record reviews

Snoop Lion

Album: “Reincarnated” (Vice/Mad Decent/RCA Records)

Grade: A-

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 dance-hall track featuring Cyrus. “Ashtrays and Heartbreaks” is an easygoing track where Cyrus shines alongside Snoop.

Though there are some misses — such as “Get Away” and “Fruit Juice” — most of Snoop’s twelfth studio album is an entertaining piece of work.

—Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press


Album: “Side Effects of You” (RCA Records)

Grade: B-

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.

—Bianca Roach, Associated Press

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell

Album: “Love Has Come For You” (Rounder Records)

Grade: B-

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 such as “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.

—Scott Bauer, Associated Press


Album: “The Low Highway” (New West)

Grade: A-

On “21st Century Blues,” Steve Earle sings about “lights out in the heart of America.” It’s a theme that runs throughout “The Low Highway,” from the Guthrie-esque travelogue of hardship in the title song to the dead-end desperation of “Burnin’ It Down” (look out, Walmart) and the plaintive resignation of “Invisible,” and the veteran troubadour/rocker writes about it as eloquently and powerfully as ever.

In the face of all that, a spirit of hope and determination courses through the album. It starts with the richly varied music, which ranges from fiddle-inflected folk to raw and loud rock ’n’ roll. And it’s there in numbers such as the jaunty “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way,” the moving “Remember Me” (addressed to Earle’s new child), and even in “21st Century Blues,” when he declares that “maybe the future’s just waiting on you and me.”

—Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

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