Album: “Girl on Fire” (RCA Records)
Alicia Keys doesn’t do half-measures. Her fifth studio album, “Girl on Fire,” comes on hard and fast, seemingly stripped but rich in sound, triumphant to the point of a cinematic epic scope. It’s her first release since marrying producer- rapper Swizz Beatz and the birth of their son, Egypt.
Keys’ name pops up buoyantly on all writing and producing credits of this 13-track record, a perfect mirroring of its title. But that’s no surprise. She does, however, collaborate with some new folks — including Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Jamie xx and Emeli Sande — and that helps make the album eclectic, while maintaining Keys’ signature — and stunning — sound.
The Grammy winner’s voice feels unstoppable and free, channeling the martial pop of Beyonce on “New Day,” the romantic flourishes of Toni Braxton on the Maxwell-assisted “Fire We Make” and the bewitching auditory imagery of Tori Amos on the album’s grand finale, “101.” Nicki Minaj adds her brand of edge to the title track and lead single, while Keys’ toddler, Egypt, pulls an adorable coda on the jazzy industrial “When It’s All Over.”
“Girl on Fire” feels organically fed with inspiration, from the drops of light of “Listen to Your Heart” to the weird urban sounds of “Tears Always Win” to the funky reggae riffs of “Limitless.” Keys is on fire and burning all the competition. Pun intended.
—Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press
Album: “Celebration Day” (Atlantic)
Why won’t Led Zeppelin commit to a reunion tour and cash the biggest unsigned check in the music business? Partly because Robert Plant has better things to do (and new music to make). And partly because, in their heart of hearts, the band members know that, over the long slog of a world tour, sustaining the thrilling excellence demonstrated throughout this document of a one-night-only get-together would be no easy business.
“Celebration Day” was recorded at London’s O2 arena in 2007 in honor of then-recently deceased Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun. “Ahmet, we did it!” Plant shouts skyward after the band performs “Stairway to Heaven.”
Guitarist Jimmy Page, bass/ keyboard player John Paul Jones, drummer Jason Bonham (son of original member John Bonham, whose death in 1980 led to the band’s breakup), and leonine frontman Plant are in commanding form throughout the two-hour set. Crisp, thunderous and relaxed, the defining architects of heavy rock move from strength to strength, from intoxicating jams like “No Quarter” to the controlled fury of “Rock & Roll,” with Plant paying tribute to revered if uncredited blues forebears like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie Johnson along the way. “Celebration Day” comes in a variety of configurations; it’s worth getting one that includes the Dick Carruthers-directed performance film for a fully satisfying Led Zep redux experience.
—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Album: “Wu-Block” (E1)
Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block are two of the most respected groups within the hip-hop realm.
Now, some of the members from the clans have joined forces to produce an album under the name Wu-Block, spearheaded by rappers Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch. Their collaborative effort results in a solid piece of work on the 16-track album, which also features Jadakiss, Method Man, Styles P, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck.
The self-titled album has a soulful vibe meshed with hard-core, metaphoric rhymes. That’s certainly evident on the album’s first track, “Crack Spot Stories,” featuring Raekwon and Jadakiss, and “Guns for Life,” with Styles P.
The album hits its peak on “Drivin’ Round,” featuring Erykah Badu, Masta Killa and GZA. It’s a smooth track with each rapper offering a thoughtfully harsh perspective, detailing the state of his or her poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Other enjoyable tracks include “Been Robbed,” “All in Together” and “Stella,” with Method Man.
It’s the rap duo’s first album, and hopefully there’s more to come.
—Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press
Album: “R.E.D.” (Motown)
Like Sy Sperling and Hair Club for Men, Ne-Yo isn’t just senior VP of A&R at the newly revitalized Motown label — he’s a client. There’s a lot of legacy where the Motor City Sound is concerned. With his midtempo swagger, lover-man demeanor, caramel-smooth vocals and all-around command of old-school R&B, Ne-Yo makes for one fine curator, especially since — with “R.E.D.” — he’s mastered the dance-music side of hit soul-hop.
Ne-Yo fans will not be surprised to hear lushly arranged and dearly harmonized, cool-bopping tunes such as “Cracks in Mr. Perfect” and the falsetto-led “Jealous.” They’re as shiny as Ne-Yo’s clothes, with his voice at full-tilt surrender. The twangy “She Is” and the skipping “Don’t Make ’Em like You” (duets with, respectively, Tim McGraw and Wiz Khalifa) are solid but un-amazing. That’s why the elastic Euro-disco of “Let Me Love You [Until You Learn to Love Yourself]” and the tender techno of “Be the One” are valuable.
—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer