Album Review: Lady Antebellum's 'Golden'

Album Review: Lady Antebellum's 'Golden'

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There's not enough shine on the group's fourth set

Part of Lady Antebellum’s broad appeal is that the trio rocks just enough to be embraced by mainstream pop fans and yet the group is country enough, with the obligatory  mandolins and banjo, to fit solidly into the country format. The co-ed ban balances the two adroitly again on “Golden,” its fourth studio album.

For “Golden,”  out today, the Grammy-winning group said they wanted to stretch out and throw away any formula.  However, other than the spunky first single, “Downtown” and the driving, Byrds-like “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone)” —two of six songs on the album written by outside songwriters— there’s nothing much here that couldn’t have been on any of Lady A’s previous three albums. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to like here: Hillary Scott’s and Charles Kelley’s voices still weave in and out of each other’s airspace beautifully  and the melodies are catchy, if unchallenging, especially on “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone).” However, at this point in their career, the threesome, which also includes Dave Haywood, should be comfortable taking a few more risks.

The biggest change here is the increased confidence in Scott’s vocals. Kelley has the more distinctive voice of the two and his slightly gruff tone is what gives the group whatever edginess it has, but on “Golden,” Scott sounds more commanding than she has previously, especially on the Tom Petty-reminiscent opener “Get To Me,” and the wistful “Nothin‘ Like The First Time.”?

Also to the band’s credit, with all three now happily married and Scott very close to becoming a mom, it would have been understandable if they had succumbed to writing nothing but songs that glow about being in love. While such songs are certainly represented here, there are also plenty of tunes that address the aftermath of love’s ruins, including the sad “It Ain’t Pretty,” about the uncomfortableness of trying to re-enter the dating scene. Scott adds a poignancy to the track as she takes her “walk of shame,” with her high heels in her hand. Similarly, Kelley brings the right amount of pain to  “All For Love,” a conversation with Scott, on which they trade verses in a he said/she said about a break-up. And he lets loose nicely on the end of “Goodbye Town.”

Many of these songs were written during jams sessions while the band was on its sold-out headlining tour, and they may have been served better if they’d remained less polished once they hit the studio. For as much as Lady Antebellum seems to want to strip away some of the veneer, there’s nothing on here that approaches the ruggedness of their breakthrough single, 2007’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

While there are few losers here, closing track “Generation Away” is a fun arm-waver musically but lyrically, it’s trite, clunky lyrics and its segue into “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” is a regrettable, generic way to end the set.

Fans of Lady A will no doubt embrace the new set, but here’s hoping the band achieves the change on the next album it seems to believe happened on “Golden.” They have the talent and the ability, which is part of what makes their largely treading familiar ground here all the more disappointing.

What you didn't see on Fox's  'Rihanna 777' television special
Credit: AP Photo

What you didn't see on Fox's 'Rihanna 777' television special

We give you the true view from the trenches


Watching Monday night’s “Rihanna 777” special on Fox was a little like watching home movies from the roughest, most exhausting vacation you can imagine and all you see are shots of the pretty sunsets, cute animals, and none of the footage of the crazy relatives. It was an incredibly whitewashed version of what really happened when the superstar took journalists and fans with her to play seven shows in seven countries in seven days. The special bore pretty much no reality to the truth.

As one of the 150 journalists on the journey, I watched the special with disbelief. It made it seem as if we were all a little sleep deprived because of the schedule, not because Rihanna or other circumstances made it so that we took off at least six hours later than planned every flight and were stuck waiting in the airport each time. Plus, after Rihanna made her foray through the plane on our first flight from Los Angeles to Mexico, she never deigned to talk to the press again until we were on our final approach into New York, the final stop.

I understand that the point of the special wasn’t to show how rough the coddled press had it, but what really struck me was that even as a commercial for Rihanna, the special failed. Say what you will about Rihanna, but the one thing she isn’t is boring and yet as I watched the special, I felt like there was nothing at all compelling about her as a personality or as a performer (although the latter is sadly largely true, there were certainly moments that shone--bright like a diamond--during the shows and yet the editors decided to primarily show footage of songs from “Unapologetic” to prop up the new album’s sagging sales).

