George Strait, "Love Is Everything" (MCA Nashville)
George Strait is amid a two-year tour before retiring from the road, but new album "Love Is Everything" proves he has plenty of great new country music in him.
As usual, he proves he can stay contemporary, nicely handling the modern romantic ballad "I Believe," with its orchestrations and organ accents, and the tricky melody of "Give It All We Got Tonight," his current hit.
For all his modern moves, it's on the more traditional cuts that Strait excels, directly contradicting all the Music Row trends. The steel-guitar-drenched "Blue Melodies" and the delightfully fiddle- driven "I Thought I Heard My Heart Sing" are reminders of how outstanding Strait is at classic country.
For the most part, the best of "Love Is Everything" would have stood out on any of his albums in the last 32 years. Which means this veteran might hang up his traveling boots, but his consistency as a recording artist isn't slowing down.
Trace Adkins, "Love Will ." (Show Dog/Universal)
Trace Adkins works with five producers on his 11th album, suggesting the country music veteran and reality TV star is searching for an infusion of fresh energy.
And "Love Will ." does find Adkins occasionally trying out new sounds. There's the soul-country vibe of "So What If I Do," which features a saxophone to play up the pop-crossover possibilities.
And there's a duet with pop singer Colbie Caillat on "Watch The World End," a strange love song set during the apocalypse.
While the arrangements test new territory, the themes tend toward the middle-of-the-road romanticism he's stuck with for two decades.
"New Orleans," PJ Morton (Young Money Entertainment)
PJ Morton's major label debut, "New Orleans," offers an introspective take on his life and internal desire to return to the roots of the music that made him happy years ago. To that end Morton has made the album he set out to make.
Still, it falls short in terms of songwriting and depth. Tracks featuring Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and the legendary Stevie Wonder offer a little bit of zest to an otherwise middling R&B album. Levine's vocal turn on "Heavy" is a high note. And Wonder's brief harmonica work on "Only One" is instantly recognizable and enjoyable on the album's best track.
Most of the other songs, like "Trade It All," wear a patina of artistic regret. We find Morton singing about achieving recording industry success, but questioning his artistic path. Those questions would be fine fuel for better songwriting with fewer hit-seeking hooks and more texture.
As it stands, Morton has treated his complex feelings rather routinely on "New Orleans."
Vampire Weekend, "Modern Vampires of the City" (XL Recordings)
After releasing two bouncy albums of reggae-flavored pop laced with African rhythms, Vampire Weekend turns down the tempo and ups the indie-rock vibe on its third effort.
"Modern Vampires of the City," which the band characterizes as the culmination of a trilogy, puts singer-songwriters Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij's guitars and harmonies front and center.
The New York quartet maintains the layered arrangements it established as its signature on its self-titled 2008 debut and 2010's "Contra," with organs and strings in the musical mix. But the vocals are more in focus here, with a choir adding haunting depth to the two closing tracks, "Hudson" and "Young Lion."
These 12 new songs are more coffee house than college party, but that's not a bad thing. There are enough upbeat entries - including cleverly titled rockabilly single "Diane Young" - to satisfy expectations, and the slower pace allows Vampire Weekend to show what else it can do.
Eve, "Lip Lock" (From The Rib/RED)
With her first studio album in 11 years, Eve returns with an unimpressive, unfulfilling new offering, "Lip Lock."
The rapper's rhymes lack passion, her wordplay is too simple, her hooks come across as mundane and she fails to find a musical identity on the 12-track album - particularly on single "She Bad Bad" and "EVE," featuring Miss Kitty.
The album includes top producers like The Neptunes, Swizz Beatz and Rico Love, but even they were unable to save this poor album.
The bright spots are the guest appearances that include Snoop Dogg ("Mama in the Kitchen"), Missy Elliott ("Wanna Be"), Dawn Richard ("Keep Me From You"), Chrisette Michele ("Never Gone") and Gabe Saporta ("Make It Out This Town").
But each talented guest overshadows Eve in every way.
On "Grind or Die," Eve reminds critics she's been banking millions of dollars internationally from Belgium to Japan despite not releasing a studio album since 2002.
She won a Grammy and ventured into television and movies, but fell into music irrelevance after two disappointing singles in 2007.
She might need to go back to the drawing board after this lackluster display.
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