The DeAndre Way Soulja Boy
ColliPark / Interscope / Universal

Author:
Sophia A. Strosberg

Soulja Boy is a defining phenomenon of hip-hop today. After all, new musical trends are driven by the youth and by record labels, and Soulja Boy, only 20 years old himself, certainly has the backing of both. However, not all of his planned music guests made it onto this album, and his simplistic lyrics aren't able to hold down the feather-light weight of his crowd-pleasing, but somewhat flaky, beats.

Soulja Boy is a favorite among teens. He speaks to them about their issues, he sings to them about their explicit fantasies. But it is for this reason that it would be nice if he could show a bit more substance in his rhymes. The kids have such potential for digging deep. Soulja Boy could be helping them with their search for gems. Instead, he seems a bit of a distraction. But at least he's a charismatic distraction.

Editor's Note: Lyrically, this album is heartfelt. It's about a boy coming to grips with the next reality of his life, surrendering to what's coming next.

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Close Calls With Brick Walls & Mother of Mankind, 2 CD Set Andrew W.K.
Cargo

Author:
SAS

Andrew W.K., you should perhaps note first, is the host of a show on Comedy Central. Then, you should find out that he makes punk-crazy noises sometimes. Next, you should know that sometimes you'll think you're hearing the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Danzig, or Queen, when you'll listening to his stuff. And finally, if you haven't deduced this yet, he's a hilarious wierdo.

This double release features Close Calls With Brick Walls, which was released in 2006 on vinyl only, and Mother of Mankind, which is a collection of previously unreleased songs written between 1999 and 2010. It's all tongue-in-salvia-gland funny. From the innocent "Not Going to Bed" to the bad-boy "Pushing Drugs," Andrew W.K. doesn't need rhyming verse to be a great songwriter. His poet's blouse is weighted down with irony and sarcastic bullion.

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The Beginning The Black Eyed Peas
Interscope / Universal

Author:
SAS

Lots of others are viewing The Beginning as one of the Black Eyed Peas weaker albums. They complain of its '90s techno sound, of its lack of non-AutoTuned singing by Fergie, of its derth of mind-catching lyrics. But I think of The Beginning as a bridge that connects today's club music to the bangers of my past, the stuff that I used to listen to on the radio at one in the morning when I was far to young to experience electronic music among any number of sweaty bodies.

The Black Eyed Peas don't need to cater to the media. All they need are their fans. It's brave to try new things. Besides, maybe we need to take the title of the album seriously. Don't think of this album as a stand-alone foray into the world of fog machines and Crystal Waters. It's the beginning of a new fusion, and others may soon be following in the footsteps of will.i.am and his crew.

Editor's Note: One of rap/dance's most frenzied moments: There is preaching, howling, and powerful chanting.

Best Album of the Week

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Things to Come Milton Suggs
Skiptone

Author:
SAS

There's a surprising dearth of male jazz vocalists these days, especially young ones, but Milton Suggs is doing a fine job of filling that gap all by himself. He's experimenting, using modern vocal techniques and also taking the time for tradition. One minute, he's speaking as fast as the Micro Machines guy, and other times performing vocal acrobatics well enough to join the Cirque du Soleil.

He'll break your heart with an arrangement of "We Shall Overcome." He'll turn you on with "Fantasy for Two." He'll remind of the height of jazz with "'Round Midnight." Milton Suggs should go far. He's savvy, got great taste and a smooth voice. He is even able to make saxaphones sound sophisticated. If you like jazz vocalists, take a break from all the ladies and check Suggs out.

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Come On and See Me: The Complete Solo Collection, 2 CD Set Tammi Terrell
Hip-O-Select /Motown /UMG

Author:
SAS

Tammi Terrell's gorgeous young voice touches all music-lovers (including Marvin Gaye, her one-time musical partner), and this collection brings together recording from the time she was in high school. The collection would be all so sweet, except that it's sole focus on the Terrell's youthful career has to remind us of the fact that she tragically died at the age of 24.

Still, it's worth trying to let this thought go for just a few moments as you listen to the sounds of her hope and her impeccable ear for emotion as expressed in the form of tone and vocal texture. In her songs, she sound both independent and tender, both confident and coy. Remember Tammi as you listen, and hear the influence she tossed effortlessly into the world of Motown throughout her musical tenure in the 1960s.

LATE BUT GREAT

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Only Revolutions Biffy Clyro
14th Floor / Warner Bros.

