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Jack White (Third Man/Columbia)
Jack White's second solo album is steeped in tones of his adopted hometown, Nashville. Lighthearted piano, sprightly fiddle, and soulful slide guitar lend a country twang to most of the 11 tracks.
White is more open musically on Lazaretto than any of his previous works, whether with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather, or solo. He shares the vocal spotlight with fiddler-singer Lillie Mae Rische and Ruby Amanfu, who belongs to the Peacocks, an all-female band that backed White while touring for his first solo album, 2012's Blunderbuss.
The Dead Weather-esque title single heralds the new album perfectly: a blend of White's signature guitar-heavy blues rock seasoned with some folksy charm in the form of a violin solo.
Where Blunderbuss explored love and loss, Lazaretto is more about love and loneliness. Parlor piano opens an ode to solitary life, Alone in My Home. A country fiddle cries at the beginning of Temporary Ground, about life's fleeting nature.
White does the crying and lets his distorted guitar do the talking on High Ball Stepper. Harmonica, organ, and piano join in on another rocker, the boastful romp Three Women — the album's only track White didn't write alone; he shares credit with late blues guitarist Blind Willie McTell.
At 38, firmly rooted in rock's lexicon and surrounded by Nashville's rich musical history, White stretches out on Lazaretto and leaves his future wide open.
— SANDY COHEN,
Miranda Lambert (RCA Nashville)
Country star Miranda Lambert describes her fifth album Platinum as transitional: She wanted to show the maturity of an award-winning artist who has turned 30 and settled into marriage.
But don't worry, she's still the wildest risk-taking Nashville singer roaring through the back roads. She frontloads the new 16-song collection with a saucily slurred lyric about the power of bleach jobs ("What doesn't kill you only makes you blonder" she cracks in Platinum) and another (Little Red Wagon) that rips a would-be Romeo with a string of putdowns delivered with punkish glee.
Yes, Lambert continues to grow. But at her core, she continues to celebrate the colorful drama of working-class lives, punching them up with the freshest country rock arrangements this side of Eric Church. The way she reflects modern women, complete with risqué word play and edgy humor, is what makes Lambert a fully three-dimensional country star.
Platinum only falters when Lambert leans on country clichés, as when she waxes nostalgic about a pre-digital world in her recent hit Automatic and on a one-dimensional tale (Something Bad) about wicked women that wastes a duet pairing with fellow superstar Carrie Underwood.
But, as usual, Lambert is as entertaining on album tracks as she is on radio hits. From the western-swing throwback (All That's Left), recorded with dance-floor revivalists The Time Jumpers, to a cheeky send-up of celebrity marriages (Priscilla), Lambert keeps proving that life, in all its messy glory, is much richer than most of her Nashville peers ever suggest.
— MICHAEL McCALL,
50 Cent (G-Unit/Caroline/Capitol Music Group)
50 Cent made a ginormous splash more than a decade ago with his multiplatinum debut Get Rich or Die Tryin', pushing out early career hits from In da Club to P.I.M.P.
But the rapper has been unable to live up to his first album's success, which ultimately led to his departure from Interscope Records and Eminem's Shady/Aftermath. He's since found a new home with Caroline, the independent label at Capitol Music Group.
Now, as an independent artist, 50 Cent releases his first album in five years with Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win. He often shows rust on his fifth studio offering, but the 11-track set is not a total disappointment.
50 Cent still possesses a high level of cockiness, effectively displaying his street mentality on The Funeral, Chase the Paper, and Irregular Heartbeat, with Jadakiss and Kidd Kidd. He raps about still keeping a gun under his pillow on Hold On and talks about his thirst to become more successful on Hustler and Winners Circle, featuring Guordan Banks.
But while Animal Ambition shows some promise, there are some missteps. His rhymes are too simple and easily forgettable on the title track. He teams up with Trey Songz on the Dr. Dre-produced Smoke, but the track lacks the infectious spirit that lived in past club hits such as Candy Shop and 21 Questions.
— JONATHAN LANDRUM, Jr.,