A few other thoughts on the special:

*Rihanna addressed how the press wanted her to come back and talk but she needed to rest her voice. And yet she managed to go shopping for lingerie, have after parties until 4 in the morning, drink with her friends, do yoga, etc. We only needed 10 minutes or so once she boarded the plane each day/night and yet we only got it on the first and last flights. The simple fact is she wanted nothing to do with us once she had us captive.

*While I understand that the special, which was to promote Rihanna in all her goodness after all, didn't want to stress how badly she ignored the press, the special could have benefitted from some of the humor that sprung up around her disappearing act, including a MISSING RIHANNA poster, the kind you see attached to telephone poles for missing pets, that one of the TV crews created, as well as the fact that many of us resorted to getting our pictures taken with a cardboard cut out of  RuPaul that a journalist from Logo brought on the trip that served as the same role as a Flat Stanley.

*God bless Mike Ruffino, who served as the journalist/talking head for much of the special and gets far more airtime than Rihanna (who apparently didn't give her film crew that much access either). There’s so little substance that he gives some context, as sanitized as it is.   Ruffino is a lovely guy, so this is not meant as a slag of him at all, but it was crazy for the rest of us journalists that the Island Def Jam label representatives were so besotted with Ruffino that we felt like he was the official #777 mascot. The rest of us were left to our own devices and could have been left bleeding in the street, but IDJ reps were obsessive about knowing where “Mikey” was at every turn. If he weren’t such a cool dude, we may have thrown him off the plane, but we enjoyed him as much as IDJ did. The bigger question now is if he was there the whole time solely to be used as a talking head since he didn't seem to cover the trip for any outlet, and was he paid by IDJ to be there.

*Yes, Rihanna has very ardent fans, but when two fans outside the Parisian show talk about how she’s one of the best performers ever after we’ve just seen footage of her moving the mic away from her mouth as she should be singing “Umbrella,” it’s laughable. And there’s no footage of the Berlin fans who were furious after waiting four hours for her to come on stage or the Swedish audience who waited for three hours and were belligerent and surly because they’d been served lots of free vodka during the delay. Also, why are we watching band members, who are on Rihanna's payroll, talk about how great it is to play with Rihanna? Are they really going to say anything different? 

*Speaking of selective, when Tim, the Australian DJ, streaks, and Ruffino talks about mutiny, the special in no way explained the level of frustration and exhaustion that we had reached after five days of no sleep because we were always waiting for hours to take off and we had nothing to write about because Rihanna’s show was the same every night and she had ignored us for five days. Another week under these conditions and we probably would have resorted to cannibalism.

*The journalists were invited to two of the  afterparties that manager Jay Brown talks about, but most of us were too exhausted to even think about trading a few hours sleep for the possibility of getting near Rihanna. Plus, the few journalists who did go were sorely disappointed: they were allowed nowhere near Rihanna who was surrounded by her bodyguards.

There is a fascinating film to be done on the #777 tour and how the wheels came off, and what it says about album promotion and the press as part of the machine, but whatever aired on Fox on Monday had absolutely nothing to do with that.

Watch: Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu come to life in new video for 'Q.U.E.E.N'
Credit: Bad Boy Records

Watch: Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu come to life in new video for 'Q.U.E.E.N'

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Clip continues her black and white motif

Janelle Monae continues her black and white motif with the video for “Q.U.E.E.N.” featuring the Erykah Badu.

The  Alan Ferguson-directed video starts with Monae as a time-traveling rebel, who has reduced to an exhibit in a museum, as a relic. She was captured for launching Project Q.U.E.E.N., “a musical weapons program in the 21st century” that trafficked in, among other things, “emotion pictures.”  Badoula Oblongata, aka Badu, is similarly frozen in time.

A museum goer puts a vinyl version of “Q.U.E.E.N” on the coolest turntable you’ll ever see and Monae and her band and dancers come alive.

