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‘The Recession’



Published: Sun, August 31, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

‘The Recession’

Young Jeezy (Def Jam)

Grade: B

Young Jeezy long ago established himself as “the snowman” with his sly raps and grimly silly T-shirts. If his album “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101” didn’t do enough to reference cocaine, his appearance on Gucci Mane’s “Icy” (“I’m Jeezy the Snowman / I’m iced out, plus I got snow, man”) did the trick. But the chill was apparent, too, in Jeezy’s icily repetitive music.

Jeezy’s cold streak has finally thawed. Jeez puts the same dedication into political and social landscapes as he once did thugs and drugs, using a denser sound with riveting rhythms — perfect for the nervous tension he’s allowed into Recession’s lyrics.

While Jeezy shows fear and loathing toward George W. throughout “Recession,” he’s got nothing but (heavy-handed) praise for Barack Obama on “My President.” And even when club life rears its thuggish head (”Put On” with Kanye West), Jeezy is more pragmatic than dramatic. Finally, Jeezy’s having an outing that’s sexy and fun rather than discordant and deadly.

— A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Forth’

The Verve (On Your Own/MRI/Red)

Grade: B-

People take drugs for two reasons: because they desire something utterly predictable, or just the opposite. Bands like the Verve, a mainstay of England’s psychedelically inclined 1990s rock scene, romanticized the first outcome in songs culled from free-form jam sessions and lyrics, by pretty preacher Richard Ashcroft, about shouting down inner demons in a struggle to perfect the soul.

But the Verve’s most successful songs came closer to the second kind of chemical experience. Expansive but solid at the core, the band’s commercially friendly rock produced the desired effect: Ashcroft’s comforting platitudes reduced emotional inflammation, while Nick McCabe’s forceful guitar effect (supported by a no-nonsense rhythm section) cleared the head like an antihistamine.

This comeback album (after eight years apart, the group reunited in 2007, triumphantly claiming the Coachella main stage this spring), is as solid as a dose of Extra Strength Tylenol. Balancing McCabe’s love of athletic jamming with Ashcroft’s bardic aspirations, “Forth” is centered on slowly building jams that pay off in transcendent choruses; a few shorter, more popwise songs, like the single “Love Is Noise,” follow the precedent of the band’s one huge international hit, the sample-happy “Bittersweet Symphony.”

Like many an English lad before him, Ashcroft puts the sneer into soul; his fine-sandpaper voice tempers the music’s heavenward thrust. It’s satisfying, this blend of the angelic and the blokeish, but on “Forth” it never feels very urgent or original.

— Ann Powers, Los Angeles Times

‘Holler Back’

The Lost Trailers (BNA)

Grade: B

Veteran country-rockers The Lost Trailers inject a dose of Southern soul into contemporary country music on the band’s new album, “Holler Back.” Whether it’s the organ-spiced R&B in “All This Love” or vocalist Ryder Lee’s hip-hop flow in the title song, The Lost Trailers bring the funk to backwoods rock.

The band’s fifth album, and second since moving from rock to country music, “Holler Back” resuscitates three songs — including the grooving “Hey Baby” and the sunshine anthem “Summer Of Love” — from the Lost Trailers self-titled album, released in 2006 to little notice.

The other previously released tune, “Gravy,” displays the band’s nerve. Lee and primary songwriter Stokes Nielson celebrate marijuana in a bouncing, rap-influenced track that crosses Snoop Dogg with Charlie Daniels. Pot references in mainstream country songs are nearly nonexistent, yet the Lost Trailers take it a step further: Not only does the song celebrate smoking weed, it also brags about selling it for profit.

— Michael McCall, Associated Press

‘Intimacy’

Bloc Party (Atlantic Records)

Grade: A

Of all the important things that the London post-punk outfit Bloc Party tried to do on its sophomore album, “A Weekend in the City” — confronting urban malaise, burgeoning sexual identity and the second-generation British immigrant experience, among them —the one thing singer Kele Okereke forgot was to be funny.

Sure, Bloc Party won the 2005 dance-rock sweepstakes on its soaring choruses and Okereke’s earnest love pangs. But its third album, “Intimacy,” released digitally Thursday, introduces a new instrument: the well-timed zinger. Take the glitched-up, nearly guitarless lead single, “Mercury,” which snidely promises that “In any part of the world, from Silver Lake to Williamsburg, you can pick another stranger and fall in love.” Rarely has a band’s own audience been so cleanly gutted in a song.

This vicious playfulness extends to the music as well, which trims off the magisterial excesses of “Weekend” while keeping the band’s recent noisy electronica crush intact. “Zephyrus” is essentially a groaning dubstep tune, and “Trojan Horse” shreds a typical single-string guitar melody in a bank of overdriven filters.

Fans awaiting another floor-filler like “Banquet” won’t find it here, as the album is melodic without being hugely tuneful. But the pleasures of “Intimacy” befit a band that tried to save the world and found it less grateful than Bloc Party had hoped. “I can be as cruel as you, fighting fire with firewood,” Okereke deadpans. Maybe he’s better with a dagger than he is with a bandage.

— August Brown, Associated Press

‘Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams’

Solange (Geffen Records)

Grade: B+

Over the past five years, Solange Knowles has gone through some serious changes.

After releasing her lackluster debut CD “Solo Star,” she got married at 17, gave birth, and later divorced — all as big sister Beyonc grew to become one of music’s biggest superstars.

But now Solange is ready to carve out her own space in the musical universe with “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams,” a retro-soul adventure that plays smooth like a magic carpet ride.

On the album’s opening track, “God Given Name,” Solange let’s us know not to expect Beyonc 2.0 from her. She sings: “I’m not becoming expectations, I’m not her and never will be/Two girls going in different directions, striving towards the same galaxy.”

Solange recruited top producers for the project, including Cee-Lo, Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams and Raphael Saadiq. She also has a duet with Bilal. But her work with producer Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, Estelle) is the highlight of her sophomore record. On the funky “T.O.N.Y.,” Solange and Splash create a rhythmic, suave tune that will have fans of old-school R B and contemporary soul replaying it over and over again.

The vocal arrangements are impressive throughout, especially on “Dancing In the Dark” and the first single, “I Decided.” On some songs, you can hear the similarities in her and Beyonc ’s voices. But “Sol-Angel” proves that Solange has true star quality on her own.

— Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press


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