Author:
SAS

This is some kind of pop punk. It's got the anthem chanting, the cute guys (maybe a little scrubbier than usual), the distroted guitar and upbeat rhythms. However, Biffy Clyro are also a little different. Snatches of horns and and strings and other music wierdness punctuate the songs, and the lyrics are willing to venture off that rutted love track that has pigeon-holed so many other modern rock bands.

If you like that expansive sound of epic rock, check out Biffy Clyro. Only Revolutions is mature and has character. It may not be the next innovation in music, but the band has got what it takes to claw its way to the front of the pack.

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Low Fidelity Treasa Levasseur
MAPL / Slim Chicken / Factor / Canada

Author:
SAS

There is a sweet voice, at least to cushion the blow of your blues. Treasa Levasseur sings about cheating, about harsh truths, about getting stuck in tight places. Of course, with her kind of vocal confidence, she really doesn't have much to worry about. She's bringing the light of a crystal-beaded moonbeam to the jazz vocal sound you're always longing for.

You'll get some nice musical backing, too. There's piano, guitar, jazzy percussion and a smattering of other instruments. Levasseur isn't afraid of allowing others in on the backup vocals. The funniest thing is how in control she sounds as she lays it all down. Gospel or country or rock - it's all jazz to her.

Editor's Note: This magnificent folk/R&B record is also her most inventive - so far ahead of its time that it will always sound radical.

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Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3 - Pete Seeger and Friends, 2 CD Set Pete Seeger and Friends
Appleseed

Author:
SAS

Pete Seeger is not only a fantastic musician, an enlightened mind and a creative songwriter. He's also the kind of bright spirit that tends to gather friends and company wherever he goes. On this third volume of the Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, we see reeling proof of his many bonds with other musicians and comrads in the struggle. The first CD of this third volumn features recordings of Seeger, sometimes with friends and sometimes on his own. You'll hear Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger ad Arlo Guthrie on that first CD.

The second CD is a compilation of various artists covering Pete Seeger songs. You'll hear modern Irish electro-folk, you'll hear traditional fingerpicking, you'll hear jazzy styles, you'll hear... Natalie Merchant? Yep. Pete Seeger is the absolute coolest. He's still involved, even at age 91. He is a hero to all revolutionaries, to all who love and struggle, to all who believe that music has the power to change the world.

Editor's Note: Pete Seeger deserves the same respect we give Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong - other artists who created something new and lasting out of the music that preceeded them.

Single of the Week: "Which Side Are You On?"

POLITICAL ALBUM OF THE WEEK

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She Dreams Abi Lester
Independent

Author:
SAS

Abi Lester has a big, firm voice and a good-girl persona. She's very attached to her identity as a mother, wife and Christian. And while not of her songs speak about belief in God, they do all feed into this portrait. In "Flaming Red," Lester's longing is to have a night without responsibility, without needing to shave her legs, without needing to watch what she eats. She just might get funky and dye her hair red. It's no small task living up to everyone else's expectations. (That's what all the fuss was about in the 1970s.)

Of course, she does speak to many of the real-life feeling that women across the nation have (not that everyone has such strong family ties as Lester proclaims). But her country voice is pretty, her gospelly songwriting is catchy and you just may be able to get back to her cloying perkiness and accept her friendliness as genuine.


Passport to the Blues Duke Robillard
Stony Plain

Author:
SAS

Passport to the Blues is brought to you by Duke Robillard. If you don't know him, he's one of the blues guitar greats of days of yore. His previous bands, Roomful of Blues and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, are now the stuff of 1960s blues legend.

He is blessed with a gift for playing slick, solo-heavy electric blues. Passport to the Blues continues this trend. In 2010, Robillard was named "Best Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year." On Passport, he invites you on a journey through he blues-obsessed mind, in and out of cobblestoned jazz, down the streets of sadness and seediness, of romance and sophistication. The rhythms are good, the sax is blurty, but the guitar is the centerpiece, and it's as deserving as ever.

Editor's Note: It's hard to believe how fresh this sound, how funny, hip, instantly classic.

Single of the Week: "Workin' Hard for My Uncle"

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!

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Saw 3D: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture Various Artists
Sin / Artists Addiction / Twisted Picture / Lionsgate / Red / Sony

Author:
SAS

The Saw movies sound like the kind of torture porn that people watch only because the sickness of capitalism plagues us ceaslessly, sawing at our vital organs so hard that we need some kind of release. Otherwise, this kind of sick shit is beyond comprehension. It goes without saying that the critics hated the movies. This music collection is like a mild summer's breeze - albeit rife with grit and sawdust and heavy-as-shit beats - compared to the movies. But that only recommends it. Perhaps Saw lovers and Saw haters can come together on this one piece of the puzzle.

