NEW YORK (Billboard) - Randy Jackson's claim that it qualifies as "blue-eyed soul" is a stretch (not enough falsettos), but Travis Tritt's new album "The Storm" certainly has some funk-flirting moments: most blatantly, the Richard Marx cover "You Never Take Me Dancing" and audacious beefcake bump-and-grind "Rub Off on Me," borderline porn for housewives with barely embellished R&B backup singers stretching out the climax.
More typical is a bluesful batch of Southern-rock marital strife, turning notably intense in kicked-out-of-the-house Nickelback cover "Should've Listened" and cheating-in-the-next-room Hank Williams Jr. cover "The Pressure Is On." Beyond that, there's a gospel number about God and liquor, a celebratory two-step swinging like Skynyrd, more Marx boogie kept light with tra-la-las and plenty of sentimental Dianne Warren and Rob Thomas sap.
ARTIST: RILO KILEY
ALBUM: UNDER THE BLACKLIGHT (Warner Bros.)
Rilo Kiley follows up the success of 2004's "More Adventurous" with a slickly produced, eclectic batch of songs on "Under the Blacklight." The 11-track set ranges from bouncy, shimmering disco ("Breakin' Up"), to hazy shoegaze ("Dreamworld") and sleazy, Heart-inspired funk ("The Moneymaker"). Lyrically, always-astute frontwoman Jenny Lewis tackles everything from Los Angeles' porn industry to underage cybersex, all the while sounding as charmingly sweet-voiced as ever. Ultimately, the change in direction will likely raise a few eyebrows among some diehard fans, which isn't to say the songs here aren't noteworthy in their own right. In any case, the irresistible, '60s-inspired pop of "Silver Lining" is Rilo Kiley at its finest and should please even the most cynical of critics.
ARTIST: TOOTS & THE MAYTALS
ALBUM: LIGHT YOUR LIGHT (Fantasy)
Big-voiced reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert uses "Light Your Light" to powwow with friends, revisit some road staples and pay respect to fellow Jamaican musical giants (Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, the Skatalites). The first two tracks are very much vehicles for Derek Trucks ("Johnny Coolman") and Bonnie Raitt ("Premature"), and it's not until a cover of Otis Redding's "Pain in My Heart" that you fall into the funky Kingston groove. However Tootsified, Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" suffers from oversaturation of the late singer's legend -- even if Hibbert is better-suited than most to pull off such a bold cover. Sweetened by classic roots-reggae female backing vocals, the prayer-like "I See the Light" and the nostalgic "Do You Remember" -- both barely midtempo -- and a take on the Skatalites classic "Guns of Navarone" are the unlikely highlights from this inconsistent outing.
ALBUM: FLORATONE (Blue Note Records)
Throughout his career, guitarist Bill Frisell has worn a coat of many colors, ranging from red-seared rock in John Zorn's mid-'80s "Cobra" game pieces to his earth-toned roots music fascination following his 1997 bluegrass-jazz "Nashville" masterwork. But he's never participated in the freewheeling kind of creative convergence spotlighted on "Floratone." Frisell springs loose by collaborating with drummer Matt Chamberlain on a playground of sprawling spontaneity that co-producers Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend then sliced, stitched and looped together into 11 grooved songs. Frisell later embellished some with horn and string arrangements, while bassist Viktor Krauss entered the potpourri of sounds to firm up the rhythmic foundation. The result is a soundscape bonanza infused with a melange of jazz, country, dub reggae, funk, rock and ambient music. Highlights include the blues-smeared "Louisiana Lowboat," the chilled "Swamped" and the reverberating title track.
ALBUM: UN DIA MAS EN EL GRAN CIRCO (Universal Music Latino)
On his third album, singer-songwriter Jeremias takes his smart, well-crafted pop and leaves it out in the sun for a while, letting its vintage Beach Boys and Beatles tones come to the surface. Among the many treats are the album's anthemic title track, a gorgeous blend of strings, organ, psychedelia and even reggae that somehow comes off seamless. It's a fitting opening to an album full of artful touches, like the bouncy bridge on "Juan de Afuera," the whimsical strings and clipped delivery of "Yo No Busco Nada Mas" and the wah-wah guitar and B3 intro to "Promesa de Amor." The more adventurous the album gets, the more it sticks with you, and though single "Tu" possesses lyrics more poetic than most pop radio ballads, the biggest rewards are found on the rest of the album.
ARTIST: TALIB KWELI
ALBUM: EAR DRUM (Blacksmith/Warner Bros.)
If there's any criticism to be made of Talib Kweli's fourth full-length set, it's the length -- 20 tracks crammed to capacity on a single CD, not uncommon in hip-hop but still a stultifying amount of material that does something of an injustice to the best stuff. Much of that is frontloaded, at least, including the trance-y social commentary "My Weather Report," the quick-spitting "Hostile Gospel," the Will.i.am-produced club track "Say Something" and the lushly woven "Country Cousins" with UGK. But there are more killers later on, including the soulful, Pete Rock-helmed "Holy Moly," Norah Jones' smooth cameo on the come-on "Soon a New Day," the socioeconomic treatise "More or Less" and the churchy "Oh My Stars" with Musiq. There's enough variety to dazzle listeners with Kweli's dexterity, but some judicious editing could have produced something even more impressive.
ARTIST: AS I LAY DYING
ALBUM: AN OCEAN BETWEEN US (Metal Blade Records)
Metalcore star As I Lay Dying explained that the loose theme behind "An Ocean Between Us" addresses the divide between public expectations and the band's own idea of success. It takes this idea to heart with such titles as "I Never Wanted" and the defining "This Is Who We Are," and pushes in new sonic directions that abandon the somewhat linear atmosphere of breakthrough album "Shadows Are Security." The band drops in pleasant surprises like a ripping guitar solo during the menacing "Comfort Betrays" and a pounding, melodic bridge on the title track instead of the expected breakdown. "Within Destruction" is brooding and sonorous, while "Wrath Upon Ourselves" is a startling burst of mathcore that rips a page from the Dillinger Escape Plan. Whatever the differences between As I Lay Dying's personal desires and what its fans demand, this album surely act as a bridge.