Rascal Flatts sing about being "changed for the better" on the title-track opener of their latest. But there's not much different about the country trio on their eighth studio album. Which isn't such a bad thing. Working again with longtime producer Dann Huff, they turn solid craftsmanship into radio-friendly results on songs like "Come Wake Me Up," an achingly good ballad. Elsewhere, "Hot in Here" is not a remake of the Nelly hit. Now that would be a real switch.
WHAT I'M ROCKING NOW!
"Get Right" I'm not loving the new J.Lo single "Dance Again," but this James Brown-sampling jam from '05-the funkiest thing she's ever done-is still righteous.
"This Time" This banger kicks off The MF Life-the stellar second set from this R&B singer-with a boom.
"Superstar" Set to a stomping drum beat, this highlight from MDNA-which just debuted at No. 1-is so blissfully sweet it manages to really make her sound like a virgin.
THE WEDDING PRESENT
"You Jane" With its jangly guitars and cheeky lyrics, this is one of many Smiths-esque standouts on Valentina.
"Big Shot" "Ain't never was, never gonna be, 'nother big shot like me," sings the New Orleans giant, backing that up-and then some-over a swinging, swaggering groove from his voodoo-casting latest, Locked Down.
"Criminal" The much-missed Apple, who returns with The Idler Wheel ... in June, did this sultry '97 hit at a downtown New York club show I saw recently. Welcome back.
"Safe & Sound" Our country-pop princess makes peaceful harmony with the Civil Wars on this moody beauty from The Hunger Games' all-star soundtrack.
"Springsteen" The latest single from the country singer's excellent Chief is a nostalgic nod to the Boss that rocks you gently.
"Land of Hope and Dreams" With the late E Street saxman Clarence Clemons wailing as if from on high, this gospel-charged track packs a real emotional wallop on Wrecking Ball.
"Human Nature" This Thriller stunner sets the atmosphere for the dreamiest number in the Immortal World Tour, Cirque du Soleil's MJ tribute currently in the U.S.
You know that the new Bonnie Raitt album-her first in seven years-is really something special when you get to "Not Cause I Wanted To." A heartbreaker of a breakup ballad, it presents the flip side of Raitt's classic "I Can't Make You Love Me": "If I knew the reason/ I would tell you why/ Somehow the feeling slipped away/ I only did what I had to do/ Not cause I wanted to," she explains, letting a lover down ever so easily. It's one of many highlights of Slipstream, a collection of covers (including two Dylan tunes from Time Out of Mind) and new songs (three cowritten by ex-NRBQer Al Anderson). Raitt herself cowrote "Down to You," a bluesy rocker that showcases her wicked slide-guitar work. Yes, she's still giving 'em something to talk about.
Monica's latest opens with a phone call with Mary J. Blige, making New Life a nod to My Life. Unfortunately, this album can't touch that MJB classic. And while it's another dependable effort, there's really not much new here.
A Wasteland Companion
The alt-folkie gets help from his She & Him cohort Zooey Deschanel for two tunes on this outing. But from the breezy ditties ("I Get Ideas") to wistful musings ("The First Time I Ran Away"), this is rightfully all about him.
SCARS ON 45
Scars on 45
This buzzy British quintet will have you basking in the radiant pop glow of their debut album this spring. Danny Bemrose and Aimee Driver share lead vocals, both of them singing on the Grey's Anatomy-endorsed single "Heart on Fire."
Thirty-five years after the Jam's first album and 20 years after his solo debut, Weller is still kicking butt. His latest opened at No. 1 in the U.K., and with songs like "That Dangerous Age," he proves that Brits had soul long before Adele.
Nashville's biggest stars showed endless love for Lionel Richie at an Academy of Country Music tribute concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas April 2. "In my head, I'm still the kid trying to make it, so I'm enjoying this," said Richie, 62, whose album Tuskegee-featuring his hits reworked as duets with everyone from Blake Shelton to Shania Twain-debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country chart. Said "Say You, Say Me" partner Jason Aldean: "Being a child of the '80s, when I got the chance to work with someone I've admired for so long, I was all about it." Richie says he was thrilled to work with Nashville's A-list as well: "I feel like I've found new old friends."
ACM PRESENTS: LIONEL RICHIE AND FRIENDS-IN CONCERT AIRS APRIL 13 AT 9 P.M. ET/PT ON CBS.