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Jason Derulo, 'Talk Dirty'
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Apparently, someone thought the U.S. and some other North American territories weren't ready for Jason Derulo's more "sensitive side" as his 2013 effort, "Tattoos," went unreleased. American fans were only offered the EP version of the album, which whittled it down to five tracks, but now four of those numbers return on the U.S.-only album "Talk Dirty," a slight repacking and total repurposing of "Tattoos" that trades the previous release's concept (soul-searching after breaking his neck and enduring a long recovery) for some U.S.-aimed additions and some "hubba hubba" artwork. Get over that crassness and T"alk Dirty" actually works a bit better than "Tattoos," as the Timbaland and Tyga feature "Bubblegum" offers a chewy pop sensation with plenty of infectious aftertaste. Newcomer "Wiggle," with Snoop Dogg, gives the album a stripclub number in Ying Yang Twins style where everyone sounds like they're having the proper amount of fun, and there's the easy and somewhat indie pop of "Kama Sutra" with Kid Ink, which equals the 2 Chainz feature "Talk Dirty" when it comes to flash and swagger. "Marry Me," "The Other Side," and "Vertigo" (with girlfriend Jordan Sparks) are all carried over from "Tattoos "and make this the best of both worlds, but even with sequencing that's a serious step toward making the album flow well, and "Talk Dirty" does feel like some post-traumatic stress therapy session mixed with a banging, ultra after-party. Consider it two EPs colliding together, or a bumpy compilation with massive singles, but certainly consider the highlights, and consider the lesser "Tattoos" a moot point. - David Jeffries, All Music Guide

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Ingrid Michaelson, 'Lights Out'
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Ingrid Michaelson's sixth studio album, 2014's "Lights Out," is a polished, well-produced effort that magnifies all of the sounds and lyrical themes she's been working with since breaking through with 2007's "Girls and Boys." Michaelson even seems to reference that album with her "Lights Out" lead single, the infectious "Girls Chase Boys." However, where "and Boys" centered around Michaelson's intimate ukulele and acoustic guitar-driven dorm room pop, "Lights Out" features a broadened sonic palette and a much more robust vocal performance; it's a transformation she's been perfecting since 2009's "Everybody" and 2012's "Human Again." This time out, Michaelson has enlisted a handful of producers who include, among others, her bandmate bassist Chris Kuffner, Jacquire King (Modest Mouse, Norah Jones), and singer/songwriter Katie Herzig. Michaelson even reunites with longtime collaborator Dan Romer for the epic ballad "Over You," featuring A Great Big World. While there are a few of Michaelson's trademark intimate breakup songs here, including the tear-inducing "Open Hands," overall the album reveals Michaelson to be in a bright, upbeat state of mind. Cuts like the bluesy, handclap-heavy "Warpath" and the similarly fiery "Time Machine," with its '90s-esque sax samples, are more emblematic of the album's ambitious, empowered tone. Elsewhere, we get the catchy dance-pop duet "One Night Town" with Mat Kearney and the uplifting anthem "Afterlife." There's also a very in-the-moment feeling of both poignancy and happiness to Lights Out, which is perhaps best expressed in the midtempo Beatlesque ballad "Wonderful Unknown," featuring Michaelson's husband, singer/songwriter Greg Laswell. In it, Michaelson ruminates on the small details of her everyday life, singing "We make bread on Sundays and the little ones are climbing the walls/Up the walls/Nothing lasts forever but the sound of love astounds me every time that it calls." Ultimately, on "Lights Out," Michaelson has captured that sound of love. - Matt Collard, All Music Guide 

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Duck Sauce, 'Quack'
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Although the snooty house music fans declare it a garish glop of slick pop goo with maybe just one small drop of clever, Duck Sauce (featuring superstar DJs Armand Van Helden and A-Trak banging the beats together) released a seriously subversive slab of music with their infectious, Boney M.-sampling track "Barbara Streisand." Veteran DJ prankster Green Velvet must have gone greener with envy once the Lima, Ohio kids on the network television show Glee performed the cut, as if "Pump Up the Volume" and "James Brown Is Dead"-styled numbers were perfect for show choir. In other words, it is best to come at the supergroup's debut album as tongue-in-cheek prime-time fluff that's only "deep" when it comes to "concept." Even then, the concept is merely to be deviant and delicious in equal measure, and on that front "Quack" wins, from its Dazz Band-on-disco-steroids opener "Chariots of the Gods" to the Anton LaVey-with-duck-bill artwork that graces the album's back cover. Throwing a duck bill on the greatest Satanist known to man is the kind of sharp and short humor that's found here, as skits and audio montages (house music segues into norteño music, and other nonsense) break up a solid set of slick bangers, including the infectious "Barbara Streisand" and its Village People-ish follow-up, "Radio Stereo." Those familiar with the gold chains and goofball-filled albums of Armand will find "Quack"'s layout quite like his Killing Puritans or Nympho efforts, but A-Trak is no silent partner, and it would be easy to chalk all the Kavinsky-esque synth lines and stuttering electro up to him. Get hip or get irked because either reaction is worthy of this loud, smart-ass joke put on loop, but not since Disco Tex unleashed his Sex-O-Lettes has there been such a cheeky way to keep dancing. - David Jeffries, All Music Guide

