"The present is a gift and I just want to be," raps Common on the title-track intro to his sixth disc. Such positivity is not uncommon for this old-school conscious rapper, but never before has he so fully realized his gifts as on the hip-hop insta-classic Be. Following the jazzy tapestry of 2000's Like Water for Chocolate
and the eclectic experimentation of 2002's Electric Circus
, Be finds the artist formerly known as Common Sense operating with greater focus and purpose, curtailing his self-indulgent excesses for maximum impact on an airtight 11-track set. (Indeed, at less than 43 minutes, this harks back to the pre-CD, pre-iPod days when great albums were meant to be played from start to finish.)
A big part of Be's actualization must be credited to Common's fellow Chicago emcee Kanye West
, who produced nine cuts and supplies background vocals for five songs. Demonstrating why he is still arguably better behind the boards than on the mike, West helps Common sharpen his ideas and deepens the grooves on tracks like the sexy-cool "GO!" (which features a hypnotic vocal hook courtesy of John Mayer) and the socially charged single "The Corner." Whereas Electric Circus
relied heavily on live instrumentation, West gives Be a retro-soul vibe by making clever, judicious use of samples, from D.J. Rogers's 1976 recording "Faithful to the End" on "Faithful" to Honey Cone's 1972 tune "Innocent 'Til Proven Guilty" on "Testify." On the latter, Common grippingly details a murder trial with a surprise twist, while on the poignant closer, "It's Your World," he relates dreams deferred by the streets where "my mother gave birth but she really never had me." However, Common ends the song and Be on a self-affirming note with a spoken-word outro by his father, Lonnie "Pops" Lynn, making what has become a traditional appearance. It's the one real indulgence he allows himself here, and after finally delivering the disc you knew he had in him, he's earned it.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "The Corner"
Shelby Lynne's new CD opens with the sound of friendly chatter between her and her all-male band as they get ready to lay down a take of the country rocker "Go with It." This sets the informal, intimate tone for the rest of the dressed-down Suit
, a down-home disc that is a throwback to the analog recordings of yesteryear. Working with such musicians as former Wallflowers guitarist Michael Ward and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Lynne, who also served as producer, creates a relaxed, jam-session mood on tracks like the bluesy lament "I Cry Everyday" and the folksy kiss-off "You Don't Have a Heart." Elsewhere, the singer-song-writer and guitarist gets the tear ducts flowing on the classic country ballad "Old Time's Sake," one of two songs written and originally performed by Tony Joe White (who plays guitar and harmonica here). Meanwhile, the sweet elegy "Johnny Met June"—which Lynne, who will play Johnny Cash's mother in the upcoming big-screen biopic Walk the Line
, wrote the day the Man in Black
died—imagines his meeting in the afterlife with his wife, June Carter Cash.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Old Time's Sake"
Modern Day Drifter
Bentley's second album reflects as much warmth and smooth musicality as his 2003 debut. The highlight is "Good Man Like Me," a mildly bluesy tune on which Bentley is backed by the gritty Del McCoury Band. Bentley still thrives on such romantic fare as the upbeat "Good Things Happen" (featuring harmony vocals by Alison Krauss) and playful novelties like "Domestic, Light and Cold," which ought to have breweries fighting over its commercial use. While Bentley cowrote most of the CD, he also benefits from outside material like the title track, a neo-road song. Drifter
doesn't include anything as infectious as his 2003 hit "What Was I Thinkin'," but it should solidify his position among Nashville's young lions.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Good Man Like Me"
"Beverly Hills," the first single from Weezer's fifth disc, is the kind of cheeky, catchy punk-pop that put these nerd rockers on the music map in the mid-'90s with hits like "Buddy Holly" and "Undone—The Sweater Song." Led by horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing frontman Rivers Cuomo, they continue to be the poster boys for self-deprecating geeks everywhere on tracks like the metal-tinged "Perfect Situation": "There's the pitch, slow and straight/All I have to do is swing and I'm a hero/But I'm a zero." While they inject cuts like the just-say-no anthem "We Are All on Drugs" with their sardonic wit, they also bring genuine emotion to songs such as the last-ditch plea "This Is Such a Pity," a Cars-esque slice of synth pop, and the heartfelt mea culpa "Pardon Me."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Beverly Hills"
Don't Believe the Truth
When Oasis arrived in the mid-'90s, the quartet was heralded as the next in the line of great British bands like the Beatles, the Stones and The Who. While ultimately slumping under the weight of those expectations, the group rebounds nicely with Don't Believe the Truth
. Although it doesn't recapture the heyday of the 1995 smash (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
, the disc shows that the brothers Gallagher and crew are still capable of carrying on that Brit-pop legacy. Indeed, at their Beatles-esque best—on the guitar-pop gem "Lyla," the soaringly melodic "Love Like a Bomb" and the antihate anthem "Let There Be Love" ("Who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me?")—they are truly a fab four.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Lyla"
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Kelly Osbourne Ozzy's daughter Kelly Osbourne, 20, is back with her sophomore disc, Sleeping in the Nothing
, due June 7.
BLOC PARTY, SILENT ALARM
It's something very different. They've captured what's going on [in neo-new wave] and taken it to another level. Their music is fun.
They're a New York City-based [synth-pop] band and they're f------ awesome.
THE SAINTS, NOTHING IS STRAIGHT IN MY HOUSE
They play electro music. This was one of the first bands that got me dancing at a show.
COCTEAU TWINS I have all their CDs on my iPod. [Songwriter-producer] Linda Perry introduced them to me.
- Chuck Arnold,
- Ralph Novak,
- Sara Hammel.