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Chris Brown, Winsin & Yandel have new CDs

Also, new releases from Ricky Martin, Little Big Town, Youssou N’Dour
/ Source: Billboard

Chris Brown, “Exclusive”It’s often difficult transitioning from teen star to rub-’em-down R&B singer, and Chris Brown’s “Exclusive” feels those growing pains. Fortunately, the balance of ballads and danceable grooves is enough to string Brown’s audience from puberty to legal drinking age. “Take You Down” features frisky lyrics set to a winning melody. “Damage,” another standout ballad, displays a stripped-down, Prince-esque bop with big keys. The will.i.am-produced “Picture Perfect” showcases Brown’s ability to start the party, although Stargate’s “With You” leans a bit too heavily toward Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” Lil Wayne, Kanye West, the Game and Big Boi each contribute verses to “Exclusive,” though the best cameo goes to T-Pain. Even after heavy radio rotation, “Kiss Kiss” is still a gem.

Winsin & Yandel, “Los Extraterrestres”After selling more than half a million copies in the United States of previous album “Pa’l Mundo,” reggaeton duo Wisin & Yandel needed to somehow evolve while preserving its fan base. The result is an album heavy on classic reggaeton dance tracks like first single “Sexy Movimiento” and “Ahora Es” (which quotes from Colombian dance classic “La Noche”), but also full of ear-catching duets. Those include “Control,” featuring Eve rapping in English, and the romantic “Oye Donde Esta el Amor” with balladeer Franco De Vita. There’s social conscience on “Ya Me Voy,” a plaintive tale of a life lost to gangs, and, naturally, rhythmic fusions, like the quick merengue on “Dime Quienes Son.” While this is well and good, “Los Extraterrestres” will be a success thanks to W&Y’s formidable ability to fuse rhythms without ever sounding contrived.

Little Big Town, “A Place to Land”Refusing to limit itself to country conventions, this four-way-harmonizing Nashville group’s follow-up to its platinum breakthrough, “The Road to Here,” marks a huge leap in confidence — not to mention, maybe, the best Fleetwood Mac album in 30 years. “Fury,” the Eagles-riffed warning of a woman scorned, is basically hard funk; “Novocaine” and “Firebird Fly” remind you why folks used to dance to Sheryl Crow and the Doobie Brothers; “Vapor,” which opens like Neil Young and features one verse about an unnamed Jesus, concocts a chorus by switching around John Mellencamp’s “Paper in Fire”; “Lonely Enough” hitches theological doubts to a melody appropriately reminiscent of (but a lot warmer than) “Dear God” by XTC.

Ricky Martin, “Black and White Tour”

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

Ricky Martin’s “MTV Unplugged” found him singing in an acoustic, pared-down format. But this second live set in less than a year features him backed by a large ensemble befitting his recently ended arena tour. The sheer energy is radically different from the spiritual uplift of the “MTV” set. Martin includes tracks like “Living la Vida Loca,” but the underlying beat leans more sharply toward syncopated rock than Latin, with electric guitar lines subbing the trademark horns. It sounds like heresy, but it works, as does the rave intro of the danceable “Drop It on Me” and the more classic torch balladry of “Tal Vez.” The set ends with Martin’s latest single, “Tu Recuerdo,” an acoustic ballad with Spanish singer La Mari that detours into lengthy instrumental improvisation.

The Charlie Daniels Band, “Deuces”Charlie Daniels and his famed namesake band are joined here by a diverse array of duet partners, including Brooks & Dunn, Gretchen Wilson, Vince Gill, Bonnie Bramlett, the Del McCoury Band, Dolly Parton, Darius Rucker, and Earl Gary and Randy Scruggs. “Deuces” opens with Daniels and Travis Tritt serving up a sizzlin’ version of “What’d I Say.” On the softer side, Brenda Lee joins Daniels for the Everly Brothers classic “Let It Be Me.” Other highlights: Wilson and Daniels on the personality-packed “Jackson” and Brad Paisley’s turn on the killer instrumental closer “Jammin’ for Stevie,” a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. Every track is brimming with a soulfulness and energy that makes the listener feel like he or she has a front-row seat at one of Daniels’ famed Volunteer Jam shows.

Youssou N’Dour, “Rokku Mi Rokka”Senegalese world music icon Youssou N’Dour follows his Grammy Award-winning album “Egypt” (2004) with “Rokku Mi Rokka,” a collection of songs every bit as compelling as its predecessor. This time out, however, N’Dour focuses on tunes from the north of Senegal, the region bordering Mali and Mauritania. N’Dour wrote all 11 songs, which is quite an accomplishment given that he’s working with several regional styles. One constant is his sense of rhythmic groove, and a good place to plug into that vibe is “Sama Gammu,” which features guest vocalist Ousmane Kangue. Another winning number, “Pullo Ardo,” is a simple song about a simple man, yet the rhythmic hook will linger most pleasantly for days.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “100 Days, 100 Nights”You may remember Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings from such records as Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” where they served as the house band for half the songs; Mark Ronson’s “Version” (where they were nearly everywhere); or a great cover of “This Land Is Your Land.” But while those projects lifted soul to the present, this record is all about the past. “100 Days, 100 Nights” is a scruffy set of funk/soul whose reviews will set indoor records for use of the term “old-school.” The band’s reverence for its source material — all horns, Stax/Volt soul and he-done-me-wrong lyrics —  occasionally gets so close that it’s more clone than homage. But there’s no denying the power of Jones’ brutal, Aretha-ish voice.

Dust Galaxy, “Dust Galaxy”Fans of Thievery Corporation’s lushly textured downtempo might be surprised to find the production duo’s Rob Garza sounding more crunchy than smooth on this, his first solo release, and his first as a frontman. Handing the production reins to Primal Scream’s Brendan Lynch, Garza erases almost all electronic marks from the album’s 11 songs, relying instead on a band with live instruments. “River of Ever Changing Forms” boasts a swirling sitar solo; “Sons of Washington” wags a finger at corrupt politicos with a reggae pulse. “Overhead” is as straight-ahead rock as things get, and it’s refreshing in its simplicity, like seeing a great band in a local bar. Garza’s voice is the weakest link: He sounds like an undergrad doing karaoke to the Afghan Whigs. But the intimacy of a songwriter singing his own songs nearly makes up for it.

David Byrne, “The Knew Plays”A CD reissue of music originally released on vinyl and cassette in 1985, “The Knee Plays” collects short pieces that David Byrne created for Robert Wilson’s famously unproduced avant-garde opera “The Civil Wars” (which also featured music by Philip Glass). Much of the material is Byrne’s brainy version of New Orleans-style brass-band music; think honking horns and swinging rhythms. Byrne provides spoken-word narration on a handful of cuts; other selections, like the droning “Winter,” don’t really go anywhere without Wilson’s theatrical accompaniment. Nonesuch’s reissue appends seven instrumental tracks to the original program, none of which make “The Knee Plays” anything more than a handsome curio for devoted Byrne fans.