JASON ALDEAN "Night Train" Grade: B-plus
The most memorable moment on Jason Aldean's fifth album, "Night Train" (Broken Bow), comes in "1994" where the Georgia native starts chanting, "Hey! Joe! Joe! Joe Diffie!" like he was doing House of Pain's "Jump Around."
It's a cool image, name-dropping a classic country artist as a way to show how fully Aldean has embraced hip-hop in some of his music. The importance of classic rock, especially guitar solos, to Aldean is even more pronounced on this album.
However, that doesn't take away from his country appeal, seen best in the touching, well-crafted ballads "I Don't Do Lonely Well" and "Drink One for Me." In many ways, the variety he creates enhances it.
The rock influence _ along with the mouthful-of-syllables chorus Aldean spits out in a way usually reserved for R&B singers _ is a big part of "When She Says Baby." Before he starts singing on "Feel That Again," the guitar riffs could have signaled a song from anyone from Bon Jovi to Smashing Pumpkins to Daughtry, while the middle of the new single "Take a Little Ride" stomps like a number of Southern rockers.
The combination is an important way to show that country isn't isolating itself from the rest of pop culture anymore. Aldean, who is much more than his recent TMZ-generated notoriety would suggest, has taken that mix the farthest among country's elite singers _ though Taylor Swift does have a dubstep influence on one of her new songs _ and "Night Train" shows no sign of slowing him down.
BENJAMIN GIBBARD "Former Lives" Grade: B-plus
BOTTOM LINE Climbing out of Death Cab to stretch
As Death Cab for Cutie's frontman, Benjamin Gibbard has gotten locked into a certain indie-pop sound that suits him well. On his first solo album, "Former Lives" (Barsuk), though, he shows he can do so much more. Gibbard channels '60s Nuggets on "Teardrop Windows" and then switches to folk ("Lily") and mariachi-tinged country ("Something's Rattling") with ease. He's best, though, in the John Lennon-ish "Duncan, Where Have You Gone," which feels like a lost track from "Double Fantasy," and the charming duet with Aimee Mann, "Bigger Than Love," which is closest to Death Cab's recent work. "Former Lives" is actually pretty good at looking ahead.
Adele's contribution to the Bond theme genre, "Skyfall" (Columbia), is unlike anything else she's done in her young career. It's self-assured and grand, drawing inspiration from Dame Shirley Bassey, while adding her own powerful phrasing to make it her own. Adele's style so far has been to downplay her massive voice with lyrics that are questioning and self-deprecating. On "Skyfall," though, it sounds like the diva point of view suits her, too.
NEW IN STORES
Brandy's "Two Eleven" (RCA)
Mika's "Origin of Love" (Universal Republic)
Donald Fagen's "Sunken Condos" (Reprise)
Jamey Johnson's "Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran" (Mercury Nashville)
A Fine Frenzy's "Pines" (Virgin)
Glenn Gamboa: email@example.com
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