Badu and her poodle and her changing wigs show up for her part about four minutes in, but the clip belongs to Monae, who ends it solo on camera delivering her minute-long rap.

It is a gorgeously-shot, stylish video, shot against a white background, that focuses on Monae’s charisma. Few artists are as compelling to watch on screen.

"Q.U.E.E.N" is the first single from Monae's forthcoming album, "The Electric Lady." 

<p>P!nk</p>

P!nk

Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Pink makes it 3 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100

Icona Pop finally makes it into the Top 10

Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason” makes it three weeks at No. 1. The tune, featuring fun.’s Nate Ruess, does the seemingly impossible by remaining in the top spot while not leading any of the three components that make up the chart: radio play, streaming songs, and digital sales.

That means that “Just Give Me A Reason” will probably be knocked off the  top next week by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Can’t Hold Us,” which holds at No. 2 in the closest race between No. 1 and No. 2 in six months, according to Billboard.

Rihanna’s “Stay,” featuring Mikky Ekko, climbs 6-3, pushing Macklemore & Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” down to No. 4.  Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” rises 7-5.

The bottom half of the Top 10, Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” drops 4-6, Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie,” featuring Jay-Z, rises 8-7, Pitbull’s “Feel This Moment,” featuring Christina Aguilera climbs 9-8. Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” featuring Charli XCX, which has been around for months now, finally makes it to the Top 10 as it climbs 13-9. Just as “I Love It” makes it into the elite Top 10, Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” returns to top the top 10, rising 12-10.

<p>Ke$ha</p>

Ke$ha

Catching up with 'Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life'

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She finally gets laid, while we get bored out of our skull

I missed the first episode of MTV's  “Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life” last week but if the second episode, which aired Tuesday night is any indication, I missed nothing.

As we catch up with Ke$ha in this six-episode “documentary” culled from footage shot by her brother Lagan Sebert over a two-year period,  it’s June 2011. This immediately begs the question, “Why on earth would we care about seeing footage that’s two years old?”

She’s headed to play at Glastonbury and she’s lost her voice, but even more trouble looms as one of her two tour buses breaks down en route to the British festival. The “essential” personnel from bus 2 hop on Ke$ha’s bus, while others, like her mother, are apparently left by the roadside to fend for themselves. Oh, the inhumanity!

But it gets worse! The Glastonbury field is so muddy, there’s no way to load in all her production, so Ke$ha has to scale back her show. Her peppy guitarist Max tries to get her to cheer up and it’s a good thing that Ke$ha is resting her voice and not speaking, because otherwise she’d probably fire him on the spot.

“My voice is everything,” she declares, as we go into a montage of her on stage at Glastonbury (interestingly, we never see more than a few seconds of her actually performing), and yet she seemingly relies on every trick in the book on stage to distract people from her vocals.

The crowds love her,  but she’s bummed because she hasn’t made out with any hot guys yet, so she resorts to watching “penis movies.”  She’s lamenting her months-long dry spell, as she declares she wants “a beard.” Hmmm, that clearly means something different in Ke$ha’s world than what it means to the rest of us.

And so it goes for 30 minutes, with lots of commercials thrown in every four or five minutes because  MTV knows it’s hard to watch more than a few minutes of this drivel at a time. Lagan may have had 24-hour access to his sister, but he doesn’t seem to know what to actually do with that and how to create any kind of story arc out of the footage.

Ten minutes in, I’m wondering what Ke$ha had to promise to MTV to get the cable outlet to air this. This feels like someone’s very boring, bad home movies. She’s touring Europe and there’s not even any pretty scenery to distract us. There’s no way this series will help her sell records and there’s certainly no way it’s going to get good ratings for MTV.

“In 2009 The New York Times names Beirut the top place to visit,” her manager tells Ke$ha, as they sit on Ke$ha’s bed in the Lebanese capital. It’s almost impossible to calculate the cultural divide between Ke$ha and the New York Times.  There seems to be a great deal of security for Ke$ha who worries that she’s driving down the same road where the Lebanese president was assassinated a few years ago. It’s this fake sense of drama—trust me she’s in no real danger—that makes the show even more asinine. Not to mention the fact that she goes from worrying about getting kidnapped back to moaning about not having a boyfriend in about 30 seconds flat.

