It Always Will Be
COUNTRY
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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"I'm gonna love you 'til the wheels come off," Willie Nelson, 71, sings on the latest disc in the country legend's 48-year career. That line, from the Tom Waits-Kathy Brennan tune "Picture in a Frame," typifies the tone of this charmingly romantic, ingratiatingly mellow album. The title song, a Nelson-written paean to devotion, keeps in the sentimental mood: "When I look into her eyes I see all the love there is in all the world." The only sign of Nelson's former outlaw status comes in Sonny Throckmorton's blues number "Big Booty" and the playful Scotty Emmerich-Michael Smother-man song "I Didn't Come Here (And I Ain't Leavin')," on which Nelson sings, "I've been thrown into better places than this."

The CD includes affecting duets with Norah Jones ("Dreams Come True"), Lucinda Williams ("Over Time") and Willie's 35-year-old daughter Paula Nelson ("Be That as It May"), none of which mention cowboys or whiskey. Even Nelson's tribute to his home state, "Texas," is relatively subdued, closer in style to Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas" than to the more familiar Lone Star State anthems "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and "Yellow Rose of Texas." The quiet, intimate settings are ideally suited to Nelson's aged whiskey-flavored voice and the laconic approach he has honed so well.

Producer James Stroud surrounds Nelson's ruminative acoustic guitar with Brent Mason's wide-ranging electric guitar and an invigorating horn section led by the reliably resourceful Jim Horn. "I used to have a heart, now I've got a song," Nelson sings on the nostalgic "You Were It." Actually, he still has plenty of both.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Didn't Come Here (And I Ain't Leavin')"

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Didn't Come Here (And I Ain't Leavin')"

POP

Astronaut
POP

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It had been 21 years and countless cases of hairspray since the original members of Duran Duran—Simon LeBon (lead vocals), Andy Taylor (guitar), John Taylor (bass), Roger Taylor (drums) and Nick Rhodes (keyboards)—released their last studio album together, 1983's Seven and the Ragged Tiger. But the big-haired lineup that gave us such '80s synth-pop hits as "Girls on Film," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio" has reunited for Astronaut, which finds the group taking creative flight again. You can hear that old sparkle back in the Wild Boys on the shining first single, "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," which features a fitting lyric about new beginnings: "Reach up for the sunrise/Put your hands into the big sky/You can touch the sunrise/Feel the new day enter your life." Musically, though, this isn't so much a new day for Duran Duran as a fun nostalgia trip back to the band's '80s heyday. The title track (one of three cuts coproduced by R&B hitmaker Dallas Austin) is pure new-wave bliss, complete with spacey electronic effects, and the slinky "Bedroom Toys" revisits the pop-funk of "Union of the Snake." They also collaborate with Chic's Nile Rodgers on "Point of No Return" before closing with the atmospheric "Still Breathing," which shows that there is still a lot of life left in Duran Duran.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Astronaut"

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Astronaut"

ROCK

Gold Medal
ROCK

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With their 2002 breakthrough Spend the Night, the Donnas proved that girls can play garage rock too. But like their male counterparts—the Strokes, the Vines et al—these rowdy chicks struggle to move the genre forward on their latest, which won't win any medals for originality. There is a dispirited sameness to many of these tossed-off tracks that smacks of creative block. And with all their detached cool, the Donnas can verge on sounding bored. Still, they bring the requisite punk attitude and biting guitars to raw rockers like "I Don't Want to Know (If You Don't Want Me)" and "It Takes One to Know One." And the title song, with its rockabilly-tinged rhythms, shows a willingness to break out of the same old groove.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I Don't Want to Know (If You Don't Want Me)"

Alfie Original Soundtrack
BLUES-ROCK

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Mick Jagger and ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, best known for their composing collaborations with Keith Richards and Annie Lennox, respectively, form a song-writing partnership on the soundtrack to the new romantic comedy starring Jude Law. And while this meeting of British pop savants, who previously teamed up on Jagger's 1987 Primitive Cool album, won't make you forget "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," it produces some vivid blues-rock. The country-tinged first single "Old Habits Die Hard" and soulful ballads like "Let's Make It Up" showcase Jagger's distinctive drawl. Joss Stone pipes in on "Lonely Without You (This Christmas)" and steals the show with her gospel-inspired rendition of the film's classic title song.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Alfie"

Alfie Original Soundtrack
BLUES-ROCK

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Mick Jagger and ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, best known for their composing collaborations with Keith Richards and Annie Lennox, respectively, form a song-writing partnership on the soundtrack to the new romantic comedy starring Jude Law. And while this meeting of British pop savants, who previously teamed up on Jagger's 1987 Primitive Cool album, won't make you forget "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," it produces some vivid blues-rock. The country-tinged first single "Old Habits Die Hard" and soulful ballads like "Let's Make It Up" showcase Jagger's distinctive drawl. Joss Stone pipes in on "Lonely Without You (This Christmas)" and steals the show with her gospel-inspired rendition of the film's classic title song.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Alfie"

Mi Sangre
LATIN

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Think of Juanes as the male Shakira. Like the belly-dancing Latina, he hails from Colombia, goes by just one name and has luscious long hair. As with Shakira, he also has a great ear for pop-rock hooks. That has helped the singer-songwriter and guitarist win nine Latin Grammys (including Album of the Year in 2003 for his last disc, Un Dia Normal) and be named Billboard's top-selling Latin artist of 2003. The success should keep on coming with Juanes's new Spanish-language album Mi Sangre (translation: My Blood). From the shimmering guitar-pop opener "Amame" ("Love Me Like You Want To") to the closer "Tu Guardián" ("Guardian Angel"), a sweetly lilting ballad that showcases his lyrical voice, Juanes exhibits a sheer musicality that translates across cultures. Lyrically, Juanes, who has yet to record in English, addresses the problems in his homeland, which is still in the midst of a guerrilla war, on tracks like "Sueños" ("My Dreams") and expands his political consciousness worldwide on "Qué Pasa?" ("What's Going On?"). And you don't need to understand the words to feel his passion.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Amame"

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Amame"

GUERILLA BLACK, GUERILLA CITY

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This hefty newcomer sounds an awful lot like another rotund rapper, the late Notorious B.I.G. The eerie resemblance may turn off those who prefer the real thing to a carbon copy. Still, he does a fair job of stepping out of a very large shadow. Even his critics won't be able to resist the reggae-fied "Compton," a tribute to his L.A. neighborhood.

MOS DEF, THE NEW DANGER

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Since his last solo CD in 1999, Mos Def has been busy flexing his acting muscles in films like The Italian Job. On this sprawling set, he stretches out as a musician, even occasionally singing, doing a credible Bob Marley-esque turn on "The Beggar." But it's his droll, chilled-out rhyme style on cuts like the jazzy "Sex, Love & Money" that makes him truly def.

DE LA SOUL, THE GRIND DATE

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The Daisy Age rappers get some of their bloom back on this disc, which features cameos from Common, Carl Thomas and Spike Lee (who introduces the positive sermon "Church"). Flavor Flav joins them in kicking it old-school style on "Come On Down." And the trio cleverly sample the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye" on "No."

LIL ROMEO, ROMEOLAND

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Given that he stars in the Nickelodeon series Romeo!, it's no surprise that this 15-year-old emcee plays to the kiddie crowd with cuts like the single "My Cinderella," on which the loverboy raps about getting his girl home before midnight. But grown folks will catch interpolations of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Evelyn "Champagne" King.

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Chuck Arnold.