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The Listening Room: Big Sean, Avenged Sevenfold and more...
"Hall of Fame"
(G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)
Detroit rapper Big Sean (nee Anderson) comes into his second full-length release with plenty of momentum -- though it curiously comes from songs that aren't technically part of the album. Early singles "Guap" and "Switch Up" (with Common) are on the Deluxe Edition of "Hall of Fame," while "Control," which is causing a furor over guest Kendrick Lamar's verse dissing a bunch of other big-name rappers, is floating around as a free, non-album track. It's a credit to Big Sean's prolificity, then, that "Hall of Fame" is still a solid, confident and diverse set that shows how much he's grown as both an MC and a writer since "Finally Famous" came out in 2011. "Hall of Fame" certainly lifts a few cues from heroes such as mentor Kanye West and Jay-Z, but Sean deftly spins even an obvious nod like "Fire" -- which sounds like a lost track from "Watch The Throne" -- with his own stylized flavor and flow, assisted by producers such as Key Wane, No I.D. and Da Internz. Sean's musicality comes through on tracks such as the oriental-tinged "Toyota Music" and "Sierra Leone," while his aggressive side gets a workout on "You Don't Know" and "World Ablaze." And he holds firm alongside guests such as Lil Wayne and Jhene Aiko ("Beware"), Nas and Kid Cudi ("First Chain"), Nicki Minaj and Juicy J ("MILF"), Young Jeezy and Payroll ("It's Time") and an angelic Miguel ("Ashley"). On the album-closing "All Figured Out" he acknowledges that "the only way to be immortalized is to be remembered," and "Hall of Fame" certainly keeps him on the early part of that path.
Avenged Sevenfold, "Hail To the King" (Warner Bros.) ***
The California headbangers' sixth studio album, and first without its late founding drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, is its most mainstream outing yet, abandoning some of the alternative leanings of its predecessors in favor of a more focused and even polished attach. The 10-songs here mix orchestrated epics such as "Requiem," "Acid Rain" and "Planets" with the furious riffery of "Heretic," "This Means War" and "Doing Time." And the lullaby "Crimson Day" demonstrates a surprisingly soft, and convincing, touch from singer M. Shadows. It's more accessible, but entirely on A7X's own terms.
New & Noteworthy:
Alabama, "Alabama & Friends" (Show Dog Universal): The iconic country group recreates its big hits and favorites with admires such as Toby Keith, Jamey Johnson, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney and more.
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, "What a Dream It's Been" (Cow Island Music): The Americana favorite celebrates its 25th anniversary by creating some new arrangements for old favorites from its catalog.
Blackfield, "IV" (Kscope): The fourth (duh!) outing by the prog-minded British duo of Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen features guest singers Brett Anderson (Suede), Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) and Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema).
DevilDriver, "Winter Kills" (Napalm): The California metal troupe's sixth studio album is the first to feature new bassist Chris Towning.
Everlast, "Life Acoustic" (Martyr Inc.): The rapper turned singer-songwriter turns in acoustic versions of songs from his catalog as well as House of Pain favorites, including "Jump Around."
Franz Ferdinand, "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" (Domino): The Scottish group has been previewing songs from its fourth studio album in concert during the past year and a half.
Roberto Fonesca, "Yo" (Concord Jazz): The Cuban-born pianist brings his latest album out Stateside after winning critical kudos last year in Europe.
Goodie Mob, "Age Against the Machine" (Elektra): Cee-Lo Green's reunites for its first new album in nine years, with T.I., Janelle Monae and Big Rube helping out.
Marques Houston, "Famous" (Silent Partner/Shanachie): The singer/rapper/actor's first new album in three years comes out alongside his appearance in UP TV's "The Love Letter."
Jars of Clay, "Inland" (Gray Matters): The faith-based modern rock group leaves the label world with the first release for its own label.
Juicy J, "Stay Trippy" (Taylor Gang/Kemosabe/Columbia): The onetime Three 6 Mafia member's third solo album boasts a guest list that includes Justin Timberlake, Whiz Khalifa, Wale, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky and a slew of other rap big-names.
Black Joe Lewis, "Electric Slave" (Vagrant): The irrepressible Austin, Texas, stalwarts recorded their latest album both at home and in Dallas.
Little River Band, "Cuts Like a Diamond" (Frontiers): The late-70s/80s hitmakers from Australia return with a new lineup and its first set of new material in 10 years.
Jeff Lorber Fusion, "Hacienda" (Heads Up): The esteemed jazz fusion keyboardist gets help on his latest set from ace players such as Jean-Luc Ponty, Vinnie Colaiuta, Paul Jackson, Jr. and more.
Austin Lucas, "Stay Reckless" (New West): The outlaw country singer recruits the kindred spirits in Glossary to back him on Lucas` fifth album.
Puscifer, "All Re-Mixed Up" (Puscifer Entertainment): Alain Johannes, Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Beta Machine and Carina Round are among those remixing songs from the group's "Conditions of My Parole" for this collection.
The Rides, "Can't Get Enough" (429): Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg join forces for a "supergroup" that covers songs by Neil Young and Iggy & the Stooges in addition to its own material.
Carly Ritter, "Carly Ritter" (Vanguard): The late actor John Ritter's daughter debuts as a country/folk/rock singer with a distinct 60s influence, and gets help on her debut from Ry Cooder as well as his son, co-producer Joachim Cooder.
Hayley Westenra, "Hushabye" (Decca): The New Zealand-born classical/pop singer goes for the mellow on this lullaby-flavored set.
Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, "Turn Turn Turn" (Virtual): The two family music mainstays join forces for a collection of covers (including the Pete Seeger-written title track) and Zanes originals.
From The Vaults: The Beach Boys, "Made in California" (Capitol/UMe); Belle & Sebastian, "Third Eye Centre" (Matador); Bob Dylan, "Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) : The Bootleg Series Vol. 10" (Columbia/Legacy); Ellie Goulding, "Halcyon Days Deluxe" (Polydor); Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, "Black Masquerade" CD and DVD (Eagle Rock); Sly & the Family Stone, "Higher!" (Epic/Legacy); Snow Patrol, "Greatest Hits" (Polydor)
Soundtracks: "Hands on a Hard Body: Original Broadway Cast Recording" (Ghostlight)
New Music DVDs: Graham Parker & the Rumor with Judd Apatow, "This is Live" (Shout! Factory)
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