CD reviews: Asia, Chris Brown, Jimi Hendrix

Asia

When Asia formed in 1981, its very makeup made for some pretty high expectations.

Featuring members of King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Roxy Music, Asia exceeded those expectations with a spectacular 1982 self-titled debut that spawned singles like “Only Time Will Tell” and “Heat of the Moment.”

Sadly, that debut was as good as it ever got for the band. Subsequent releases were hit or miss, and the band went through numerous personnel changes over the years, at one point splitting into two different acts calling themselves Asia.

Asia’s new release, “XXX,” is meant to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. The original members, which include John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer, have apparently all buried their respective hatchets, and in the process seem to have rediscovered the fine art of recording a good old-fashioned prog-rock song.

To say that “XXX” is the best album Asia has recorded since its ambitious debut from three decades ago may seem hard to believe, but that is indeed the case.

The music on “XXX” has the same sort of urgency and catchiness that those early tracks did back in the early days of MTV.

Wetton’s vocals sound as good as they did in 1982, and the songs on the album are catchy for the most part. Tracks such as “Tomorrow the World” and “No Religion” will probably sound great next to classics such as “Don’t Cry” and “Heat of the Moment” on the next Asia tour.

It may have taken 30 years, but it appears that Asia has finally pulled out of what was one of the biggest nosedives in the history of pop music.

Key Tracks: “Tomorrow the World,” “No Religion,” “Face on the Bridge”

Once upon a time, R&B singer Chris Brown was a rising star in the music world, with his onstage presence compared to that of Usher and Michael Jackson.

Then, in 2009, he made a huge mistake. If you’ve somehow managed to make it to 2012 without hearing about Brown’s legal woes, then go Google it and get caught up.

Suffice to say that after that “unpleasantness,” Brown has been in a constant state of damage control.

“Fortune” is the third album Brown has released since the 2009 incident, and while he should certainly receive points for working hard, somehow even without the legal woes, it seems that the bloom is off the rose.

“Fortune” is not quite as bad as “Graffiti” and “F.A.M.E.,” but really, that isn’t saying much.

On tracks such as “Til I Die” and “Mirage,” Brown seems to be almost compelled to drop f-bombs at any given opportunity. Sure, that might be a common occurrence in music these days, but it’s almost as if Brown has resigned him- self to his fate brought on by his past indiscretions.

There are a few bright spots on the album, most notably “Stuck on Stupid” and “Party Hard/Cadillac Interlude,” but overall, “Fortune” comes off as yet another desperate attempt by Brown to recapture his past glory.

Key Tracks: “Stuck on Stupid,” “Party Hard/Cadillac Interlude,” “Sweet Love”

When it comes to rock ’n’ roll guitarists, they don’t get much more legendary than Jimi Hendrix.

Although he died more than 40 years ago at the far too young age of 27, Hendrix’s music continues to influence musicians today.

The Hendrix family keeps tight control over just about anything that bears the musician’s name, but in recent years there have been some very exciting releases of rare or previously unavailable material from the artist.

The latest release consists of audio and video presentations of Hendrix’s famous two-show stand at the Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970.

The DVD features the documentary film “Jimi Plays Berkeley” as well as an audio-only version of the complete first show from that day.

Hendrix fans will be excited by the release of a CD version of the second show, which features the Jimi Hendrix Experience performing Hendrix hits such as “Hey Joe,” “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze.” The audio quality on the CD is exquisite for a live performance that is 42 years old, and the concert concludes with an incendiary version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

While Hendrix would be dead less than four months later, he sounded unstoppable that night, and these beautifully restored releases will delight any fan of Hendrix, or of guitar rock in general.

Key Tracks: “Stone Free,” “Foxey Lady,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

By Devin Grant