We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.
After a demo of "I'm Yours," the first single off Jason Mraz's third studio album, appeared on a 2005 EP, the song became a YouTube sensation, inspiring a slew of user-submitted videos. A breezy folk-pop ditty that should make Jack Johnson jealous, it's pretty impossible to resist. The rest of this disc, despite its mess of a title, goes by smoothly too. Mraz, a real pop craftsman, makes it sound easy, seamlessly weaving jazz and funk into Jamiroquai-esque cuts like "Butterfly," and folk, soul and gospel into the uplifting "Live High."
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Details in the Fabric," a beautifully textured ballad
Simone on Simone
REVIEWED BY V.R. PETERSON
Like her stage name, Simone's debut disc honors her late mother, musical titan Nina Simone. But the album—including 11 tunes from Mom's renowned repertoire—amounts to a tricky proposition: Does Simone (born Lisa Celeste Stroud) really have the chops to survive comparison? The answer is yes. Backed by a big band, the 45-year-old Broadway veteran (Rent, Aida) brings both full-throated power and sensitivity to ballads and civil rights anthems. She's expressive on torchers like "Hold No Grudge" and bouncy on the lesser-known "Gal from Joe's." Most touching is "Music for Lovers," a live number about the bond between parent and child with Simone fittingly accompanied by her mother on piano.
Home Before Dark
Neil Diamond's last album, 2005's 12 Songs, was a real revelation, pairing the singer-songwriter with Rick Rubin, Grammy-winning producer for everyone from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Dixie Chicks. The two reunite for this stellar sequel, which once again finds Diamond, 67, channeling the spirit of another Rubin client, the late Johnny Cash. The stripped-down tunes reveal the naked emotion of Diamond, who brings it down-home on country-tinged cuts such as the twangy, loping "Act Like a Man" and "Another Day (That Time Forgot)," his memorable duet with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Pretty Amazing Grace," a divine love song
On "The Queen Is Back," a titular nod to her disco reign, Donna Summer announces her return to the music scene with her first album of new material since 1991. But the song, with a booming hip-hop beat that pumps up the bombast, makes clear that we're not in MacArthur Park anymore. In an attempt to update her style, Summer, 59, throws the whole box of Crayolas at Crayons
, drawing from reggae and rock, blues and folk, Latin and African sounds. All this coloring outside the lines, though, produces uneven results.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "I'm a Fire," a dance-floor sizzler
Anywhere I Lay My Head
Taking on the songbook of Tom Waits certainly doesn't require anyone to be Mariah Carey
. On her debut album, this actress does get by with some of the sexy-cool allure that she exudes onscreen, but would any of this be of interest if it weren't Scarlett Johansson
? Not really.
"Leavin'," the hit first single from Jesse McCartney's new CD, indeed marks somewhat of a departure for the 21-year-old former boy-bander. Less "Beautiful Soul," more blue-eyed soul, the hip-hop-flavored midtempo confection is pure ear candy, perfect for spring-summer consumption. "Leavin'" is the best song on a disc where McCartney at times comes off as a cross between a younger Justin Timberlake
and a paler Chris Brown. But some of his R&B posturing feels affected and he can't quite leave his teen-pop past behind.
For more information on where to find our Download This picks, go to PEOPLE.COM/DOWNLOADTHIS
Ten years ago this month, Ol' Blue Eyes passed away at 82. Nothing But the Best
, a new collection of Sinatra standards, reminds us that no one else will ever be able to do it his way.
MADONNA Hard Candy
Teaming up with Justin Timberlake
, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, the nearly 50-year-old diva makes a hipper, hotter and more urban version of Confessions on a Dance Floor
. Early front-runner for party album of the year.
While occasionally evoking Amy Winehouse, this British singer-rapper sounds more like a disciple of Lauryn Hill on a sparkling U.S. debut. The highlight? "American Boy," her bumping No. 1 U.K. hit featuring Kanye West
ASHLEE SIMPSON Bittersweet World
Simpson's shockingly good third CD is sweet revenge on all her critics. The singer moves in a dance-pop direction on tracks like the '80s throwback "Boys," the best Kylie song that Kylie never did.
GNARLS BARKLEY The Odd Couple
Another trippy journey into psychedelic soultronica, the second disc from Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse shows that the pop world would be a lot more boring without this twisted twosome.
The singer, 31, is back making the ladies swoon with his self-titled second album
ON HIS NEW CD It encompasses relationships I've had and things my friends have gone through. But I've Rubik's Cubed enough things that the girls won't recognize themselves!
ON HIS FEMALE FANS Sometimes they make T-shirts [that say] "Mrs. DeGraw" and things like that. The other day I did this charity thing called Pet-a-Palooza and this woman had a tiny dog with a little white T-shirt that said, "My Mommy Loves Gavin." That was really cute.
ON IF HE EVER SERENADED GIRLS Of course! All through my teens. I think it helped. I just was excited about sharing music. I wasn't going to call up my guy friends who I played sports with. They'd be like, "So what, man?"
ON BEING SINGLE There's no way for a relationship to develop while [touring]. I'll meet someone and it's like, "Want to live with me on a bus or wait till I come back?" It'd be long-distance, so the only one benefiting would be the phone company!
SOLANGE KNOWLES (right), Beyoncé's sister, takes a page out of the Supremes' playbook on "I Decided," from her upcoming second disc. At amazon.com.
COLDPLAY Comes roaring back with the guitar crunch of "Violet Hill," the first single from the band's fourth studio album, due June 17. At buymusic.com.
GOOD CHARLOTTE revs up fans with a high-octane remix of the Good Morning Revival ballad "Where Would We Be Now." At iTunes.com.
THE CURE returns in singular style with "The Only One," a guitar-driven preview of the group's 13th studio disc, appropriately due Sept. 13. At musicstore.real.com.
The singer, 37, will be rocking Vegas May 18 at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where his trio is up for entertainer of the year
1 "VIVA LAS VEGAS" by Elvis Presley That's kind of the staple for Vegas. I love that Viagra stole it and did a commercial that goes, "Vivaaaaa Vi-agra!"
2 "THE GAMBLER" by Kenny Rogers I'm a little bit of a gambler. It's easy for me to walk away if I've won, though. I play blackjack and you've definitely got to know when to hold 'em.
3 "LET'S GO TO VEGAS" by Faith Hill
It's about just letting everything go and kissing the single life goodbye in Vegas.
4 "THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA" by the Charlie Daniels Band Because [Vegas is] where the devil really lives! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!
THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS The Age of the Understatement
Arctic Monkeys have set a crazy-high standard, so this side project from frontman Alex Turner, while having its moments, is a bit of a letdown.
PORTISHEAD Third Portishead's fourth disc—and first in 10 years—is full of moody atmospherics, but it all kind of blends into the background. Where are the real songs?