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The Listening Room: Drake, R.E.M. and more...
Young Money/Ca$h Money/Universal Republic
Early on his sophomore album, Canadian singer-rapper Drake defines "Take Care" as "an open letter about family and struggle...about hearts that you've broken and ties that you've severed." It's a long -- to a fault -- and honest 16-song, 74-minute survey of all that's happened since he was taken under Lil Wayne's formidable wing and released the platinum "Thank Me Later" in 2010, and guess what? Drake's "having a hard time adjusting to fame." But rather than holding a pity party or dropping bombs compensate, Aubrey Graham keeps it genuinely real, neither running from nor justifying his shortcomings and both deftly and densely chronicling his rise and the issues that go with it -- including, it seems, excessive drinking, which is referenced in a number of songs, and an inability to land a stable relationship, which Drake laments in songs such as "Good Ones" and "Doing It Wrong." The overall musical tone, meanwhile, remains spare and languid, a contemporary version of the 70s and 80s slow jams of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway; on the title track, Drake's duet with Rihanna, he even gets chill stylings, as well as a chilling Gil Scott-Heron sample, from British auteur Jamie xx. Other highlights include: the synthesizer-driven "Headlines," in which Drake raps about "me, myself and all my millions;" the ringing "Underground Kings;" the spacious "We'll Be Fine;" a flowing shout-out to his parents on "Look What You've Done;" and the Rick Ross-featuring "Lord Knows," "Take Care's" most aggressive track. Stevie Wonder delivers a nice, subtle turn, including harmonica, for "Doing It Wrong," though that guest tandem of Lil Wayne and OutKast's Andre 3000 seem under-utilized on "The Real Her." Ultimately "Take Care" surpasses its predecessor and hits more than it misses, but it would be even more impactful if trimmed by a track or three.
R.E.M., "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Trash, Part Garage 1982-2011" (Warner Bros.): ***1/2
After September's surprise announcement that it's splitting up for good, R.E.M. is going out with more of a whisper than a bang -- for the most part. Two of the three new songs on this two-disc compilation lean towards the quieter, more crafted part of the group's catalog: the single "We All Go Back to Where We Belong" sports lush, retro, Bacharach-style instrumentation; while "Hallelujah" is a richly nuanced hymn spiced a bit by some dissonant electric guitar work. The short, stark "A Month of Saturdays," meanwhile, has the dry and punchy feel of the group's early 80s Athens, Ga., roots, and the other 36 songs do a fine job of representing the group's canon -- and remind us how much we'll miss it.
New & Noteworthy:
The Backbeats, "The Backbeats (from The Sing-Off)" (Arrival): The first album by "The Sing Off" season two finalists includes the group's version of Beonce's "If I Were a Boy."
Andrea Bocelli, "Concerto, One Night in Central Park" (Sugar/Decca): The operatic tenor is joined by Celine Dion, Tony Bennett, Chris Botti and David Foster in this performance CD/DVD from New York City.
Childish Gambino, "Camp" (Glassnote): Actor Donald Glover's hip-hop styled alter ego delivers a first album after a pair of attention-getting mixtapes.
Cynic, "Carbon-Based Anatomy" (Seasons of Mist): The Florida progressive rock group issues a six-song EP to tide fans over for an anticipated 2012 full-length.
Howie D, "Back to Me" (RCA): Many years in the making, the first solo album from the Backstreet Boys' Howie Dorough emerges, its original Latin focus shifted to a dance-pop style closer to the vein of his group.
Ex Norwegian, "Sketch" (Dying Van Gogh): The Miami indie rock trio reissues its sophomore album with label support after an independent release in 2010.
Javier, "Left of Center" (Universal Motown): The third album, but first post-"The Voice" release, for the Connecticut soul singer includes a duet with Natasha Bedingfield.
Gym Class Heroes, "The Papercut Chronicles II" (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic): The rap 'n' rock group's sequel to its 2005 breakthrough already launched a No. 1 hit, "Stereo Hearts," which features Maroon5's Adam Levine.
David Nail, "The Sound of a Million Dreams" (MCA Nashville): The Missouri country singer's second album follows the Grammy Award-nominated success of his debut, "I'm About to Come Alive."
Leigh Nash, "Hymns & Sacred Songs" (EMI): The Sixpence None the Richer singer explores spiritual terrain on her fourth solo outing.
Meshell Ndegeocello, "Weather" (Naive): The eclectic songstress' latest release was produced by Rochester Adams grad Joe Henry and played by a quartet that includes Ministry's Chris Connelly and Benji Hughes.
Newsboys, "God's Not Dead" (Inpop): The Australian Christian rock group mixes three new tunes with nine cover songs on its second album with singer Michael Tait.
Pablo Cruise, "It's Good to Be Live" (Red Red): The "Place in the Sun" group's in-concert greatest hits album includes guest appearances by singers Katrina and Ty Taylor.
Laura Pausini, "Inedito" (Atlantic): Italy may be having its financial problems, but vocalist Pausini is prolific on this 14-song set that includes guest appearances by Ivano Fossati and Gianna Nannini.
The Puppini Sisters, "Hollywood" (Verve Forecast): The British vocal trio takes on an assortment of movie songs ("Moon River," "Get Happy," "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend") on its latest release.
Paulina Rubio, "Brava" (Universal Latina) The 10th album of all new material from the Mexican singer and former member of the group Timbiriche.
Slash, "Made in Stoke 24/7/11" (Eagle Rock): The guitarist and his solo band mix original material with live versions of his Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver favorites.
Sigur Ros, "Inni" (XL): The Icelandic ambient heroes' first live album (and DVD) was recorded and filmed during 2008 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Tegan & Sara, "Get Along" (Warner Bros.): The Canadian duo packages a live album and DVD with a pair of mini documentaries to offer some insight into how these twin sisters work together.
Webbie, "Savage Life 3" (Till Entertainment/Universal): The Baton Rouge rapper stays, well, savage on his third release.
Betty Wright and the Roots, "Betty Wright: The Movie" (Ms. B/S-Curve): The veteran soul singer and producers teams with R&B's hottest collective on her first solo album since 2001.
Pegi Young & the Survivors, "Bracing For Impact" (Vapor): Neil Young's wife issues a third solo album with her own band, plus backing vocals by the Watson Twins and help from hubby on four tracks.
From The Vaults: Ray Charles, "Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles" (Concord); Cross Canadian Ragweed, Box of Weed (Show Dog-Universal Music); The Grateful Dead, "Road Trips Vol 4, No. 5" (Deadnet/Rhino); Kay Kay and the Rays, "The Best of..." (Catfood); Will Sexton, "Move the Balance"; Frank Sinatra, "Sinatra: Best of the Best" (EMI); Chris Tomlin, "How Great is Our God: The Essential Collection" (sixstep); Various Artists, "The Decca Sound" (Decca); The Who, "Quadrophenia -- The Director's Cut" (Geffen/UMe)
New Holiday Albums: Paul Anka, "Songs of December" (Decca); The Celts, "Christmas With the Celts" (Celtic Isle); Glee Cast, "Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2" (Columbia); Various Artists, "Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits" (Razor & Tie); Various Artists, "This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2" (Brushfire); Matt Wertz, "Snow Globe" (Provident)
Soundtracks: Alvin & the Chipmunks, "Chipwrecked" (Atlantic); Greg Edmonson, "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception" (La-La Land); Henry Jackman, "Puss in Boots" (Sony Masterworks); Michael McCann, "Deux Ex: Human Revolution" (Square Enix); Various, "Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack" (Microsoft Labs)
New Music DVDs: "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne" (Eagle Rock)
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