You'll hear from a number of hard rock bands tinged with the cleanness of goth culture and the sophistication of electronic effects. Indeed, there's danceable stuff and headbanging stuff, the stuff of nightmares and the stuff of fantasies. Music will always be a superior way of expressing half-crazed notions of frustration, anger, spite and confused passion. This compilation is today's equivalent of The Crow soundtrack. Enjoy Kopek, Saliva, Dir En Grey and 13 others.

Single of the Week: "Love Is Dead" by Kopek

MIGHTY, MIGHTY!

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Bears & Bulls The Stone Foxes
Independent

Author:
SAS

This is The Stone Foxes' sophomore album, and they are still trailblazing from the wild western hills of San Francisco in the world of rugged rock and rock. This is rock blues, but without any need for nostalgia. They are doing it for real, with that careless sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll feeling, so they need not try to harken back to the old days.

There is that faux-country feel reminiscent of the Rolling Stones. There is that searching, there is fun, there is nihilism, there is irreverence and thievery. It's a great party all the way through. The Western feel of the music, bent to the will of "kids these days," melds with the multiple vocals for a true musical delight, too.

Single of the Week: "Little Red Rooster"

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Love and Circumstance Carrie Rodriguez
Ninth Street Opus

Author:
SAS

Folk music is always changing in definition and texture. Some days it's an old guy bent over a banjo, other days it's a melancholy kid banging his guitar. But today it's an inspired young woman, along with her circle of musicians that are there to back her voice and her own multi-talented, musical hands. Distorted guitar played in a cowboy style lends extra dimension to this Texan's lyrically strong but mood-centric cuts.

Love and Circumstance has the fullness of rock music, but the mellowness of the Americana ballad. Clearly influenced by the sounds of her native Texas, Carrie Rodriguez combines savvy jazz singing with a true country swing. She's got the laid-back charm around her black-fingernailed pinky.

Editor's Note: The albums draws you into her world, but instead you feeling her pain, she invites you to follow her dreams.

Single of the Week: "When I Heard Gypsy Davy Sing"

ARTIST TO WATCH

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Coast Garde The Parties
Rainbow Quartz

Author:
SAS

The Parties do know how to get down. Tamourine and heavy baselines accent the usual British-invasion sound favored by the Rainbow Quartz record label. Modern lyrics that give voice to the experience of the love-lorn of today run throughout the album: "I took a few girls out to a party / I took a couple out or two / But every time I leave the party feeling the same way / Drunk and alone, thinking of you."

Sometimes these up-front lyrics help us separate The Parties from a real olden-day psychedelic rock band. But other times, they start in with the metaphors, and the music becomes somehow more magical. Like it will really be able to transport us to the days when the '60s generation were haning out at big acid parties, wavering and giggling to these very same sounds. Just don't hit on that girl over there. She's your mom.

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Dirty Pond Songs Bobby Long
Independent

Author:
SAS

Bobby Long is the young British singer-songwriter that will pierce hearts with a silver dagger and sing for the sorrows of the love-lorn. With growing fame as the next gravely-voiced folk guy, and a hit song from the Twilight movie series under his belt, he charges into the world with this self-recorded album, Dirty Pond Songs.

His fingerpicking creates a resonant, spirit-tapping backdrop for his affected vocals. It all matches his floppy-haired cuteness. But being a folk teen idol isn't the only thing Long is good for - he writes a lovely ballad and creates a pretty vibe of patient longing and good-humored suffering. He's not incredibly PC, but then, those with the most acute observations never are. Keep an eye out for his signed album, A Winter Tale, from ATO Records.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

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Sugarpills Kids of 88
Dryden St. / Sony

Author:
SAS

They may be from New Zealand, but Kids of 88 are no Flight of the Concords. They do have a sense of humor, but they are no spoof. Kids of 88's disco cloaks itself in the design of new wave, but at its core, in its thumping bass and its sexual prowess, it is all new school jukebox phsych-dance. "I'm gonna take you back to my house / I love the feeling when you touch me baby / You know you make me go woo-hooooo." No, Kids, we're gonna take you to our house, and put you on the stereo, and dance a bunch. Give us some housey claps.

Don't play Sugarpills if you are trend-shy. However, if you want to get in with the scenesters, or if you just want to play something that will get everyone in a room dancing, no matter its prevailing music prefence, this is it. It'll work on the drunks and on the happy-go-lucky, it'll work on the proud and even on the cynics. "So pack your bags up / Let's move to San Francisco / Where Full House looks like a disco / and the bridge is not as gold / you can play Uncle Jessie, I can play Mary Kate / We can be a happy family all the live-long day." Hilarity ensues.

