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Record reviews

Published: Sun, March 24, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

justin timberlake

Album: ‘The 20/20 experience’ (RCA Records)

Grade: A

Boy, did he test our patience. But boy, he is rewarding us for the wait.

After seven years, Justin Timberlake finally has released his third album, “The 20/20 Experience,” and it’s a brilliant piece of work that plays like a musical movement. The 10 tracks (which average 7 minutes) weave into one another beautifully as his falsetto glides over each beat. It’s an unconventional adventure that makes your bones groove. Seriously.

It’s hard to think of another performer who can make a 7-minute track continuously engaging and refreshing. One of the standouts of the album is the 8-minute event called “Strawberry Bubblegum.” It’s smooth, airy and full of sexual innuendoes, and it transitions into something that’s heaven-like.

Timberlake was flying high off 2006’s Grammy-winning “FutureSex/LoveSounds” when he essentially walked away from music to act. Maybe the former *NSync leader was stalling because of the monumental success that album triggered and the kind of pressure that places on a performer.

That burden also may be the reason why “20/20” echoes much of “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” When “Spaceship Coupe” comes on, you’ll think of “Until the End of Time,” and “Let the Groove In” feels like “Sexy Ladies/Let Me Talk to You [Prelude].”

Yes, “20/20” is near perfect, but it’s almost like he’s plagiarizing some of his own essay, and that’s slightly unfortunate. The album mirrors the futuristic R&B-esque vibe that helped Timberlake leap to the top of the musical ladder — only it’s not so futuristic anymore.

But it’s still vital music that rises above the R&B pack. “That Girl” starts off with old-school appeal but dabbles into contemporary R&B with a swagger that’s also evident on “Mirror.” You can’t do anything but move your shoulders to “Don’t Hold the Wall,” and “Pusher Love Girl” kicks off the album with the right energy. Even “Suit and Tie,” the solid yet a tad underwhelming first single, fits in nicely here.

— Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press


Album: “Earth Rocker” (Weathermaker Music)

Grade: A


Clutch, the hard-touring Maryland band with an endless supply of guitar riffs, is back on the righteous path of heavy rock after an ill-advised foray into bluesy territory. Singer Neil Fallon’s growl is ho-hum when it croons over a Hammond B3. But it sounds just right when he’s howling at the moon, as on the new, demented party anthem “The Wolf Man Kindly Requests ...”

“Earth Rocker” is Clutch’s hardest-hitting album in a while, and it’s full of Fallon’s occasionally inscrutable, fantastical sci-fi themes. There are references to Guttenberg, the Large Hadron Collider and the medieval weapon the halberd — and that’s just in one song (“Unto the Breach”).

“The Face” imagines a post-apocalyptic pop-culture landscape where rock is dead and electric guitars have been cast into the sea. On “Cyborg Bette,” our rock-star narrator falls for a robot, his “latest model.” A welcome return to form.

— Christopher Weber, Associated Press


Album: “Like A Rose” (Warner)

Grade: A

Ashley Monroe is one-third of the Pistol Annies, the formidable femme country trio featuring Miranda Lambert whose take-no-mess debut “Hell on Heels” was one of the standout releases of 2011. “Like a Rose” is technically her second album, though her 2009 debut, “Satisfied,” was released only digitally and was effectively buried by what was then her record label, Columbia, which must be kicking itself now. That’s because “Like a Rose,” which was co-produced by Vince Gill, is the best collection of trad-country tunes by a Nashville major label in a dog’s age. (For me, the last one was Lambert’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” in 2007.) Rose co-wrote the thorny title cut with Texas troubadour Guy Clark. At just 29 minutes, “Like a Rose” is lean on its bones. But each song is a keeper, from naughty honky-tonkers such as “Weed Instead of Roses” to expertly playful twists on country tropes such as “Two Weeks Late” and “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind.” (Genius song title, that.) “Like a Rose” ends with a terrifically teasing duet with Blake Shelton, “You Ain’t Dolly, And You Ain’t Porter,” mentioning a couple of old-school hard-country heroes whose music Monroe is proudly indebted to, while sounding utterly fresh.

— Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer


Album: “Memphis” (429 Records)

Grade: A-

For his first album in five years, Boz Scaggs traveled to the Royal Recording Studio in Memphis. Sure enough, the singer-guitarist begins by channeling the studio’s most famous artist, Al Green, with his own sublime “Gone Baby Gone” before segueing into Green’s “Good to Be Here,” with a string arrangement by Green’s late producer and the studio’s owner, Willie Mitchell.

Backed by a stellar cast that includes producer-drummer Steve Jordan, guitarist Ray Parker Jr. and keyboardist Spooner Oldham, Scaggs further mines this silky vein of R&B — as he has done going back to his ’70s hit-making days — with superb takes on Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” and Sylvia Robinson’s “Love on a Two-Way Street.”

— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer


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