Young Jeezy, “The Recession”Young Jeezy balances commercial/pop aspirations with core hip-hop sounds on “The Recession,” getting a lift from DJ Toomp, Drumma Boy, Midnight Black and longtime collaborator Shawty Redd on this sonically enjoyable follow-up to 2006’s “The Inspiration.” Previously criticized for strange rhymes and repeating lines, Jeezy delivers some great turns of phrase on songs like “Wordplay,” where he answers claims of glorifying drug dealing with the couplet, “They want wordplay and I got bird play.” Considering Jeezy’s admission that he’s a bit uncomfortable making female-skewed songs, the blend manifests itself most clearly on “Taking It There,” with Trey Songz crooning a romantic chorus. While fans may gravitate more toward cuts like “Vacation” and “Yeah,” “Taking It There” could wind up being the track Jeezy needs to cement himself as a mainstream artist and not just a favorite of rap aficionados.
Brian Wilson, “That Lucky Old Sun”After taking care of some unfinished business in recent years, Brian Wilson shows he still has the stuff of conceptual brilliance on his eighth solo album. “That Lucky Old Sun” is the kind of song cycle that would make Kurt Weill proud, a set of disassociated but nevertheless thematically linked tunes, inspired by Wilson’s Southern California roots. Using the title track, a 1949 composition that was a hit for Louis Armstrong, as a recurring motif, Wilson and his collaborators create richly arranged and orchestrated pop songs as well as four poetic spoken-word narratives that give the album a trippy, avant edge. There’s a stage-worthy veneer to the entire project as well as some frank autobiographical allusions — “At 25 I turned out the light/’Cause I couldn’t handle the glare in my tired eyes,” Wilson sings at one point.
Ice Cube, “Raw Footage”There’s little sign here that Ice Cube’s family film work has diluted the sociopolitical fury he first vented on N.W.A.’s 1988 breakthrough, “Straight Outta Compton.” Throughout “Raw Footage,” Cube holds forth in vivid detail against politicians, wack MCs and pundits who blame his brand of gangsta rap for creating inner-city trouble (instead of blaming inner-city trouble for inspiring gangsta rap). Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect that middle age (or material comfort) has dulled the sharp edges of Cube’s wordplay. “Now what this got to do with the price of tea in China?” he asks in “Here He Come,” “Nothing, mother----er, just don’t act like a vagina.” Yikes. Occasional clunkers aside, the impassioned delivery and stripped-down G-funk grooves are still more potent than plenty of efforts by rappers half Cube’s age. He just might hire an editor next time.
Underoath, “Lost in the Sound of Separation”Unrelenting and often harrowing, Underoath’s newest is filled with the band’s characteristic bone-crunching riffs and a reduced role from drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie, allowing frontman Spencer Chamberlain’s guttural howls to take command. Throughout its 41 minutes, “Lost in the Sound of Separation” occasionally teeters on the precipice of unfamiliar territory. Chamberlain trades his screams for sung parts on “Too Bright to See, Too Loud to Hear,” and the sparse, electronic-based closer “Desolate Earth: The End Is Here” is largely instrumental except for a few lines. With “Separation,” it’s clear that the band has not turned the genre on its head. Even so, Underoath has made definitive strides at progression without abandoning its muscular, broad-shouldered hardcore.
GZA, “Pro Tools”Even in this post-Wu-glory-days era, GZA remains easily and unfairly overshadowed. He doesn’t have the odd indie appeal of Ghostface, the smoked-up rasp of Method Man or the RZA’s Hollywood resume. But he does have five solo records to his credit now, and a purpose: “All I need is a beat,” he opens on “Alphabets,” and commences three minutes of liquid rhymes that spray out without any detectable effort. “Pro Tools” is the opposite of flashy. You could count the number of hooks on one hand and most tracks clock in at the three-minute mark, ostensibly to let GZA inhale occasionally. But it’s worth a listen to hear what sneaky, suspicious, image-heavy tricks still emerge from his notebook (particularly on the war-charged “Colombia Ties” — “A president’s madness responsible for losses/political forces/land littered with corpses”).
