September 24, 2007 12:00 PM


Kanye West
Graduation |

“Some people graduate but be still stupid,” raps Kanye West on “Good Morning,” the opening track of his new CD (the third in a trilogy of education-related titles following 2004’s The College Dropout and 2005’s Late Registration). But on Graduation West once again displays the production savvy and witty lyrics that have moved him to the head of the hip-hop class. While this disc can’t match the impact of Dropout or the standard of Registration, it still ranks above most any other rap album out there. West, who has improved as an emcee since Dropout, continues to be the master of samples (like Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” on “Good Life”), and he can think out of the box enough to collaborate with Chris Martin (on “Homecoming”). The best cut, the synth-heavy “Stronger,” shows that he’s still an eager student of music.

Shout Out Louds

Our Ill Wills |


The news might make Robert Smith’s mascara run, but the best Cure album in over a decade comes from this Swedish quintet. Shout Out Louds have almost perfectly captured the gloomy wistfulness of the legendary modern rockers on their second CD. On tracks like “Time Left for Love” and “You Are Dreaming,” it’s nearly impossible to differentiate singer Adam Olenius from Smith himself.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Your Parents’ Living Room,” a slice of nostalgia reminiscent of the Cure’s “Pictures of You”

Reba McEntire

Duets |


Duets, Reba McEntire’s 31st release in more than three decades in country music, is a shrewd move that aims to keep the singer firmly in the here and now, pairing her with some of today’s hottest acts—country and otherwise. Unfortunately, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and Kelly Clarkson (on the hit “Because of You”) are all saddled with formulaic, bombastic ballads. But McEntire’s distinctive voice still delivers, especially on more memorable cuts like “The Only Promise That Remains,” a gentle, strikingly simple duet with Justin Timberlake.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Does the Wind Still Blow in Oklahoma?,” a sublime, steel-guitar-driven twanger featuring Ronnie Dunn

KT Tunstall

Drastic Fantastic |

Last year this Scottish-born singer-songwriter produced the ubiquitous, uber-catchy singles “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See,” off her platinum debut Eye to the Telescope. On this even better follow-up, she revisits the funky folk of “Black Horse” (on “Hold On”) and the sunny pop of “Suddenly I See” (on “If Only”) with winning results. Elsewhere, the hooky “Hopeless” is the kind of rootsy pop that perfectly showcases Tunstall’s blues-hued vocals, while “Saving My Face,” about older women having too much plastic surgery, reveals lyrical smarts: “Everything’s here/ All out of place/ Losing my memory/ Saving my face.”

DOWNLOAD THIS: “I Don’t Want You Now,” a folk-punk kiss-off

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band

It’s Not Big It’s Large |


The title is sly. So, too, the Texas-bred singer’s droll takes on hookups and breakups, and his wily mix of genres: from the instrumental “Tickle Toe” by jazzman Lester Young to “Up in Indiana,” a foot-stomping mandolin, fiddle and banjo fest. A melodic riff on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in “Don’t Cry a Tear”—a quiet song about being dumped—is more subtle. But ifs the surging blues-gospel drive of “I Will Rise Up” that best reminds us how huge Lovett’s skills are.

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