Freedom's Road

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

FOLK-ROCK

If you're looking for the devil, he's out there on Freedom's Road," sings John Mellencamp on the politically charged title tune of his 19th studio disc—and first album of original material since 2001's Cuttin' Heads—which finds the heartland rocker taking a harsh yet hopeful look at the state of America. He finds that "Jim Crow" is alive and well on a melancholy duet with civil rights folkie Joan Baez, while sadly surveying rural decay on the haunting "Ghost Towns Along the Highway." But this Hoosier remains the champion of small-town America. On "The Americans," he paints himself as a simple patriot who wears "tee shirts and blue jeans," while on the equally anthemic single "Our Country"—one of eight songs featuring background vocals by the country group Little Big Town—he sings that "the dream is still alive." Farm Aid, here he comes.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "Ghost Towns Along the Highway"

I Love You

POP

With all the buzz about Dreamgirls, the timing would seem perfect for the supreme Supreme to remind everybody who was the Boss. This disc—on which Miss Ross professes her endless love on a series of pop and R&B remakes—won't do it. While Ross brings some of that old girl-group bounce to "More Today Than Yesterday," she fails to pump any new life into songs like Berlin's "Take My Breath Away."

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "More Today Than Yesterday"

The Price of Fame

RAP

You know that Bow Wow is lil' no more when he teams up with the original mack daddy, R. Kelly, on "I'm a Flirt," a pimpish yet playful duet that might have raised some eyebrows earlier in the young rapper's career. But Bow Wow is now almost 20 and has been romancing the likes of Ciara (with whom he split last year), so he's ready to put all that kid stuff behind him on this, his fifth CD. With the novelty of his youth gone, though, Bow Wow is just a middle-of-the-pack emcee. He lacks the requisite bite on harder cuts like the title track, but on R&B-flavored jams like the hit "Shortie Like Mine" (with Chris Brown), he can still muster up some boyish charm.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "Shortie Like Mine"

I'm in the Mood for Love: The Most Romantic Melodies of All Time

REVIEWED BY V.R. PETERSON

JAZZ-POP

It's doubtful that Alicia Keys ever imagined her ballad "If I Ain't Got You" being played on soprano sax. Which is exactly what Kenny G does—surprisingly well—on his new disc, featuring covers of classic and contemporary love songs. Given the G-man's facile interpretations and lush backgrounds, even well-worn tunes, such as "Yesterday" and "As Time Goes By," get a brand-new shine.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "If I Ain't Got You"

Ys

ALT-POP

On her challenging second album Ys (pronounced "ees"), indie singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom out-Björks Björk with an avant-garde suite of five songs that make up for in adventurousness what they lack in accessibility. Defying the laws of conventional pop-song structure, the whole thing connects and builds with an almost classical construction, with each movement stretching out to as much as 17 minutes. Floating atop the orchestral arrangements is Newsom, with her heavenly harp work and a voice that is a quirky cross between Björk and Billie Holiday.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: "All or Nothing"

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AMERICAN FOOL (1982) His multiplatinum breakthrough, back when he was John Cougar.

UH-HUH (1983) Packs the opening one-two-three punch of "Crumblin' Down," "Pink Houses" and "Authority Song."

SCARECROW (1985) The disc that established him as the voice of the heartland.

THE LONESOME JUBILEE (1987) Mellencamp had us all checking it out when he started incorporating folk sounds.

Nas, Hip Hop Is Dead If Hip Hop Is Dead, as Nas proclaims on his new CD, then the rapper certainly does his best to resurrect the genre's golden age. On the will.i.am-produced title track, he rocks it like vintage Run-DMC.

George Jones and Merle Haggard, Kickin' Out the Footlights ... Again You'd be hard-pressed to find a better country album than this, with two still-vigorous old warriors singing each other's songs, both separately and together.

Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury Clipse's long-overdue second disc was well worth the wait: With def rhymes and dope beats courtesy of the Neptunes, this brotherly duo eclipses anything the competition can offer.

The Departed Soundtrack The killer soundtrack to the hit gangster movie leans on stuff by classic-rock heavies like the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd.

MY PLAYLIST

The 17-year-old R&B star is up for two awards (including Best New Artist) at the Grammys on Feb. 11 and appears in the new movie Stomp the Yard.

THE GAME, DOCTOR'S ADVOCATE The Game has definitely represented for the West Coast and has been able to have fun with it.

BEYONCE, [B'DAY] Once again she's showing people that she can create incredible music and be an independent woman, but at the same time be such a lady about it.

NE-YO, IN MY OWN WORDS Ne-Yo is one of the best R&B artists out right now. His writing ability speaks for itself.

MICHAEL JACKSON, THRILLER That's my favorite album of all time and it's Michael's best album. It shows diversity, shows him being a man, coming of age.