The Game, “LAX”The Game has long threatened that “LAX” would be his last album, so perhaps that’s why he recruited the wayward DMX to open it with one of his trademark prayers (“Devil, we rebuke you in the name of Jesus”). The table thus set, the Game goes surprisingly mellow in comparison to his first two efforts. “Touchdown” sports a lazy synth and an airy chorus from Raheem DeVaughn about jet-setting, and Ne-Yo proves himself chivalrous while the Game growls over “Gentleman’s Affair.” Common pops up on the electric piano-driven “Angel,” paying homage to his classic “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” depicts the Game’s creativity as he embodies the voices of Tupac, Biggie and Eazy-E just before they passed away.
David Byrne and Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”Reprising a creative partnership that yielded several classic Talking Heads albums and 1981’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” David Byrne and Brian Eno are taking the digital/self-release route for their latest pairing. Working via e-mail, Eno constructed the instrumentation and Byrne crafted the lyrics and melodies. The results are their familiar mashed-up scrap heaps of electronic and industrial sounds, with a chorus of voices, strings and guitars supporting Byrne’s yelped, rubbery singing. It’s all exceedingly pleasant, from the triumphant melodies of opener “Home” to the peaceful closer “The Lighthouse.” But while “Everything” is firmly grounded in Eno and Byrne’s previous work, their mutual commitment to musical exploration ensures that the album rarely sounds like something we’ve heard before.
Slipnot, “All Hope is Gone”A new Slipknot album means new masks, new outfits — and new sonic sojourns. “All Hope Is Gone” doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Building on the experiments of 2004’s “Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses),” the set is at once Slipknot’s most ambitious and most accessible outing to date, with a broad palette of sounds and textures that shift faster than Michael Phelps off the starting block. “Sulfur,” “Psychosocial,” “Dead Memories” and “Vendetta” are easy fits next to most anything else on the active rock front, while the melodic, acoustic guitar-driven “Snuff” is this album’s “Circle.” On the heavier tip, “.execute/Gematria (The Killing Name)” opens the album with seven-plus minutes of doomy chords and sociopolitical diatribe, and “Gehenna” is a leaded, layered sludge fest. On it, Corey Taylor howls that he “cannot maintain a semblance of normal anymore” — which Slipknot’s fans, known as the Maggots, will consider the best news of all.
Little Feat and Friends, “Join the Band”Ask any number of musicians about a fantasy group to join and, in the absence of the Band, their choice will likely be Little Feat, the long-lived outfit that boasts superlative chops and an accomplished body of song. More than a dozen admirers realize that fantasy on this all-star exercise. There’s a gritty-voiced Dave Matthews singing a New Orleans-flavored version of “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” Brooks & Dunn lending a bit of twang to “Willin’,” Bob Seger and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson rockin’ it up on “Something in the Water” and “Oh Atlanta,” respectively, and Jimmy Buffett (the album’s executive producer) leading a Caribbean-tinged romp through “Time Loves a Hero.” After this gets out, the Feat will be stampeded by those wanting to “Join the Band” if the offer is ever extended again.
Dooney ‘Da Priest,’ Pull Your Pants Up! It’s difficult to know whether to address this as art, sociopolitical commentary, a frantic public health bulletin or the matrix of a moral and political maelstrom that has touched raw nerves across America. The fact is, it’s all of the above. And Duwayne “Da Priest” Brown (an ordained minister and staffer at T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House) has without question stirred a fire in the furnace of “culture ways.” Da Priest, who wrote and produced the album’s 12 songs, lays his raps atop solid, streetwise grooves. Having publicly retracted implications of gay bashing, Da Priest pulls no punches in his treatise directed at what he decries as the wanton excesses and dangers certain aspects and offshoots of the hip-hop culture have spawned. Like him or loathe him, Da Priest has started a discussion that may well continue for some time to come.