R&B

The Breakthrough

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"All I really want is to be happy/And to find a love that's mine, it would be so sweet." So sang Mary J. Blige, back when she knew nothing but drama, on her 1994 hit "Be Happy." Since then, though, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has found her king, marrying music producer Kendu Isaacs in 2003. And on her seventh studio album—and first since becoming Mrs. Isaacs—she wants you to know that she is truly happy at last, a point she makes right from the get-go on the midtempo opener "No One Will Do": "Seen many men in my time/But none of them compare to mine/I ain't got to knock on wood/To tell y'all that I got it so good." On other tracks, such as "Can't Hide from Luv" (featuring the supposedly retired Jay-Z) and the Arethaesque highlight "I Found My Everything," she testifies with gospel fervor about the power of real love. However, the sweet sentiments of romantic ballads like "Can't Get Enough" feel too gooey for the gritty Blige. While she spends much of this disc celebrating her personal Breakthrough, Blige hasn't forgotten about her fans still in the struggle, especially on the uplifting "Good Woman Down." Meanwhile, the bitter "Ain't Really Love" inspires one of her most impassioned performances, proving that a little drama can go a long way.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Found My Everything"

ROCK

My Morning Jacket Z

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Named after the final letter of the alphabet, the stellar fourth studio outing from this Louisville, Ky., quintet actually represents a brand-new beginning for the band. Much like Wilco did with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, My Morning Jacket has made a sonic leap from its previous work, expanding beyond jam-heavy southern rock with genre-defying gusto. In an era of 99 cent downloadable singles, Z is a throwback to a time when albums were an aural journey. With haunting singer Jim James serving as tour guide, the trip kicks off with the slow groove of "Wordless Chorus," picks up speed with the locomotive build of "Gideon" and comes to a melancholy close with "Dondante," an eight-minute gem about a friend's suicide. It all leaves you suffering from the one big drawback of every great adventure: You don't want it to end.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Gideon"

REGGAE

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Throw Down Your Arms

First was Willie Nelson. Now the unretired Sinéad O'Connor has gone reggae with this album of roots remakes. And while nothing compares to the originals of these songs by the likes of Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Peter Tosh, the Irish singer with the pure, angelic voice does a surprisingly credible job of capturing the Rasta spirit. Recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, with the esteemed production team of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, the disc achieves added authenticity by employing other musicians who played on the originals to throw down with O'Connor.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Curly Locks"

RAP

What the Game's Been Missing!

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The stars have aligned to make Juelz (pronounced Joo-ells) Santana arguably the rapper of the moment. Hot on the heels of the No. 1 smash "Run It!," his collaboration with R&B singer Chris Brown, the Harlem emcee is rocking the clubs again with the old-school jam "There It Go (The Whistle Song)." Set against a spare, booming beat punctuated with claps, this irresistible come-on does as much for whistling as Lauren Bacall did with Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not. Santana is surely stepping out of mentor Cam'ron's shadow on this sophomore CD, on which he largely backs up such boasts as "I'll make ya wanna pull your lip over your head and just swallow yourself" (on the Eminem-like "I Am Crack"). Anybody who can bring '60s girl groups to hardcore rap—as Santana does by deftly integrating the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" on "Oh Yes" and the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back" on "Kid Is Back"—certainly qualifies as dope to us.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "There It Go"

R&B

Illumination

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Illumination, Earth, Wind & Fire's 23rd album, shows that after 35 years the R&B/funk pioneers are still shining stars. While the disc pairs EWF with such contemporary hip-hop and soul artists as OutKast's Big Boi, the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am and Floetry, the signature elements remain: the vibrant horns, the uplifting spirit, the contrasting lead vocals of Maurice White's baritone and Philip Bailey's unmistakable falsetto. Raphael Saadiq produced three tracks and takes the mike on the lush ballad "Show Me the Way." But it's clearly EWF that has led the way.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Show Me the Way"

John Mayer Trio, Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert
The singer-songwriter and guitarist reveals surprising new blues, funk and jazz colors on this exciting live disc from his side project. He gets his groove going with seven strong new songs.

Merle Haggard, Chicago Wind
Despite kicking around for 40 years, Haggard sounds fresh and enthusiastic; he's still coming up with engaging tunes to wrap that warm, musical baritone around.

The Darkness, One Way Ticket to Hell...
And Back With pomp and power chords, this retro-'80s hair-metal band pumps out hook-heavy, arena-ready rockers. Buckle up, because this is one wild, thrilling ride.

Anthony Hamilton, Ain't Nobody Worryin'
Just under the wire for 2005, the southern-fried soul man delivers the R&B album of the year. The title track is an instant classic.

YELLOWCARD unleashes a rock explosion on the catchy, frenzied "Lights and Sounds," the title track from the pop-punk group's Jan. 24 release, at iTunes.com

JOSH ROUSE lays down his country-tinged vocals over a rich melody on the moody "The Last Train," from the singer-songwriter's EP Bedroom Classics, Vol. 2, at iTunes

DADDY YANKEE fuses addictive beats and exuberant vocals on "Rompe," a bonus track from the reggaeton star, at music.aol.com

INDIA.ARIE (right) roots for people to look beyond physical appearances on the fervent "I Am Not My Hair," from her as-yet-untitled third CD, at iTunes

For information on where to find our Download This picks, go to www.people.com/downloadthis or AOL (Keyword: People)

Eurythmics

Here come the Eurythmics again: Eighties pop icons Annie Lennox, 50, and Dave Stewart, 53, have teamed up once more for the greatest-hits disc Eurythmics Ultimate Collection.

"SWEET DREAMS" (1983) "I was thinking about aspirations and how everyone on the planet has a sense of what their life's purpose is," says Lennox. " 'Everybody's looking for something.'"

"WOULD I LIE TO YOU?" (1985) "We both grew up listening to great Stax and Motown records," says Stewart. "We loved R&B, so we thought, 'Let's make a tribute to it.'"

"HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN" (1984) "We were looking out the window in a hotel room overlooking Central Park," recalls Stewart. "It started to get really gray outside, and that's when we came up with it."

"SISTERS ARE DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES" (1985) "We flew out to meet Aretha Franklin in Detroit, and she'd made some chicken," says Stewart. "But Annie was not eating meat at the time, so I had double."

"WHO'S THAT GIRL?" (1984) "Annie and I lived together as a couple for about four years, broke up and formed Eurythmics, and then wrote 150 songs about the breakup," explains Stewart. "This is one of those."

  • Contributors:
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Chris Strauss,
  • Carrie Borzillo Vrenna,
  • Courtney Rubin.