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Lyrics Donell Jones
Candyman / EntertainmentOne

Author:
SAS

Smooth talking, or rather, smooth singing, Donell Jones, is after the hearts of the ladies. Today's R&B is primarily about seduction, and Jones certainly has what it takes. His love for detail is what matters - a little crack to the voice at the end of a song, the whisper that you barely realize he has taken on. Romance, with acknowledgement of fears and desires that we all experience, is Jones's recipe for successful sweetness. A little dollop of sleaziness on top goes a long way to making this believable, too.

The beats incorporate spaced timing for those long glances, interesting melodies to tide you through the awkward moments and, in one song, a delightfully suspenseful and seductive moaning behind lyrics about a cheating girlfriend. Sexuality is no joke on Lyrics. It's front and center.

Editor's Note: He delivers a sensuous, grooving masterpiece, driven by gentle funk, lilting R&B and a voice that sounds better than great love.

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Upside-Down Town Greg Trooper
52 Shakes / Junket Boy

Author:
SAS

The Wurlitzer and the Hammond organ reign across the surface of the Upside-Down Town as Greg Trooper sings of everyday love, of hardship, of family, of the tattered, beautiful quilt of life. His sentiments will cross through the pains of city life, through the aches of the rural existence.

His singing is wholesome and in-control, his stories straightforward but multi-colored. The rest of the sound is full but mellow, mostly rock but with a country sensibility. Sometimes the overall picture is heartbreaking. But then, it's well worth getting your heart broken in order to hear the inner life of a guy like Greg Trooper.

Single of the Week: "First True Love"

SO NICE GOTTA DO IT UP TWICE! (created by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

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This Is War Thirty Seconds to Mars
Immortal / Virgin / EMI

Author:
SAS

Thirty Seconds to Mars have created a cauldron of myth and anger and need. They probably stirred this caudron up before recording, and then once they were in the studio, all of their feelings exploded and spattered all over everything. Yelling and screaming aand military drums and irreverant electronic noises seem to augment one another without a pause on This Is War.

The question is, what war is happening? A war of culture? A war within? A war of love? Perhaps all of the above. Actor Jared Leto heads up this band, and is well-versed in the arts of drama. He clearly incorporates this into his music. This Is War is cool, riding on the fence of pop. Of course, it would have been cooler if Kanye West had made it onto the album as planned. But war will rage on no matter what.

Single of the Week: "Hurricane"

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The Love King The-Dream
Radio Killa / Island Def Jam / Universal

Author:
SAS

Modern R&B is this genre that makes no pretenses about its main subject - relationships. Whether he sings about cheating, romance, love-sweet-lovin' or fat stacks, The-Dream infuses a long moment of eye contact into each one of his songs. He is also careful to make each one sound distinctly different from the next, keeping this album from falling into a stereotypical groove or from getting boring.

The-Dream is anything but one-dimensional. Odd hooks, slithery paces and just the right amount of wordiness make Love King 420-friendly. Songs like "Sex Intelligence" convince the ladies that The-Dream is sincere. Tough love - in fact, it might not be love anymore - in songs like "Abyss" let will appeal to more cynical listeners. And an unconventional mix of 1980s echoes, AutoTune messing, dance club synth, up-to-date sampling and originality will convince the rest of you.

Editor's Note: The result is an open-hearted disc with dizzying highs.

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My Kinda Party Jason Aldean
Broken Bow

Author:
SAS

Jason Aldean is a partier, and you don't need the title of the album to let you know. He tells you in his songs - he goes deep with his lovin', with his travels through life, with his country road adventures, with his drinkin' and smokin' and drivin' too fast. Aldean is willing to bring all of us into the kind of pastoral fantasy world that has made American country music famous worldwide.

Entirely charismatic, you'll soon wish that Aldean was seducing you down by the muddy riverside with some moonshine and "old Hank." In the title song, he sings: "And then after while we’ll sneak away from the bonfire... / If you can be my tan-legged Juliet, I’ll be your Redneck Romeo." The lyrics will strike a chord of identity, and the musicianship is just fine. Aldean didn't write the songs, but somehow, he makes each one just right.

Editor's Note: This album shows he is a true contender, it brings back comforting melodies but reveals a man that is restless and hungry.

Single of the Week: "Church Pew or Bar Stool"

IF YOU LOVE MUSIC, YOU'LL LOVE THIS!

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