April 05, 2010 12:00 PM

Usher

Raymond v. Raymond |

CRITIC’S CHOICE

R&B

While it purportedly explores the conflicts between Usher the star and Usher the man, Raymond v. Raymond, which comes after last year’s split from Tameka Foster, will ultimately go down as Usher Raymond IV’s divorce album. The personal drama helps make for a juicier affair than 2008’s Here I Stand, his testament to marital bliss. Usher serves up his most explicit dish on the bitter ballad “Papers”: “I done damn near lost my mama/ I done been through so much drama/ I done turned into the man that I never thought I’d be.” Other key tracks point to suspicions (“Guilty,” a hip-hopping trial with T.I.) and infidelities (the heartfelt mea culpa “Foolin’ Around”), while coyly leaving you to wonder whether Usher’s confessions are real or not.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “There Goes My Baby,” an exquisitely sung slow jam

Gretchen Wilson

I Got Your Country Right Here |

COUNTRY

On the butt-kicking title track of her fourth studio album, Gretchen Wilson cites southern rockers like Charlie Daniels, the Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top. Meanwhile on “Outlaws and Renegades,” she salutes country classicists such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. The redneck woman brings both of those sensibilities to this CD, thumbing her nose at today’s country mainstream.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Earrings Song,” a catfight-ready stomp

Goldfrapp

Head First |

DANCE-POP

The dance-pop revolution brought on by Lady Gaga gives acts like Goldfrapp the perfect opportunity to take their turn in the disco-ball spotlight. Here the airy, synth-infused grooves of singer Alison Goldfrapp and multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory are a heady delight.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Rocket,” the cloud-surfing single

Amy Grant

Somewhere Down the Road |

POP/CHRISTIAN

It’s been seven long years since Amy Grant’s last album of new material, Simple Things. Even here only six songs are actually brand new (two others were previously unreleased). That’s not going to win her any bragging rights in her household, with husband Vince Gill releasing the four-disc These Days in 2006. Still, this is a soothing set of inspirational pop, as the pure-voiced Grant exudes a simple warmth on tracks like the title tune, which finds the intersection between folk and gospel.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Unafraid,” a tender, comforting ballad

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