Review: Snoop's new identity works on reggae album
Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press

Snoop Lion, "Reincarnated" (Vice/Mad Decent/RCA Records)

It's not just a name change, but there's a new take on life for Snoop Lion, who switched his stage name from Snoop Dogg after a trip to Jamaica where he embraced Rastafarian culture.

And the new project works.

Snoop's first reggae album, "Reincarnated," includes some fine production by Major Lazer (aka Diplo), with guest appearances from Miley Cyrus, Akon, Rita Ora and Angela Hunte, who co-wrote the Jay-Z hit "Empire State of Mind."

The rapper is still the marijuana-smoking, ultra-smooth Snoop we've all come to know and love. But he's also more focused on love and happiness, and not the gangsta raps he spewed in the past.

He sings against gun violence on "No Guns Allowed," which features rapper Drake and vocals from his daughter Cori B. The track is special because it shows how Snoop has matured as a musician - and bringing on his 13-year-old daughter only drives home the point. He tackles global warming on "Tired of Running" with Akon, and preaches unity on "Lighters Up," featuring Mavado and Popcaan.

The gem of the album, though, is the dancehall track featuring Cyrus. "Ashtrays and Heartbreaks" is an easygoing track where Cyrus shines alongside Snoop.

While there are some misses - like "Get Away" and "Fruit Juice" - most of Snoop's twelfth studio album is an entertaining piece of work.

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Music Review: Fantasia is refreshing on 4th album
Bianca Roach, Associated Press

Fantasia, "Side Effects of You" (RCA Records)

Fantasia's fourth album, "Side Effects of You," reminds us exactly why she captured our hearts to win 2004's "American Idol."

The Grammy winner, who mostly collaborates with producer Harmony Samuels on the new album, declares a whole new lease on life, delivering a more mature, no-nonsense version of her former self.

The lead single, "Lose to Win," is a heartfelt anthem, and she delivers her vocals with intense emotion. Having faced her fair share of public scrutiny over the years, it's evident Fantasia is singing from experience and the message here is clear.

"Without Me," a killer track with Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott, has a captivating chorus, while "Supernatural Love," featuring rapper Big K.R.I.T., bumps with great hip-hop flavor.

Fantasia also shines on the reggae-influenced R&B jam "Ain't All Bad" and the title track, a ballad written by breakthrough Scottish singer Emeli Sande. On the latter track, you'll feel Fantasia's pain and appreciate her realness.

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Review: will.i.am misses the mark on solo album
Meskin Fekadu, AP Music Writer

will.i.am, "willpower" (Interscope Records)

Will.i.am's 2007 album, "Songs About Girls," barely made a splash on the charts, but it was a fine piece of work: He brilliantly wove smooth grooves, pop anthems and hip-hop jams to make one of that year's best albums.

The underwhelming response may be the reason why he recruits popular acts such as Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown for "willpower," his fourth solo effort. Unfortunately, the collaborations feel wasted - and forced.

The hit "Scream & Shout," though catchy and fun, features a barely heard Spears. Anyone else could recite her lines. That song isn't as good as "This Is Love," which has Dutch vocalist Eva Simons belting out high notes. The tune, the album's lead single, hit the No. 1 spot in the United Kingdom, though it failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in America, where "Scream & Shout" has peaked at No. 3.

Will.i.am's newest single, "thatPower" with Bieber, screams radio hit, but it doesn't feel special. And Cyrus, who guests on "Fall Down," is forgettable.

Will.i.am is better off on his own, or with acts that seem to bring their own flavor, like "Love Bullets" with Skylar Grey or the playful Nicole Scherzinger-assisted "Far Away From Home." ''Hello," co-produced by Afrojack, is a definite party starter, and "The World Is Crazy," with Dante Santiago, is reflective and appealing.

"Willpower" continues the recent dance tradition that helped the Black Eyed Peas dominate the charts with hits like "Boom Boom Pow," ''I Gotta Feeling" and "Just Can't Get Enough." However, the pounding beats feel repetitive and the energy is somewhat dead. Those dancing shoes are worn out.

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Review: Frank Turner opens up on new album
Reetu Rupal, Associated Press

Frank Turner, "Tape Deck Heart" (Interscope Records)

English folk-punk singer Frank Turner delivers his most personal work to date on his fifth solo album, "Tape Deck Heart."

The 12 tracks expose his breakups and heartache, and "Recovery," an upbeat tune with a dark undertone, kicks off the proceedings. It's a familiar tale of a night of debauchery with friends after a breakup.

