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This CD cover released by RCA shows "Comedown Machine," by The Strokes. (AP Photo/RCA) Purchase photo reprints »
This CD cover image released by Warner Bros. shows "Based on a True Story," by Blake Shelton. (AP Photo/Warner Bros.) Purchase photo reprints »
This CD cover image released by Ecm Records shows "Wislawa," by Tomasz Stanko. (AP Photo/Ecm Records) Purchase photo reprints »
This image provided by Cash Money/Young Money/Universal Republic shows the cover of Lil Wayne's new album I Am Not a Human Being Part II. This is Lil Wayne's tenth album. (AP Photo/Cash Money/Young Money/Universal Republic) Purchase photo reprints »
PHOTO COURTESY OF BLAKE SHELTON/FACEBOOK
Blake Shelton Purchase photo reprints »
Based On A True Story
Warner Bros., $9.99
The more Blake Shelton rises in stature, the more he parades his swaggering, mischievous personality. His high-profile role as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice” has provided a platform for the entertainingly outspoken side of this tall, drawling country boy from Oklahoma. Now Shelton is creating music as brash as he is, fully integrating his colorful character into his songs.
Before a career resurgence that included landing as a coach on “The Voice,” Shelton spent years struggling to establish a consistent presence on the country music charts, never creating a recognizable style of his own. “Based On A True Story” reveals how much has changed.
The album opens with a hip-hop treatment of the word “redneck,” traversing Shelton’s cross-interests in the rural and the urban, before blasting into the guitar-driven “Boys ‘Round Here,” about back-country folk who rock out in the cabs of their pickups. The tune sets the tone for Shelton’s focus on boisterous country rock and emotional ballads that show off his expressive vocals as the Country Music Association entertainer of the year rises to his newfound superstar status with a lighthearted but rollicking album that pushes boundaries in all the right places.
I Am Not a Human Being II
Cash Money/Young Money/Universal Republic, $8.99
Lil Wayne’s “I Am Not a Human Being II” album opens with a familiar sound — someone’s flicking a lighter. It’s Weezy’s sonic signature, a long-running nod to the weed, women, booze and bravado that has shaped so many of his musical releases, including his latest.
Now on his 10th album, singles like “No Worries” and the Mike WiLL Made It-produced “(Expletives) Love Me” suggest that Wayne’s priorities haven’t changed. Luckily for fans, he covers familiar territory with fresh, tweet-worthy punchlines. But if you’re looking for storytelling, look elsewhere. Wayne’s expertise is in lyrical zingers.
He unleashes a dazzling array on the 2 Chainz-assisted “Rich as (Expletive),” which features a standout, swaggering beat from producer T-Minus. “AK on my night stand, right next to that Bible/But I swear with these 50 shots, I’ll shoot it out with 5-0/Pockets gettin’ too fat, no Weight Watchers, no lipo,” Wayne raps.
His performance on the song may very well convince on-the-fence fans that the YMCMB captain still has passion for his craft. He’s entertaining on “Trippy,” one of two tracks produced by Juicy J and Crazy Mike. “I got high, and fell asleep loaded/I woke up and got high again/OK, I’m reloaded,” Wayne raps, making no apologies for his recreational activities.
He’s a sinister presence over the equally sinister beat of the production duo’s “Trigger Finger,” and seems to laugh about his 2010 eight-month jail stint on “Gunwalk” featuring Gudda Gudda.
The songs are reminders of a more focused Wayne — a version of the rapper that seems to be absent from tracks like “Curtains,” where he phones in lines like “I’m getting cake like I’m Jewish/my (expletive) Drake, he Jewish.” He rages through the heavy metal-influenced “Hello,” but crossing genres doesn’t change the same tired content. And while the hook on “God Bless Amerika” promises a more thoughtful Wayne, his verses don’t measure up — a disappointment considering his still-revered status as the best rapper in the game.
Overall, Wayne meets expectations for Wayne these days — not saying much (of substance), but giving listeners plenty to talk about.
Weathermaker Music, $10
Clutch, the hard-touring Maryland band with an endless supply of guitar riffs, is back on the righteous path of heavy rock after an ill-advised foray into bluesy territory. Singer Neil Fallon’s growl is ho-hum when it croons over a Hammond B3. But it sounds just right when he’s howling at the moon, as on the new demented party anthem, “The Wolf Man Kindly Requests ...”
“Earth Rocker” is Clutch’s hardest-hitting album in a while, and it’s full of Fallon’s occasionally inscrutable, fantastical sci-fi themes. There are references to Guttenberg, the Large Hadron Collider and the medieval weapon the halberd — and that’s just in one song (“Unto the Breach”).
“The Face” imagines a post-apocalyptic pop culture landscape where rock is dead and electric guitars have been cast into the sea. On “Cyborg Bette,” our rock-star narrator falls for a robot, his “latest model.” A welcome return to form.
Rough Trade, $13.99
There were lots of whispers and mumbles about Palma Violets before the release of its debut album ‘180’ in home country Great Britain, and quite rightly so.
The quartet really is bringing something fresh to a somewhat stale chart with growling guitars and pounding drums, and there isn’t anything quite like it kicking around at the moment.
The album’s opening track “Best of Friends” allows elements to slowly build, first with a carefully plucked chord set, then the pound of a drum, topped off with howling vocals. Lyrics are simplistic. “I wanna be your best friend,” yowl singers Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer, who have been dubbed 2013’s answer to Carl Barat and Pete Doherty of The Libertines.
Highlights of the album include “We Found Love,” again showcasing the simplistic yet optimistic lyrics, and “Three Stars,” which brings a calmer moment to the otherwise raucous record.
Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet
Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has long been one of Europe’s leading jazz improvisers, known for his original ballads influenced by Miles Davis’ 1960s acoustic quintet but with a touch of brooding Slavic melancholy. The 70-year-old trumpeter has recently been spending time in New York playing with a top-flight rhythm section — Cuban-born pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver — who add a vibrant new dimension both as soloists and ensemble players to his music.
This double album was inspired by the poetry of the late Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska with whom he performed at a 2009 recital in Krakow. Most of the original compositions reflect Stanko’s penchant for slowly unfolding, meditative ballads such as the dirge-like opening and closing title track, with Cleaver contributing delicate brushwork, and “Metafizyka” on which Stanko and Morgan play pathos-filled solos.
But it’s the driving up-tempo tunes, “Assassins” and “Faces,” where the New York rhythm section really makes its presence felt, pushing Stanko to be more daring as he plays smoldering trumpet lines in a style that is post-bop bordering on free.
The Strokes spent the past six years burning through all the leeway earned with once being declared saviors of rock ‘n’ roll. The synth-heavy “Comedown Machine” is hardly a letdown of last-straw proportions. It also wasn’t made to woo anyone back.
But maybe what The Strokes want is a clean break. No tour supporting this fifth studio record is on the table. And lyrics like “Decide my past/Define my life” over the New Wave bleeps in “Tap Out” feel freighted with a band sick of being forever graded against their 2001 breakout “Is This It.”
That might be a fair grievance. But also in bounds is the fact that “One Way Trigger” is a ringer for A-ha. By the time frontman Julian Casablancas is finally ripping through an angry and satisfying chorus in the rocker “50/50,” interest in which way this decent but disjointed album lands has already faded.