the love throughout the world. He played Philly in January, shortly before the album came out, so it'll be a while before he's back.
Fortunately, Kravitz isn't the only artist calling for love, revolution and mixing the two. Newcomer Chana Rothman shares that spirit.
Rothman's the rare musician who counts as influences both the Indigo Girls and Buju Banton. (She notes, however, that she doesn't endorse the reggae star's homophobic material.) On "We Can Rise," her debut album, the Brooklyn-based singer-guitarist's love of Jamaican rhythms and tropes comes through loud and clear.
Well, not always so loud. Rothman goes more for the quieter stuff. The lilting "More Than One Way" promotes religious harmony over a slow groove. "Buddhist and Catholic and a Muslim, too/ Atheist, Hindu, Rasta and a Jew," she sings. "Whatever you believe, it must be true/Because there's more than one way to be free."
Elsewhere, an Ani DiFranco aesthetic dominates. There are echoes of DiFranco's poetic jazzy-folky delivery in "Gates of Justice," about making human and spiritual connections on the subway. But I'll bet DiFranco never rhymed, "So let me break it down for you in the Hebrew language," "Harder to swallow than a Hillel sandwich" and "We're coming through the desert wearing garments of anguish."
In fact, Rothman breaks things down in Hebrew on five of the 10 songs on "We Can Rise." The Canadian native frequently seasons her English lyrics with Hebrew phrases from Psalms. In the prayerful "Ana" and "Lay Down Your Swords," the ancient words bring a sense of history to what might otherwise be written off as the sentiments of a naive young woman.
You can just picture DiFranco and Kravitz nodding along to "Walk a Mile," Rothman's treatise on consumerism, police brutality and Katrina refugees. How perfectly would a Kravitz riff have fit beside the noodly, Gypsy-inspired guitar? Consider that a connection yet to be forged. The love revolution can't begin until peaceful people get together.
If you want to be part of it, you can start by catching Rothman at World Café Live on Wednesday, June 4.