"Anymore" is an honest, acoustic account of leaving someone with lyrics like: "The single hardest thing that I ever had to do is take those arms from around me and walk away from you."

"Plain Sailing," underneath all the expletives and crashing guitars, is a catchy recounting of falling in love and then messing it all up. The lead single, "Four Simple Words," is perfect for moshing, and "Broken Piano" brings the album to a nice close with the help of a backing choir.

The only downfall is that some of "Tape Deck Heart" feels rushed. The singer-songwriter, who nicely blends folk and punk, is an acquired taste: Though his songs may be heartfelt, they're not always earth-shattering.

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Review: Gonzalez, Junip return with spacey album
Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer

Junip, "Junip" (Mute)

Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez is best known as a solo artist with a side project called Junip. But that band's self-titled second album should change the way we think of Gonzalez for good.

Gonzalez's bandmates, keyboardist Tobias Winterkorn and drummer Elias Araya, are front and center on the new album, adding depth to the sound and even stepping out in front from time to time.

"Junip" is filled with lush, spacey electronic prog folk that should appeal to fans on both sides of today's strum versus beep-beep musical divide. With its complicated interplay among Gonzalez, Winterkorn and Araya on songs like "So Clear," ''Head First" and "Villain," Junip spans that gap perfectly.

The music is driven by Gonzalez's deceptively aggressive sense of groove on his nylon-string acoustic guitar and Winterkorn's imperial synth, a much bigger player on this follow-up to the band's debut, 2010's "Fields."

Yet the songs retain Gonzalez's lyrical approach. On opener "Line of Fire," Gonzalez asks: "What would you say if you had to leave today/leave everything behind?" And the thought of what might happen in that story stays with you just as long as the sense of unease the band builds with guitar, keys and drums.

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Review: 'The Veils' dabble in desert rock beauty James H. Collins, Associated Press

The Veils, "Time Stays, We Go" (Pitch Beast)

British quintet The Veils has recorded an album more evocative of the barren plains of America's Southwest than the streets of London or Auckland, New Zealand, where its charismatic lead singer and songwriter, Finn Andrews, spent his youth.

There's enough tremolo guitar on "Time Stays, We Go" to suggest Ennio Morricone "spaghetti Western" film score flavorings. And songs like "Birds" or "Dancing with the Tornado" have some of the lyrical imagery you might associate with a desert tableau.

Andrews' raw, expressive vocals unify each of the album's 10 tracks.

The record opens with the explosive and colorful up-tempo number "Through the Deep, Dark Wood." But after the opener, the tracks settle into the darker-hued themes that could score a modern "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

The guitar work throughout "Time Stays, We Go" is sparse and effective.

On "Candy Apple Red," the tremolo sounds punctuated by a sharp bass line are perfectly separated from a minimal drum accompaniment. And on "The Pearl," the drums sound as if they're echoing from somewhere miles down a desert highway, beyond tumble-down shacks and dried-up oil wells.

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Review: Charli XCX's album varied, but imperfect
Sian Watson, Associated Press

Charli XCX, "True Romance" (Atlantic Records)

Charli XCX may not be a household name, but if you're a fan of HBO's "Girls" then you would have heard her vocal and songwriting prowess already.

The British singer co-wrote Icona Pop's "I Love It," which features in a hedonistic clubbing scene in the second season of the show. Charli XCX's debut album, "True Romance," also fits in with that vibe with songs focusing mainly on optimism with a youthful detachment, which is hardly surprising considering the girl is only 20.

However irrelevant age is to music, an immaturity shines through in Charli's lyrics, which are often nonsensical and annoying.

Musically, however, the record is varied. "What I Like" opens with an almost techno beat. "Take My Hand" opens with a pounding rhythm and then merges into electronica that could have been taken directly from an '80s computer game, and the combination of pounding bass and twinkling synth is pretty addictive.

And sampling the already perfect "You" by Gold Panda is also a good move: "You (Ha Ha Ha)" is the best song on the record.

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Review: Hymn for Her light a fire on 'Flames'
Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer

Hymn for Her, "Lucy and Wayne's Smokin Flames" (Hymn for Her)

Lucy Tight's cigar box guitar is the Devil, whispering sinful thoughts in your ear.