Her European tour over,  she returns triumphant to Los Angeles. Next thing we know she’s at “Conan” complaining to fellow guest Pauly Shore (doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know) that she can’t get laid and that her mom, who is along for the ride for no discernible reason other than to irritate her daughter, is a horrible wingman. Shore looks like he’s torn between suggesting that he help Ke$ha through her rough patch and knowing he’s going to get shot down if he even hints at that. (Conan O'Brien wisely isn't seen on camera at all)

In a move that can’t end well, Ke$ha picks up one of her crew members and hangs out with him and eventually gets laid...and no one seems to think it’s weird and that this guy couldn’t say no since she’s his boss. She nicknames him “Baby Spoon” for reasons that I can’t quite figure out because she’s explaining it while riding in a car to someone we don’t see and the sound is so bad. Plus, by now I don’t care if she calls him “Grown Up Spork.”

The show is  frenetic and horribly edited and, worst of all, boring. It’s not even that Ke$ha is unlikeable, because she isn't, she's just nothing; an endlessly yammering voice. I wish that she were unlikeable; that would make for more interesting television. She’s just there and the camera never stops long enough to focus on any of her thoughts for more than a nano-second. Oh! Ke$ha has lost her voice! Oh! Ke$ha’s bus breaks down. Oh! Ke$ha wants to get laid! Oh! Ke$ha picks up a boy in her crew! Oh! Get me out of here.

Ke$ha’s second full-length album, “Warrior,” hasn’t come near the success of first album “Animal,” and maybe the series was seen as a way to goose sales, but all this will do is get people to change the channel.  I’ve dropped in on “Ke$ha” and I won’t be back. If you decide to watch the rest of the series, you’re on your own.

<p>Kenny Chesney's &quot;Life on a Rock&quot;</p>

Kenny Chesney's "Life on a Rock"

Album Review: Kenny Chesney's 'Life on A Rock'

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Genial, easy-going album hits just the right notes

Kenny Chesney has always had one foot planted as surely  in the Caribbean as in Nashville. On “Life On A Rock,” out today, he’s steeped in that casual, relaxed feel that the island sand and surf bring.

Instead of party anthems (he’s given us plenty of those already), the songs on “Life On A Rock” sound like they came about during those hours in the day that lend themselves to quiet reflection, whether they be at sunrise or sundown, or “It’s That Time Of Day,” as Chesney sings. The songs on “Life On a Rock” are about what happens between life’s big moments.

The album opens with first single, “Pirate Flag,” a chugging, derivative tune that sounds  a little too much like Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance"about trading the city life for life on a boat and an island. It’s the one and only remotely rocking song on the pleasing 10-tune set.

The other nine tunes are just like the island’s inhabitants: these songs are in no hurry to get anywhere and are more than willing to go with the flow. Watches and schedules are for losers when you’re living in paradise.

The album is, for the most part, quiet and reflective in a way that Chesney has often hinted at on certain songs on past albums, but has never devoted a full album to such thoughts.  They aren’t always deep thoughts, to be sure, but the songs on “Life On A Rock” are so thoroughly laid back and  easy going that you’ll feel your blood pressure drop just by listening to them. However, that’s not to stay they ramble. It’s quite the opposite. Most of the tracks here feel concise, many of them bolstered by beautiful guitar work. “Lindy” offers a portrait of everyone’s favorite beach bum, who’s never leaving the Island. Willie Nelson joins Chesney on the lilting “Coconut Tree,” a song about being “high in a coconut tree.” Take it however you want to, folks.  The Wailers join in on reggae tune “Spread The Love.” The autobiographical "When I See This Bar" has a Mellencamp, rootsy feel.

the album ends with “Happy On The Hey Now (A Song for Kristi),” a lovely, spare goodbye to a departed friend who loved dancing on the bow of the boat. It’s a moving elegy that anyone who has lost a loved one, even landlubbers, can appreciate. The same stands for the rest of the album.

