Alicia Keys

Girl on Fire |

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R&B

On Girl on Fire's first song-which follows one of those intros she does to flex her classical-piano chops-an impassioned Alicia Keys sings about being a "Brand New Me": "Don't be mad, it's just a brand new kind of me/ Can't be bad, I've found a brand new kind of free." Well, at least musically, there wasn't much wrong with the old Alicia. But after three stellar albums to kick off her career, the 14-time Grammy winner fell off, by her standards, on 2009's The Element of Freedom. She's back in blazing form on her latest (which, being her first as a wife and mother, might have better been titled Grown-Ass Woman on Fire). The empowering title track-featured here in its "Inferno Version" with Nicki Minaj-may be the first single, but it's actually one of the weaker cuts. Better are tunes Keys cowrote with John Legend (the lush, Marvin Gaye-meets-Stevie Wonder "When It's All Over"), Bruno Mars (the doo-wop throwback "Tears Always Win") and Gary Clark Jr. ("Fire We Make," a smoldering duet with Maxwell). Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé cowrote three ballads, including the regal "Not Even a King," that are stripped down to the soul.

Kid Rock

Rebel Soul |

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ROCK

Who woulda thunk that Kid Rock would still be going strong more than 20 years after busting onto the scene as a rap-rocker? While he's long moved away from hip-hop, his brand of redneck rock continues to hold up surprisingly well. Songs like the bluesy "Celebrate" will have you breaking into a rebel boogie.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO CHUCK: chucksreviews@peoplemag.com

THE GRAMMY NOMINATIONS!

Here are the best bets to get big love when the nominees are announced Dec. 5.

MUMFORD & SONS

Babel had 2012's biggest debut after Taylor Swift's Red (which missed the cutoff). A commercial and critical hit. 'Nuff said.

MAROON 5

Proving the Best New Artist curse wrong seven years later, they may well be up for Album of the Year for Overexposed.

PINK

She's now a proven, respected veteran who, with her first No. 1 album (The Truth About Love), is only getting better.

FUN.

The Best New Artist frontrunners should also get Record/Song of the Year nods for their No. 1 hit "We Are Young."

GOTYE

The "Somebody That I Used to Know" singer should also score the impressive Record/Song/New Artist trifecta.

GARY CLARK JR.

TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU PICKED UP THE GUITAR.

My grandmother had this guitar she kept in the closet, and I'd sneak off and go sit in the closet. But I really got into playing when I was 12. A friend was taking lessons, and she'd show me whatever she'd learned. I probably owe her a little change.

YOU RECENTLY PERFORMED AT LEONARDO DICAPRIO'S BIRTHDAY PARTY. HIGHLIGHTS?

After performing, Leo hands me a glass of champagne, I look over and there's Cameron Diaz, Edward Norton and Russell Simmons. It was like the stuff Jay-Z raps about. Pretty surreal.

AND YOU'VE ALSO HUNG OUT WITH PAUL McCARTNEY.

He came to a gig on Long Island. Talk about crazy! He was encouraging. It's cool to think back on when I'm not feeling on top of my game.

B.B. KING HAD LUCILLE. HAVE YOU NAMED YOUR GUITARS?

I've named my beautiful red guitar Cassie. The model of the guitar is a Casino, and I was joking around one day and said, "Come on, Cassie, let's go!"

COLDPLAY KICKS IT LIVE!

You know you're in for something special with Coldplay Live 2012-a DVD culled from the Mylo Xyloto Tour-when they're busting out confetti cannons in just the second full song: a rousing "In My Place" in Stade de France that seems as if it could illuminate all of the City of Light. With kaleidoscopic cinematography to go with the neon set and lights, this is a visual feast. Add in the physicality of a pumped-up Chris Martin, and the energy jumps off the screen. But the quiet behind-the-scenes moments reveal a band at peace.

GEORGE STRAIT

ON HIS FINAL TOUR, THE COWBOY RIDES AWAY, WHICH BEGINS IN JANUARY

I think I'm making the right decision. And it's not ending tomorrow; we're going to be touring for the next two years. But two years after I finish, I might be saying to myself, "What a dummy!" When I get to missing it real bad, I'm sure I'll find a way to do a show and satisfy that.

ON HIS STRAIGHTFORWARD STAGE STYLE

I was never asked to do any of those theatrics-flying through the air out over the audience, running around on catwalks. I think my fans would be pretty shocked if I did something like that. I did that thing with the stage that turned around in a circle, but I had to quit-it made me dizzy!

ON THE SECRET TO HIS 41-YEAR MARRIAGE

I guess we just really like each other. I discuss everything with Norma; I always have. And we do almost everything together. She comes on the road with me too.

ON NEVER LEAVING TEXAS

Early in my career it was sometimes suggested I move to Nashville, that it might help get me a record deal or be better for my career if I lived there. I like Nashville just fine, but I never considered it.

ON WHETHER HE'LL DO ANY MORE MOVIES

I don't know, I think I'm too old for movies. And I think Clint Eastwood has the old-guy roles pretty much sewed up!

FOR MORE ON GEORGE STRAIT, check out the cover story in the latest issue of PEOPLE COUNTRY, on stands now.

SOLANGE

True

It's never been easy for Solange to live in the shadow of big sister Beyonce. But this seven-track EP proves that she's fierce in her own right. With their breezy charm and cool, soul-pop tunes like "Losing You" win you over without trying too hard.

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MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS

The Heist

The Seattle duo of rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis hijacked the Billboard pop albums chart, hitting No. 2 with their self-released debut. Clever, catchy cuts like "Thrift Shop" show that white-boy hip-hop lives.

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