Picks and Pans Main: Music

updated 09/06/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Katy Perry

Teenage Dream |

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POP

Give Katy Perry credit: She knows how to make a song that will totally rule on radio. On 2008's One of the Boys, she did it with "I Kissed a Girl," "Hot N Cold" and "Waking Up in Vegas." And on this follow-up, she's already conquered the airwaves with the No. 1 summer smash "California Gurls" and the blissed-out title track. Of course, much of the credit should go to her producers, which here include hitmakers like Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Stargate. They help give Teenage Dream a youthful bounce and sheen on giddy pleasures like "Peacock," a strutting standout. But when things slow down and turn serious in the second half on dreary tunes like "Who Am I Living For?" and "E.T.," it's a rude awakening from all the fun.

USHER

Versus |

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• Like seemingly everyone in pop these days, Usher is taking cues from Lady Gaga: Just as the Fame Monster EP was an extension of The Fame, Versus serves as an addendum to the platinum Raymond v. Raymond, released last March. There is certainly enough hot stuff on this nine-song set-including one Raymond holdover, the No. 1 R&B single "There Goes My Baby"-to keep the hits coming. Highlights include "Hot Tottie," a rubbery groove with Jay-Z, and two Princely gems: the sexy slow jam "Lay You Down" and the funky, flirty "Lingerie."

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise |

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FOLK-BLUES

CRITIC'S CHOICE

There is a distinctly rustic quality to singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne's fourth album-and first with new band the Pariah Dogs-that will conjure visions of kicking back at a creek, getting your toes wet and letting nature soothe your soul. Indeed, "New York City's Killing Me"-consider it the anti-"Empire State of Mind"-will practically send you racing to the country. But it's breakup songs like "This Love Is Over," "Are We Really Through" and the heartrending highlight, "Like Rock & Roll and Radio," that bring out the deepest ache in LaMontagne's grainy voice: a true marvel of nature.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin |

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POP

It's a meeting of classic sounds and songs when Brian Wilson puts a Beach Boyish spin on the music of George and Ira Gershwin. The results, however, are mixed, sometimes bordering on kitsch. Wilson sucks the soul and jazzy heart out of Porgy and Bess numbers like "Summertime," but fares much better letting his whimsy fly on more playful tunes like "They Can't Take That Away from Me."

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