<p>Iggy and the Stooges</p>

Iggy and the Stooges

Credit: David Raccuglia

Exclusive: The Stooges' producer James Williamson on Iggy Pop's new album

The Stooges were 'completely unsuccessful'

When guitarist James Williamson left Iggy and the Stooges in the mid-70s, he never thought he’d reunite with charismatic front man Iggy Pop and drummer Scott Asheton, but following bassist/guitarist Ron Asheton’s death in 2009, Iggy called Williamson and asked him to rejoin the band. “They were fresh out of Stooges,” Williamson grimly jokes.

Post-Stooges, Williamson, who called Iggy “Ig,” had become an electrical engineer and was Sony’s VP of Technology Standards. Though he initially declined the offer, he eventually said yes and has been touring with the Stooges again since the fall of 2009.

Williamson produced Iggy & The Stooges’  “Ready To Die,” out today, which reunites the same line-up (minus Ron Asheton, of course, and with Mike Watt on bass), as Iggy and the Stooges’ 1973 proto-punk masterpiece, the  David Bowie-mixed “Raw Power.”

Williamson talked to HitFix about recording with the band for the first time in decades, what it takes to produce Iggy Pop, and what it’s like to be on stage with the band.

Is there any way you could have imagined that you would be making a new Stooges record in 2013?


No, no idea.I had given up on The Stooges by the time we broke up [in] ’75. Ig and I did a demo album [in 1977] called “Kill City” after the band broke up.  I produced “New Values” for him a couple of years later and, after all that, when I gave up the music business, I just considered the whole thing to be completely unsuccessful. You know nobody liked us, nobody wanted to buy our records and nobody wanted us to play for them, so it was like,  “Well, OK, what should I do when I grow up?”

Was Ron Asheton’s death the catalyst for getting back together? How long had it been since you and Iggy had spoken?

After “New Values,” he did an album called “Soldier” [in 1980] and I produced about a third of that record. Then we had a huge falling out over a set of issues as people frequently do making albums and that was it. We didn’t talk for at least 20-25 years after that and, mostly at that point, it was just kind of like publishing issues and things where  you needed to touch base with the other person, but we weren’t chatting or anything like that. It was kind of a little bit out-of-the-blue kind of thing. I think both of us were very careful about the relationship going forward because neither one of us has another 25 years to go without talking to each other, so we won’t pick any fights.

Were you surprised when he called you?


The first thing he did was inform me about Ronnie’s death. I’d heard that through another channel so I wasn’t surprised by that, but it was nice of him to give me the courtesy of the call. Then kind of from there, we continued to have some on-and off-talks and part of it was the idea would I consider playing again? We had long discussions about that. I really hadn’t in my wildest dreams thought I would do that, even if asked and so at first it just didn’t feel right, but the longer I thought about it, it kind of was one of those things where they were fresh out of Stooges, so it was like I was the last guy walking and I think Ig knew that I could do it. It was just a matter of giving me a chance to do it.

What’s the key to producing Iggy Pop?


(laughs)  That’s a trade secret. No, you just gotta be patient and Iggy is actually a pro, in a way. I mean, he’s made a lot of albums, he knows what works for him and what doesn’t work for him and I guess I learned in “Soldier” to try to be a little more flexible with him and to basically let him be the boss of his vocals. I’m very respectful of his ideas about his vocals. That said, I also want to make sure we got the best sound we could out of him so I put what I consider to be the best vocal mic around; it’s a Brauner VM1, So I made sure we used that on almost everything and the rest was up to him. He stepped up and did his vocals.

You write the music for this album and then Iggy puts on the lyrics. Is that the same way you've always written?

Yeah, it is. I don’t know what it is between us that makes this all work but it’s always been that way and so I’ve often said that  it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to be in another band because the thing is that I write kind of crazy music and there’s almost nobody that I know of who can make sense out of it as far as the song goes, but that particular individual can. 