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Rodney Crowell, 'Tarpaper Sky'
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Rodney Crowell's last two offerings have been collaborative albums. First was 2011's "Kin," an uneven collection written and recorded with novelist Mary Karr; 2013's "Old Yellow Moon" marked his reunion with Emmylou Harris. It was a decent record, but steeped in nostalgia rather than fresh energy. Tarpaper Sky is a no-nonsense collection of Crowell songs unrestricted by concept, played by the core band from 1988's Diamonds & Dirt--guitarist Steuart Smith, drummer Eddie Bayers and bassist Michael Rhodes--as well friends. Justin Neibank helmed and mixed these sessions; he gets the essence of Crowell's sound perfectly. The standouts tend to be the mid-to uptempo numbers. The opener "The Long Journey Home" references in feel and architecture -- if not anthemic force -- Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender," but it's more empathic and tender than dramatic. "Fever on the Bayou," co-written with Will Jennings, tosses just a touch of Louisiana into Crowell's Texas-cum-Nashville gumbo. "Frankie Please" is raucous modern rockabilly with killer guitar from Smith. It draws from the same untamed root sources that Bob Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain" does. The rough and tumble honky tonk blues of "Somebody's Shadow," co-written with Quinten Collier, has an uncharacteristic tenor saxophone in its barroom swagger, and it works. "Jesus Talk to Mama" is swinging country rockabilly with Smith's licks adding to its strut and a gospel backing vocal courtesy of Vicki Hampton. "The Flyboy & The Kid" is classic Texas Americana (and dedicated to mentor Guy Clark). The simple melody adorned with accordion, mandolin, Jerry Douglas' dobro, and Bayers' popping snare, underscores an inspired vocal delivering exceptionally poetic lyrics. Among the slower tunes, "Famous Last Words of a Fool in Love," a duet with Shannon McNally reveals that life's twilight may be visible on the horizon, but the present moment is meant to be fully embraced. Likewise, the country waltz "I Wouldn't Be Me Without You" is one of Crowell's finest love songs in years. Themes of of memory and gratitude wind their way through some of Tarpaper Sky 's songs, but they don't frame the album as a whole. This is Crowell at his best: focused, balanced, clever, at times profound. It's a welcome return to form. - Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

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The Both, 'The Both'
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The Both's first album represents the results of a well-conceived collaboration between two artists who've built up considerable goodwill with their long careers of first-rate songcraft. While both Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are perfectly capable of making records that are full of brainy, emotionally charged, and melodically rich songs, together they come together in a way that adds up to something greater than their solo work. Most of all, their vocals sound great together whether singing in harmony or trading off parts. That's a huge selling point right there, but apart from that, Leo gives Mann's songs a boost of energy, his guitar ripping off fiery solos and live-wire riffs, while Mann's earthy vocals and carefully structured chord changes rein in Leo's rockist tendencies and let him show he can do power pop ballads as well as he can do Thin Lizzy-style rockers. The record is balanced between songs that are obviously his ideas (the rollicking "Milwaukee" and "Volunteers of America") or hers (the stately "No Sir," the melancholy "You Can't Help Me Now"), but no matter who came up with them, all the songs are hooky and memorable. They were both clearly inspired by the chance to work together and brought their best work to the table. Other highlights of the albums are Mann's rock-solid bass playing, the well-placed keyboards and simple production of Paul Bryan, and Scott Seiver's strong drumming. Their cover of the early Thin Lizzy track "Honesty Is No Excuse" is another high point, with Leo's well-documented love for Phil Lynott shining through in his impassioned vocals and fret-melting solo. Though the album slows a bit on the back half, with the fragile "Hummingbird" coming off as a little too sedate and precise, it charges back with two of their best songs, the super-catchy "Bedtime Stories" and the bouncing, piano-led "The Inevitable Shove," which represents one of the best blends of Leo and Mann's talents. Indeed, The Both never sounds like Leo playing Mann's songs or vice versa. They work hard to make it a true collaboration, and due to that effort and the high quality of the songs they each brought, it works amazingly well. Well enough that it rates with the best work of either artist, which, given their respective track records, is saying a great deal. - Tim Sendra, All Music Guide