Tight, half the husband-wife duo Hymn for Her, does more with three strings and a slide than most guitarists can with six strings. Combine that with the quirky sense of humor and songcraft she shares with Wayne Waxing, who plays kick drum and an acoustic guitar or banjo throughout, and you've got yet another rockin' lightning-strike two-piece outfit to check out.

"Lucy and Wayne's Smokin Flames" is the second album they've put out since being given the guitar by a friend (who did not sport a pair of horns). It completely changed their sound - and we're guessing their fortunes. The new album finds Lucy and Wayne in an experimental mood, expanding arrangements and taking chances on the follow-up to the fiery punk blast "Lucy & Wayne and The Amairican Stream."

If you're looking for loud, they pay tribute to the desert on the acid-fried "Mojave" and unleash an epic, 7-minute sci-fi jam about saving the planet by launching garbage into the sun on "Trash the Sun." No kidding - and it's awesome. But that guitar's not just a bludgeon, it's also a scalpel and used to make delicate incisions on "Landescape" and "Dark Deeds."

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Review: Martin's banjo melds well with Brickell
Scott Bauer, Associated Press

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, "Love Has Come For You" (Rounder Records)

It's clear from the opening line on the first song "When You Get To Asheville" that "Love Has Come For You" isn't your grandfather's banjo record.

"When you get to Asheville," singer Edie Brickell intones after a beguiling banjo introduction by Steve Martin, "please send me an email."

Mixing the traditional with the modern, Brickell and Martin find a comfortable groove on what may seem like an unlikely collaboration but that turns out to be a perfect fit. Brickell's ability to create vivid characters and spin a tale in the confines of a 3-minute song melds well with Martin's five-string banjo stylings.

Brickell lets her native Texas twang come out on songs like "Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby," while Martin, following up his 2009 Grammy-winning debut bluegrass album, finds melodies and tunes that hearken to an earlier time but still sound contemporary.

The title track has a particularly haunting feel that grabs a hold after multiple listenings, proving once again that Martin is more than just a comedic actor and Brickell is an underrated singer-songwriter.

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Review: Buble stuck in the middle on 8th album
Christina Jaleru, Associated Press

Michael Buble, "To Be Loved" (Reprise Records)

Canadian crooner Michael Buble projects a strange dichotomy in his eighth studio album, "To Be Loved." It combines old and new, happy and blue, romance and more romance. His evident penchant for the golden standards, which he covers with aplomb, is what saves the record from sounding too modernly hollow. It's also the reason it sounds uneven, meandering from harried contemporary pop like "Close Your Eyes" to the smooth, seductive Dean Martin tune "Nevertheless (I'm in Love With You)."

The four originals on the 14-track album were all co-written by Buble, but apart from his joie de vivre and emotive voice, they mostly fail to capture the imagination. Not even the Bryan Adams collaboration on "After All," or Buble's deceivingly upbeat single, "It's a Beautiful Day," can save it from a big yawn chain.

Buble is at his best when reclaiming beloved classics as his own. Frank Sinatra's "Come Dance With Me" becomes playful and electric in his interpretation. Some songs, like the unexpected duet with Reese Witherspoon on "Something Stupid," are wild cards that can bring down the house.

Yet it's Buble's love for middle 20th-century music that keeps this album in the middle of the road: As an artist, Buble needs to become his own man.

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Cover Images:

This CD cover image released by RCA/RED shows "Reincarnated," by Snoop Lion, formerly Snoop Dogg. (AP Photo/RCA/RED)
This CD cover image released by J-Records shows "Side Effects of You," the latest release by Fantasia. (AP Photo/J-Records)
This CD cover image released by Interscope Records shows "#willpower," by Will.i.am. (AP Photo/Interscope Records)
This CD cover image released by Interscope Records shows "Tape Deck Heart," by Frank Turner. (AP Photo/Interscope Records)
This CD cover image released by Mute shows the self-titled album for Junip. (AP Photo/Mute)
This CD cover image released by Pitch Beast Records shows "Time Stays, We Go," by The Veils. (AP Photo/Pitch Beast Records)
This CD cover image released by Atlantic Records shows "True Romance," by Charli XCX. (AP Photo/Atlantic Records)
This CD cover image released by Hymn for Her shows their latest release, "Lucy & Wayne's Smokin Flames."
This CD cover image released by Rounder Records shows "Love Has Come for You," by Steve Martin. (AP Photo/Rounder)
This CD cover image released by Reprise shows the latest release by Michael Buble, "To Be Loved." (AP Photo/Reprise)

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.