Christina Jaleru, Associated Press
LL Cool J, "Authentic" (429 Records)
LL Cool J knows how to play well with others.
On his 13th studio album, "Authentic," he delivers an eclectic mix of songs with a variety of guest singers that elevate the material to a worthy listening experience. This is not a rap album, but more of a hip-pop/hip-rock one, hitting all the right notes from romantic to raucous to punk.
The 12-track record sees a roster of stars lend their voices, including Eddie Van Halen, Snoop Dogg, Travis Barker, Monica, Seal, Earth, Wind & Fire and Brad Paisley (not "Accidental Racist," thankfully.
Their other collaboration, "Live for You," is a rock ballad that is enjoyable.)
From the sarcastically cinematic intro "Bath Salt," to the delightfully cheesy lust song "Between the Sheetz," to the vivacious, Charlie Wilson-assisted "New Love," the rapper sounds fresh.
There's nothing wrong with pandering when one tries to hang on to artistic relevance, especially when producing a balanced, intriguing album. Who knows, maybe that's the future of music and Cool James is still a pioneer.
Review: Chesney surprises with 'Life on a Rock'
Michal McCall, Associated Press
"Life on a Rock," Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia Nashville)
Kenny Chesney opens his new album "Life On A Rock" with the hit "Pirate Flag," a rowdy beach-bum anthem reminiscent of his many fun-in-the-sun party songs of the last dozen years.
While most of the rest of "Life on a Rock" references island life, instead of rocking out, the songs are about unplugging from the chaos of the daily grind and reflecting on quieter pleasures.
Writing four songs by himself, and co-writing four more, this is the East Tennessee singer's most personal album since 2005's "Be As You Are (Songs From A Blue Chair)." There are light moments, as in the duet with Willie Nelson on "Coconut Tree," but the focus is on off-beat, real-life characters ("Lindy") and on taking a moment to count one's blessings (the title song).
It's a bold move, considering that a new crop of country rockers are selling millions of albums modeled on Chesney's pounding arena rock sound. But, to his credit, Chesney follows his muse and offers up an album that exposes his weathered soul. The result is as appealing as it is surprising.
Review: Iggy and Stooges still have raw power
Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
Iggy and the Stooges, "Ready to Die" (Fat Possum Records)
Really, Iggy? Ready to die? Not possible. I always thought it would be you and cockroaches at the end of time, man.
"Ready to Die" is the first album from Iggy Pop and members of his old band, the Stooges, since 2007 and the 2009 death of band mate Ron Asheton.
And it's the first to feature former guitarist James Williamson since the 1970s.
It's classic "Raw Power"-era Stooges from the get-go on "Burn," a heavy-duty groove that kicks off the collection. And there's no letup for the next several tunes, including "Gun," which skewers a violent culture that just might lead its lone-wolf protagonist astray.
Yet the highlight of the collection might be when the assault lets up: on the un-Stooges like "Unfriendly World." Over spare, acoustic country blues, the 66-year-old Iggy is less your wild uncle and more wise elder, singing in a tender, wistful growl: "Hang onto your girl, cause this is an unfriendly world."
Even after more than four decades, Iggy doesn't go down easy - in all senses of the phrase. But the man and his band have some things worth saying before the cosmic end of the tour.
Review: 5th album from !!! (Chk Chk Chk) is a hit
Reetu Rupal, Associated Press
!!! (Chk Chk Chk), "Thr!!!er" (Warp Records)
Sometimes to appreciate a band you have to experience them live: hear the instruments in a raw form, immerse yourself in the energy onstage, smell the musty air, see the sweat dripping from the band members' faces and feel the warmth of bodies jumping around you.
!!!, pronounced Chk Chk Chk, can put on a remarkable live show, and "Thr!!!er," their fifth studio album, cleverly captures their talent.
The nine-track set is a merry-go-round of quirky psychedelic dance beats with vocalist Nic Offer at the helm. The happy "Even When the Water's Cold" transports you to a sunny festival for a singalong, while "Get That Rhythm Right" puts you back in the club with its piano groove and saxophone.
The electronic beats step up a notch on "Slyd," while the guitars on "Expect Death" will have you punching your fist in the air. "Careful" is an infectious dance floor anthem - this one is a sure club hit.
Press play for fun times.
Review: Daughter debut beautifully heartbreaking
Sian Watson, Associated Press
Daughter, "If You Leave" (Glassnote)
Many of the tracks on Daughter's debut album "If You Leave" are quite similar, with their monosyllabic titles and melancholy feel. It's anything but a boring listen, though, and Elena Tonra's smooth, silky voice is a delight to hear.
Tonra first gained recognition as a solo artist, but has enhanced her sound with guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella.
The opening track "Winter" sets the tone for the record. It's a song about love lost, but not in a blatant, obvious way. "Drifting apart like two sheets of ice," Tonra laments, coupling emotions and nature. And "Smother" is so relaxing, even when a steady drum beat is introduced. However, you can't lose yourself in the fabric of the song as the lyrics force you to sit up and listen: "In the darkness I will meet my creator," Tonra sings.
"Youth" is completely beautiful, again synching Tonra's voice and the pounding drums. Toward the conclusion of the record, they start mixing things up slightly, combining synth and drums on "Touch" so it sounds like it could have jumped straight from a record by The xx. ____
Review: The Weeks hit hard with 'Dear Bo Jackson'
Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer
The Weeks, "Dear Bo Jackson" (Serpents and Snakes)
Here's more proof Nashville, Tenn., is saving rock 'n' roll one band at a time: The Weeks.
The mostly Mississippi quintet moved to Nashville a few years ago after putting out a few promising albums, signed with Kings of Leon imprint Serpents and Snakes Records, and have been polishing the music and enhancing the songs on "Dear Bo Jackson" till they shine.
The only real knock against them was that lead singer Cyle Barnes sounded waaaayyyy too much like KOL frontman Caleb Followill. "Dear Bo Jackson" mostly dispenses with that issue with 11 flavor-packed songs that show a band unafraid to embrace - and update - its Southern rock roots with the kind of love that's mostly missing from today's scene.
Five or six listens in and "Dear Bo Jackson" is still offering new delights from keys, pedal steel and strings that were initially obscured by the country funky, groove-oriented heart of each song. The Weeks rocked harder on earlier albums, but show they've grown into a band with the ability to stun on slow, emotional tracks like "Ain't My Stop," a song that stays with you awhile, "Gobi Blues" and "Chickahominy."
Review: Impressive debut by blues vet Gitlo Lee
Steven Wine, Associated Press
Gitlo Lee, "Comin' Out the Hole" (Chuckie Productions)
Gitlo Lee sings with glee, whether the subject is beer, large women, collard greens, silk sheets, the Okefenokee Swamp or coffee in the morning - one of his euphemisms for sex.
Lee covers a lot of ground here, 12 bars at a time, and it's understandable if he's trying to make up for lost decades. The barroom bluesman from Georgia is in his 60s, but "Comin' Out the Hole" is his first album.
It was worth the wait.
While Lee has been touring the Chitlin' Circuit for nearly half a century, he retains an enthusiasm for performing that's evident in his commanding tenor, and he delivers even his most corny lyrics with relish. "I love me a woman so big when she backs up she goes, 'Beep, beep, beep, beep,'" he sings on "Big Legged Women."
By comparison, Lee's guitar playing is restrained but carries a sting, and Adrian Boudreaux supplies frequent and welcomed keyboard solos. Best among Lee's 10 original tunes are three that recall 1970s Memphis soul, and everything swings, even the ballads.
"Comin' Out the Hole" might rank as the debut of the year - among sexagenarians at least.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.