What did you think when you heard “DDs," a lecherous salute to breasts?


(laughs)  I tell you, what can you say about that? That’s the, I don’t know, the primeval core of every teenage boy, right?  Talk about striking a chord. I mean, it’s a song that everybody can either object to or rally behind. We’re wondering if there’s a certain type of movie or maybe in a Playtex ad where this could wind up.

Iggy’s talking about the poor economy on “Job” or the lack of gun control or the ghosts in the band on “The Departed,” and then in comes this song.

It’s true, it’s true. You hit on the thing that I like the most about the lyrics on the album: Basically he’s critiquing social issues on this album and that’s kind of what we were doing on “Raw Power.”  “Search and Destroy” is all about the Vietnam War, so here we are again in 2013 and he’s got gun control, immigration, he’s involved in all sorts of topical issues.

What did you think when The Stooges reunited in 2003 without you?


There’s lots of little side stories to all this and one of the big ones is that when Ig and I reformed the Stooges after breaking up in 1971, we hadn’t intended to reform the Stooges at all. We went over to London and we were going to start a new band, but we couldn’t find anyone over there that we liked to play with, so we called the Asheton Brothers, so we moved Ronnie over to bass.

David Bowie, who mixed “Raw Power,”  was mad that you brought them over, right?

I think not Bowie so much, but Bowie’s management [which had begun managing Iggy]  always had the view of Iggy being the pop star so they were pissed even for him to bring me over there. When we multiplied it by bringing the Asheton brothers over, they didn’t think that was going to work.

But the point of the story is, they moved Ronnie to bass and he never really got over that, he never really liked it. He always wanted to be the guitar player. So you asked about 2003. I was just thinking, that is fantastic because not only do these guys get to play again, but Ronnie gets to play guitar again, so that’s what he always wanted to do. He was vindicated by all that as well.

You joined the band again in 2009. What is it like for you to be on stage with Iggy again?


Ah, it’s fun. It’s always been unpredictable. This is not an act. We’re kind of improvising on the run. We have a set that we do, of course, and the musicians are playing the numbers, but he’ll basically do anything to get over with the audience. I think there’s probably no other man or human alive that can even imagine doing some of the things that he’ll do. Being up there with him is really cool, but you gotta pay attention because first of all everything’s going fast and furious. If you lose concentration you’re screwed. Secondly he throws those mike stands all over the place and so occasionally, you might need to get out of the way pretty quick. I’ve actually been hit by one once, but luckily it was deflected off my guitar.

It must be really gratifying to see how “Raw Power” is now considered a classic. Everyone from Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain to The Smiths’ Johnny Marr embraced it as a seminal proto-punk album.

It’s been amazing. I usually joke that we always thought it was going to be a really successful album and it was... it just took a really long time (laughs). It’s a huge vindication for all of us. Finally getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a lot of people snicker at that, but we don’t. It’s industry recognition, which is something we never had, so coming back around and actually doing this new album, you know, it just feels like we kind of have come full circle and now we’re kind of doing victory laps at this age, but we’re still doing stuff that we like and it still sounds like us.

<p>LL Cool J's Authentic</p>

LL Cool J's Authentic

Album Review: LL Cool's 'Authentic' shows rapper's true colors

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Eddie Van Halen, Brad Paisley and Chuck D help bring the noise

In the last few years, LL Cool J has gained fame around the world as Special Agent Sam Hanna on the hit TV show “NCIS: Los Angeles,” as well as host of the Grammy Awards, but now he’s back to his roots with the rapper’s first album in five years, out April 30.

While the title is “Authentic,” it could just as easily be called “LL Cool J and Friends,” given how many guests he has stop by. The album plays like an aural variety show as different artists ranging from Snoop Dogg to Eddie Van Halen, Seal, and Brad Paisley drop by on various tracks with varying results. The one constant is that LL Cool J sounds like he’s having the time of his life, whether he’s spitting rhythms on in-your-face tracks or seducing the ladies with a number of love songs on the set.

