Author

Nick Marino

Ying Yang’s Kaine and D-Roc get crunk like Lil Jon, but on their fourth LP, they also prove they have something in common with Common: They can be conscious without being soft. U.S.A. (United State of Atlanta) is full of bangin’ club cuts (including the Miami-style ”Shake,” with Pitbull), plus a filthy trilogy of headboard knockers. But there are also thoughtful songs like ”Live Again,” which features vocals from Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and lyrics about trying to get out of the strip-club life — if only for a moment.

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Fat Joe

Fat Joe casts himself as a tough guy with a heart of gold. True, he raps about blown-out brains lying on someone’s stomach, but he also takes time to big up his late pal Big Pun and deliver a heartwarming ballad on the virtues of loyalty in tough times. Unfortunately, he can’t quite integrate his machismo and vulnerability into seamless artistry. On All or Nothing the result is a choppy gangsta party record, laced with sweetness.

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Frustratingly inconsistent, Metropolitan Hotel squanders this songbird’s Martina McBride-esque potential. Wright is endearing on such piano ballads as ”Between a Mother and a Child,” which sets a guilt-trippin’ mama straight. But too often, her sincerity crosses over into cloying earnestness. Even in the metaphor-loving world of country music, there aren’t many singers who could redeem lines like ”I feel like I did all the fixin’ him up/But you moved into our house of love.”

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Lee Ann Womack

Going for a distinctly retro vibe, Lee Ann Womack’s latest, There’s More Where That Came From, splits the difference between Dusty in Memphis and Dolly in Nashville. It’s a patient album, content to float the singer’s soprano over pretty melodies that billow like curtains in the breeze. The music serves the lyrics, which dwell on loving, leaving, and aging. More isn’t especially cute, nor is it fancy. But it feels the way old country feels. That is, real.

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Kenny Chesney has borrowed Jimmy Buffett’s subject matter for years, and now it looks like he’s after Norah Jones’ tempos. The country hunk’s ultra-mellow new record Be as You Are makes beach living seem like one long hammock nap. Problem is, his sun-baked characters — the Boston transplant, the wistful barmaid, and especially the earnest narrator — are too lazy to be interesting. Bummer. Chesney deserves props for straying from Nashville conservatism, but he’s still a long way from ”Margaritaville.”

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Pat Green works in the Robert Earl Keen style of Texas singer-songwriters, which means his pen is mightier than his voice. It also means that Green straddles the line between country and rock, seeming comfortable with one cowboy boot in each genre. Lucky Ones has some flat spots, but ”Sweet Revenge” conjures Steve Earle’s ”Copperhead Road,” ”My Little Heaven” outperforms its title, and traditionalist Brad Paisley rescues the hokey ”College.”

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Alan Jackson isn’t the world’s most original country singer, but he sure can communicate. His new record, What I Do, reaffirms his position as one of the genre’s most believable balladeers (the heartbroken ”Rainy Day in June”) and, happily, provides him with a couple of chances to liven up. One number (”The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues”) gives an auto mechanic a sly comeuppance. Another (”Burnin’ the Honky Tonks Down”) is the barn burner its name suggests. Both are a hoot and a half.

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Experienced enough to have some perspective on life, the veteran (and aptly named) Old 97’s spend their rootsy sixth disc recalling growing up. The CD opens with a birth (the cathartic ”Won’t Be Home”) and ends with a death (the mournful ”No Mother”), and in between covers love and loss with dreamy nostalgia (”Bloomington”) and utter goofiness (”Coahuila,” where they rhyme ”ravioli” with ”kind of lonely”).

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