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Kenny Chesney

Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates |



Releasing a new album nearly every year since his 1994 debut, In My Wildest Dreams, Kenny Chesney is long overdue for a little R&R. He certainly shows some weariness on Just Who I Am, his 13th record. Here, the usually dynamic singer seems to coast through tracks like “Got a Little Crazy” and “You Scare Me,” sounding uninspired and even bored at times. There are some standouts, however, thanks to assists from country music heavyweight George Strait (duetting on the tropical-tinged novelty “Shiftwork”) and legendary rocker Joe Walsh (igniting the Dwight Yoakam-penned “Wild Ride” with a scorching guitar solo). Still, Just Who I Am unfortunately can’t seem to overcome the been-there-done-that feel.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Demons,” a haunting cautionary tale about temptation

Patti Scialfa

Play It As It Lays |



After singing backup with husband Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band for the past 23 years, Scialfa surely couldn’t help but pick up a thing or two from the Boss. She does exude a similar wordy, wistful, introspective vibe, but a skillful mix of roots-rock, country, folk and soul give Scialfa, who wrote all 10 tracks on Play It As It Lays, a sound uniquely her own. The highlights on this, her third solo disc, are many—namely the up-tempo “Rainy Day Man,” “The Word,” a bluesy song of betrayal, and the melancholy title track. But the doo-wop, girl-group chorus on “Like Any Woman Would” feels outdated on an otherwise timeless track, and the clunky “Run Run Run” is completely skippable.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Black Ladder,” a sweetly soulful plea for affection

Hot Hot Heat

Happiness Ltd. |



Aiming for a larger sound, the Victoria, B.C., quartet continues to veer away from the dance influences of its earlier albums. With the help of producers Butch Walker (Fall Out Boy) and Rob Cavallo (Green Day), Happiness Ltd. is its most polished effort to date. The band rises above the fray of cleverly named new-wave revivalists on songs like the irresistibly catchy “Harmonicas & Tambourines,” by far the record’s best track. But the disc’s expansive sound no longer allows Steve Bays’s grating vocals to hide behind song structure. The radio-friendly first single, “Let Me In,” and the falsetto ballad “Outta Heart” require a stronger singer to have any impact.


Combinations |


There’s no evidence of dysfunction on the second album by this family band. Anchored by sisters Sherri and Stacy, Eisley builds on the pop feel of its 2005 debut with new influences like Evanescence and ’70s-era Fleetwood Mac. While the album feels a bit lethargic toward the end, the simple lyrics and catchy melodies can be irresistible; the breakup ballad “Go Away,” with its instructive chorus, seems destined for the soundtrack of some MTV reality show. The album isn’t all youthful exuberance, though. The best song, “Ten Cent Blues,” could easily pass as a track from Rumours, whose 1977 release predates Eisley’s oldest member by four years.

Talib Kweli

Eardrum |



On his fourth solo disc, Kweli once again manages to elevate himself above the superficial bravado of mainstream rap. With superb lyrical imagery, the album covers politics, religion and poverty: “Eat to Live” is a poignant narrative about a hungry child searching for food. Far less compelling is the somewhat nostalgic “Country Cousins,” and the fiery “More or Less” feels preachy at times. But Kweli is nothing if not versatile, lightening things up on two of Eardrum’s best cuts: “Soon the New Day,” a ballady rap about hooking up (featuring Norah Jones), and the sexy, club-ready “Hot Thing.”

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