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The Listening Room: Kelly Rowland, J. Cole and more...
"Talk a Good Game"
Not unlike being a Supreme, being a member of Destiny's Child who's not Beyonce is a tough go. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams have each made their mark outside the group, but their groupmate cast a formidable shadow -- a "bittersweet" situation Rowland acknowledges in "Dirty Laundry," a track from her fourth solo album. Of course, she adds, her feelings were mostly due to the influence of a physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend who Rowland sings "turned me against my sister." That forthright and confessional quality bolsters many of "Talk a Good Game's" 12 tracks, making it Rowland's most stirring and provocative outing since 2007's "Ms. Kelly." "Dirty Laundry" is, in fact, followed by "You Changed," in which she reunites with Beyonce (who co-wrote) and Williams to bid a bad lover goodbye, while songs such as the Joni Mitchell-quoting "Gone" (with Wiz Khalifa), "I Remember," "Down on Love" and the title track (with rapper Kevin Cossom) offer more laments about relationships gone bad. Elsewhere, however, Rowland holds her own with Pusha-T on "Street Life," while the sultry "Kisses Down Low" and the 80s-flavored pop-funk of "Freak" let Rowland get her, well, freak on beyond Destiny's Child's carefully maintained PG-13 parameters. An all-star list of producers such as Nate "Danja" Hills, The Runners, The-Dream, Boi-1da, Pharrell Williams and others craft arrangements that are contemporary but not gratuitously current, resulting in probably the best thing either of the other two Destiny's Child members have produced on their own.
J. Cole, "Born Sinner" (Roc Nation/Columbia): **1/2
J. Cole is a mess on his sophomore album. Oh, the North Carolina MC and producer is as cocky and assured as he was on 2011's chart-topping "Cole World: The Sideline Story," but there's a kind of buckshot rage on "Born Sinner" that makes his swagger this time seem forced and defensive, even if his sentiments are heartfelt. It certainly leads to some provocative territory, however, especially when he assesses his stature in the rap game in the combative opening track "Villuminati" and ponders a particularly delicate situation in "Let Nas Down," which seems based on hearsay rather than actual communication. Musically, meanwhile, "Born Sinner" works best on live-band tracks such as "Runaway," "Forbidden Fruit" (with Kendrick Lamar) and "Crooked Smile," and he uses a choir to good effect throughout the set, and especially on the album-closing title track.
New & Noteworthy:
BWB, "Human Nature" (Heads Up International): The second "supergroup" collaboration by instrumentalists Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum and Norman Brown.
Donna The Buffalo, "Tonight Tomorrow & Yesterday" (Sugar Hill): The rootsy New York quintet delivers its first new studio album in five years.
Falling In Reverse, "Fashionably Late" (Epitaph): The second outing by the hard-hitting post-hardcore troupe from Las Vegas.
Bill Frisell, "Big Sur" (OKeh): The genre-hopping guitarist put together a new quintet for a collection of compositions inspired by California's varied landscapes.
Hanson, "Anthem" (3CG): The "MMMBop" brothers are still going strong, self-producing the fourth release on their own 3CG label.
High On Fire, "Spitting LIve" Vols. 1 and 2 (eOne): Two separate live albums that showcase the power of the Oakland, Calif., metal trio.
Hunter Hayes, "Hunter Hayes (Encore) Deluxe" (13Star): This expanded edition of the country prodigy's debut adds eight tracks to the original, including duets with Jason Mraz and Ashley Monroe.
Stephen Kellogg, "Blunderstone Rookery" (Fat Sam/Elm City): The deaths of his grandmother and mother-in-law informed the tone of Kellogg's third solo album without his band the Sixers.
Bill Kirchen, "Seeds & Stems" (Proper): The latest solo release by the Ann Arbor-born alumnus of Commander Cody's Lost Planet Airmen was recorded in London during down-time of a two-week U.K. tour.
Leogun, "By the Reins" (Yamaha): The debut outing from the British hard rockers signed personally to Elton John's management company.
Tommy Malone, "Natural Born Days" (M.C.): The Subdudes singer-guitarist releases his first solo album in a dozen years.
Maysa, "Blue Velvet" (Shanachie): The Incognito vocalist and member of Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove taps contemporary producers such as Mike City and Chris "Big Dog" Davis, as well as Incognito's Jean Paul "Bluey" Maunick to collaborate on her latest release.
Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, "Blind, Crippled & Crazy" (New West): The two Americana musical partners and kindred spirits reunite for their first full album together since 1973.
Mac Miller, "Watching Movies With the Sound Off" (Rostrum): The Pittsburgh rapper's second album features guest such as Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Jay Electronica and others.
The Mowgli's, "Waiting For the Dawn" (Photo Finish/Island): The southern California modern rock group makes its major label debut with this 13-track set.
Nektar, "Time Machine" (Purple Pyramid): The German prog rock group of "Remember the Future" fame returns with another set of ambitious compositions.
Primal Scream, "More Light" (Ignition): The Scottish psychedelic rock group's first new album in five years hits these shores after a May release across the pond.
Satan, "Life Sentence" (Listenable): The British heavy metal group returns with its first new album in 15 years, and using its original moniker after stints as Blind Fury and Pariah.
Sigur Ros, "Kveikur" (XL): The Icelandic ambient rock group's seventh studio set is its first as a trio following the departure of keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson.
3OH!3, "Omens" (Photo Finish/Atlantic): The fourth album by the Boulder, Colo., electropop duo has been awhile in coming, with a first single ("You're Gonna Love This") released a full 11 months ago.
From The Vaults: Primus, "Sailing the Seas of Cheese (Deluxe Edition)" (Interscope/UMe); Sublime, "3 Ring Circus -- Live at the Palace" CD and DVD (Gasoline Alley/UMe)
Soundtracks: "Annie: The New Broadway Cast Recording" (Shout! Factory); Marco Beltrami, "World War Z: Music From the Motion Picture" (Warner Bros.); "Despicable Me 2" (Backlot); "Monsters University" (Walt Disney); Various Artists, "Lizzie" (Broadway); Various Artists, "20 Feet From Stardom" (Columbia)
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