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Afghan Whigs, 'Do the Beast'
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Of the bands that came from the "heavy alternative" scene typified by the Sub Pop roster in the late '80s to early '90s, the Afghan Whigs were one of the very best, and also one of the least likely to connect with a mass audience -- their music was strong and powerful, the songs were outstanding soul-inflected hard rock, and Greg Dulli's nicotine-bathed voice was the perfect fit for their musical approach, but they were willing to dig deeper into the dark spaces of self-loathing and needy emotional manipulation than anyone else in rock, and as a consequence their finest and most compelling album, 1993's Gentlemen, was often hard to hear for all its grim fascination with the ugly side of the male psyche. It seemed the band couldn't go any deeper, and they didn't on their final two albums, 1996's Black Love and 1998's 1965, but after a heroically received reunion tour in 2012, the Afghan Whigs returned to the recording studio and have offered up a work nearly as dark and unsettling as Gentlemen, 2014's Do to the Beast. It sounds a good bit different than their previous work: vocalist and songwriter Dulli and bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Curley are the only original members of the band on board, and the sheets of electric guitar generated by Rick McCollum are particularly missed, replaced with a larger ensemble (including lots of keys, occasional strings, and busy percussion) that boasts a broader dramatic scope than the classic Whigs sound but fails to connect with the same ferocity. Dulli's phrasing and sense of drama are as solid as ever, but his instrument is significantly grainier than it has been in the past, and he has a bit of trouble making this material signify (the fact that his vocals are frequently deep in the mix doesn't help much). And Do to the Beast chronicles a relationship just as damaged as you'd expect from Dulli, but the songs don't quite cohere into a larger statement with the grace of his best work, even if the performances and arrangements manage to be something more than the sum of their parts. Do to the Beast is an ambitious attempt to re-create the feeling of the Afghan Whigs while retooling their sonic fingerprint; the final product is intelligent and often fascinating, but it doesn't deliver like the Afghan Whigs do at their best, and ultimately comes off as a brave but somewhat unsatisfying experiment. - Mark Deming, All Music Guide

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Chuck E. Weiss, 'Red Beans and Weiss'
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It's been seven years since Chuck E. Weiss released "23rd & Stout," a set that drunk-walked between roots rock, vintage R&B, jump blues, zany experimentation, and post-Beat humor. "Red Beans and Weiss" marks the songwriter's first album for Anti. It was self-produced, though it lists Tom Waits and Johnny Depp as executive producers. Guitarist Tony Gilkyson, drummer Don Heffington, and pianist Michael Murphy all return. The personnel is fleshed out with bassist Will MacGregor and saxophonists Jimmy Roberts and CeCe Worrall-Rubin. For anyone who's heard Weiss' Rykodisc albums Extremely Cool and Old Souls & Wolf Tickets, there will be much to enjoy here. Opener "Tupelo Joe" may have throwaway lyrics, but the scorching modern rockabilly slashed and burned through by Gilkyson's guitar playing makes it more than worthwhile. The moderately funky hipster rap that is "That Knucklehead Stuff," with its alternating honking sax and zinging guitar lines, is catchy as hell, as is its strutting counterpart, "Kokamo (Boy Bruce)." "Exile on Main Street Blues" is done in swaggering 1950s Chicago style. "Hey Pendejo" walks the line between bumping polka, East L.A. backyard mariachi, and a Catskills comedy routine. What works best here are the cuts where electric blues-boogie is the m.o. This band is tight and nasty, no matter how spaced out and loopy Weiss' groove is. Check the strutting boogie in "Boston Blackie," "Bomb the Tracks," and "Dead Man's Shoes"; they are electrified and alone worth the price of admission. The syncopated blues-jazz in "Oo Poo Pa Do in the Rebop" is complete with lyrics seemingly drawn from the world of an Iceberg Slim novel and a rhythm section that can't be shaken. "The Hink-a-Dink" is a sinister moaning blues with Gypsy violin, Rachel Hathaway's wailing wordless soul backing vocal, and a moody male chorus moan all tossed in, but it works! Not everything does, however. "Shushie" is a noir-ish hepcat jazz number whose lyrics make a feral cat Weiss rescued into a terminal hipster. (The smoky saxophone solo is nice, though.) Closer "Willy's in the Pee Pee House" is so dumb it could have just been left off altogether. That said, none of this is contrived -- it's all Chuck E. Weiss. Zany, unrepentantly retro, and drenched in an era that revivalists can't touch, Red Beans and Weiss is a greasy, gritty report from one of L.A.'s last original rock & roll street denizens. It has a grimy charm all its own. - Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

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