If there’s any doubt that LL Cool J may have gone soft since 2008’s “Exit 13,” he lays any such notion to rest with aggressive opener “Bath Salt,” which serves also as a salute to Salt N Pepa. That aggression plays out well on a number of other tracks, including the genre-busting “Whaddup,” featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, and Z-Trip (Enjoy the Beastie Boy-sounding homage in the middle).

As “Whaddup” and heavy tracks such as “We’re The Greatest,” featuring Eddie Van Halen and Barker,  rap and rock have a natural alliance here (although on the latter, his line about wondering why the Pope resigned is a bit of clunker in an otherwise compelling track).

He also embraces alternative music on “Not Leaving Here Tonight” featuring Fitz & the Tantrums. Fitz’s pop smoothness plays nicely against LL Cool J’s gruff vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s tasty guitar solo (even if you’ll swear it’s Enrique Iglesias singing here).

But LL Cool J doesn’t stand for Ladies Love Cool J for nothing and he is eager to show his romantic powers on so-smooth-you’ll-melt tracks like “Between The Sheetz” featuring Mickey Shiloh. He and R&B legend Charlie Wilson get a serious groove going on “New Love,” and his old-school jam “Something About You” featuring Earth Wind & Fire; Wilson, and Melanie Thornton could make you blush.

Unlike their well-meaning, if ham fisted, collaboration on Paisley’s “Accidental Racist,” their duet here,  “Live For You,”  works much better and Paisley stretches vocally in a way that renders him almost unrecognizable.

Is this cutting edge? Not in the slightest, but that’s not the purpose here. Instead, LL Cool J has made an album that, —as odd as it may sound to call it this—is Adult Contemporary Rap meant to appeal to fans who have grown up with LL Cool J and are happy to have him back. They want his sure-fire raps, but are happy to wrap the rap around gentler melodies. While this may strike some as a little defanged, it never feels like he’s pushing too hard.

<p>Beyonce</p>

Beyonce

Which 'Great Gatsby' track is better: Sia or Beyonce and Andre 3000?

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Check out Sia's new song for the impressive tracklist

More full tracks from “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack appeared over the weekend: Beyonce and Andre 300’s remake of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” and Sia’s original “Kill And Run.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>George Jones</p>

George Jones

Credit: Mark Humphrey/AP

Music Power Rankings: George Jones, Justin Bieber and Michael Buble

Fall Out Boy and Psy also make this week's list.

1. George Jones One of the greatest singers who ever lived, who recorded one of the greatest songs of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,”  takes The Grand Tour to the sky.

2. Neil Diamond:
After “Sweet Caroline” sales soar following his appearance at a Boston Red Sox game, Diamond donates all the royalties to the One Fund Boston. Good times never felt so good.

3. Fall Out Boy: Following a five-year hiatus, Fall Out Boy returns with “Save Rock & Roll,” which bows at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Why stop with just saving rock and roll?

4. Will.I.Am: He accidentally steals a song for his new album, “#willpower.”   Oops.

5. Psy: “Gentleman” soars into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, making the S. Korean rapper a two-hit wonder.

6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The rap pair becomes the first group since The Blackeyed Peas to score the No. 2 and No. 3 songs on the Billboard Hot 100.  Think how high they could go if they had lady lumps.

7. Justin Bieber: His road woes continue as Swedish police find pot and a stun gun on his tour bus. It sounds like someone needs a time out.

8. Amy Winehouse: As word of her new documentary comes out, her father declares in no uncertain terms that he is not a fan of Beyonce and Andre 3000’s cover of “Back To Black.” Did you really expect him to be?

9. Michael Buble: As Mother’s Day approaches, buyers come out in droves around the globe to purchase the crooner’s latest, “To Be Loved.”  Just think how it would sell if Warner Bros. had packaged it with a pair of mom jeans?

10. Record Store Day:
The annual event drove vinyl sales to a historic high of a combined 244,000 copies, the highest one-week tally since SoundScan starting counting sales in 1991. If we can add three more zeros then we’ll be talking sales to get excited about.