Paramore, Brand New Eyes (Fueled by Ramin)
Nashville rockers Paramore continue their surge toward rock stardom with a new set that's equal parts stomping, animated pieces and elegant, understated anthems.
The vocal centerpiece remains the mercurial Hayley Williams, who easily powers above surging tempos with style or navigates through slower, less frenized pieces. Standouts among the 11 selections include "Turn It Off," "Playing God," "Misguided Ghosts" and "All I Wanted," but there's no totally disposable piece on the disc.
Guitarists Josh Farro and Taylor York are also key musical figures, while the bass/drums interplay of Zac Farris and Jeremy Davis adds rhythmic firepower and textural foundation to another excellent Paramore production.
The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You, (American)
The Avett Brothers' characteristic mix of vernacular and popular music forms is tweaked on their latest release by ace producer Rick Rubin, who does the same thing for them he's done with clients ranging from Johnny Cash to Run-DMC to Neil Diamond.
Rubin knows how to frame strengths (solid songwriting, soaring harmonies and prowess with diversified idioms and instruments) and minimize weakness (ballad writing, a tendency toward abrupt endings and awkward transitions).
Such tunes as "January Wedding," "Ten Thousand Word" and "Slight Figure of Speech" have tighter arrangements and structure, while the title tune and "Incomplete and Insecure" contain urgent, expressive leads and outstanding backing, adding extra punch to what's easily The Avett Brothers' most complete release.
Mariah Carey, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (Island/Def Jam)
The accusatory, hard-edged tone of the singles "Obsessed" and "H.A.T.E. U" set the mood for Mariah Carey's latest, which boasts other abrasive, confrontational numbers like "Up Out My Face" and "Candy Bling."
But Carey balances these with devotional/sentimental tunes ("More Than Just Friends," a cover of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is"), plus another sweeping testimonial number ("Angels Cry"). Co-producers "Tricky" Stewart and Terius "The Dream" Nash have toned down the high-note acrobatics, though you still hear occasional soprano acrobatics in the background harmonies.
The two-disc "enhanced" version offers some special radio edits and mixes along with a video that includes a guest shot from Gucci Mane, but overall this one is more polished and perfunctory than startling or inspiring.
Toby Keith, American Ride (Show Dog)
There are plenty of familiar elements and devices on Toby Keith's latest, among them the sneering, emphatic title track (the only selection he didn't write or co-write) that gives Keith ample room to attack everything he dislikes about contemporary culture, from nighttime soaps to leftist political viewpoints and sensibilities.
He revisits that territory in slightly different ways on other numbers like "Are You Feelin' Me," "Woke Up On My Own" and "You can't Read My Mind," while "Gypsy Driftin'" and "Tender As I Wanna Be" provide some thematic contrast.
But the real standout piece is "Cryin' For Me," a superb tribute to the late bassist and former NBA star Wayman Tisdale that includes excellent support from Dave Koz, Marcus Miller and Arthur Thompson.
Dead Prez & DJ Green Lantern, Pulse of the People - Turn Off the Radio Vol. 3 (MG)
The toughest obstacles "conscious rap" acts face are exposure and refuting the contention they're so obsessed with message that they ignore beats and musical presence.
Unfortunately the latest Dead Prez work, which pairs them with DJ Green Lantern, has proven almost impossible to find and will most likely require fans who want it to get it online or special order at an independent record store. But the songs are both topical and explosive, as well as intense and catchy, whether they're criticizing their comrades ("Gangsta, Gangsta") American foreign policy ("Afrika Hot!") or police procedure ("NYDP"). Special guests include Chuck D & Avery Storm ("Refuse to Lose"), Ratfink ("Warpath") and Bun B ("Don't Hate My Grind") but it's the fiery, inventive rhymes of the Dead Prez frontline and DJ Green Latern's sparkling mixes that make this a hip-hop treasure.
Will Hoge, The Wreckage (Rykodisc) — Crisp, expertly written and sung musings on life, love and personal direction, with Hoge's energetic vocals never losing spark or conviction, no matter how distraught or forlorn the settings become.
Robert Earl Keen, The Rose Hotel (Lost Highway) — Whether such a locale actually exists or not, Robert Earl Keen's prose and weary vocals, coupled with delightful musical assistance from the likes of Lloyd Maines and company make it seem a place you'd love to visit.
Pearl Jam, Backspacer (Monkeywrench) — When they were battling Ticketmaster in the 1990s, no one would have dreamed Pearl Jam would one day strike an exclusive deal with Target. Still, don't let that stand in the way of hearing one of their least extravagant, conceptually intriguing releases since the early days.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Can't You Hear The Mountains Calling (Rounder) — This newly reissued 1986 bluegrass classic showcases a magnificent collaboration between Ralph Stanley and Charlie Sizemore, and features evocative singing and sensational banjo/guitar contrasts plus wonderful songs and harmonies.
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson, Break Up (Atco) — Scarlett Johansson's vocals and approach will always be an acquired taste, but she's never sounded more credible or effective than in this pairing with Yorn, whose songs and style perfectly fit Johansson's unusual delivery.