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Published: Sun, April 20, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Rodney Crowell

Album: “Tarpaper Sky” (New West)

Grade: A

At 63, Rodney Crowell is ready to cross over.

On “Frankie Please,” a highlight on his new album, the Nashville singer-songwriter tosses out rhymes like some prolific young rapper: “Your p’s and q’s and don’t and do’s are all the news to light my fuse.”

Don’t worry — Crowell doesn’t rap. Instead, he pairs the rat-a-tat lyrics with a Chuck Berry-style tune. It’s good fun.

The 10 other tracks on “Tarpaper Sky” also find Crowell in fine form.

The album has been in the works since 2010, when Crowell began recording with some of the musicians who contributed to his 1988 breakthrough, “Diamonds & Dirt,” including stellar guitarist Steuart Smith. Other projects intervened to delay completion, but the new album is worth the wait.

Crowell reflects on the harmony of friendship and the rhythm of life, but mostly has women on his mind.

“Tarpaper Sky” is about love, lust, loyalty, longing and the good songs they can inspire.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

Ray Price

Album: “Beauty Is” (AmeriMonte)

Grade: A

The late Ray Price titled his final studio recording “Beauty Is” after an opening duet with Vince Gill that draws on the axiom about the eye of the beholder.

Music is similarly subjective, but it would be hard to imagine anyone not recognizing the sublime beauty of the late Ray Price’s singing: He owned one of the richest voices and most emotionally expressive styles in country-music history.

Price died in December, and when he entered the studio earlier in 2013 with producer Fred Foster, he realized “Beauty Is” quite likely would be his last. At age 87, he had spent a couple of years battling cancer and other ailments.

Live, and on record, Price’s voice had remained a remarkable instrument, yet there are moments on “Beauty Is” where age, for the first time, appears to limit his breath and range.

But Foster arranges these love songs to capitalize on the tonal quality of Price’s voice.

Set to string orchestrations accented by country instrumentation, Price sounds like a wise sage with a big heart and a gentle soul on touching songs such as Willie Nelson’s “It Always Will Be,” a romantic duet with Martina McBride on the standard “An Affair To Remember” and a second duet with Gill on the lovely “Until Then.”

Graceful to the end, Price takes a final bow with an elegant collection that nicely caps a great musical legacy.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

AFGHAN WHIGS

Album: “Do to the Beast”

Grade: A

Maybe the most impressive thing about the Afghan Whigs’ new album, “Do to the Beast” (Sub Pop), the band’s first in 16 years, is how it effortlessly manages to bridge old and new.

There’s a moment in the stunning “Lost in the Woods,” which starts out piano-driven and more similar to front man Greg Dulli’s more recent work in the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, when John Curley’s bass kicks in and the indie-rock guitars arrive and it’s like spotting an old friend in a crowd. The memories come flooding back instantly.

Dulli and Curley are careful not to have too many of those moments on “Do to the Beast.”

Neither would be satisfied with some sort of nostalgia trip to bring them back together. This is a decidedly forward-looking album — from the way a club beat drops in at the saddest point of “Can Rova,” thumping away as Dulli declares, “You don’t need me,” to the industrial-tinged drums that drive “Matamoros” into Nine Inch Nails territory.

The journey begins with “Parked Outside,” a grinding rocker with layers of guitars forcing Dulli to sound desperate as he sings of his obsessed love, and closes with the galloping “These Sticks,” which works through all sorts of dramatics to end up a haunting revenge fantasy.

Considering everything Dulli has learned from his other projects, it’s no wonder “Do to the Beast” makes the Afghan Whigs sound masterful as well as raucous.

It’s also no wonder it will be one of the best albums of the year.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

JASON DERULO

Album: “Talk Dirty”

Grade: C

Jason DeRulo tries too hard at the wrong things. He is a good singer and songwriter, but remember how he sang his own name in every song?

Yeah, he’s that guy.

On “Talk Dirty” (Warner Bros.), despite already having hits with the title track and “The Other Side,” his gimmick is cornering the market on sex-themed pop songs. There’s “Wiggle,” where Snoop Dogg offers pickup lines. There’s “Bubblegum” with Tyga about “ghetto booties.” There’s “Zipper” about, well, zippers.

And to complete the pandering, following “Stupid Love,” a blatant Justin Timberlake rip-off, he ends with a sweet marriage proposal, “Marry Me.”

Yeah, that’s believable.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday


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