JENNIFER LOPEZ FEAT. PITBULL
Live it Up (Capitol/Universal)
AFTER the absolute juggernaut that was On the Floor (and to a lesser extent, last year's Dance Again), J.Lo, Pitbull and super-producer Red One are back for a threepeat with this surefire club-ready neon monster. Everything here sounds more than a little familiar, and the "make love, don't fight" break is pretty hokey, but as a whole, it's so slickly put together it's easy to lose yourself in it and just dance. Three stars
MARIAH CAREY FEAT. MIGUEL
#Beautiful (Island Def Jam)
SUPERFLOUS #hashtags aside, Mariah delivers one of her best tracks in ages. Sounding a bit like a warmer, more relaxed, and more mature version of Honey, this is a fun and flirty mid-tempo summer shuffler featuring some genuine vocal chemistry between Mimi and R&B crooner Miguel. Three and a half stars
HOT NATURED FEAT. ANABEL ENGLUND
Reverse Skydiving (Benoit & Sergio Remix) (FFRR/Warner)
WASHINGTON, D.C. duo Benoit & Sergio give Hot Natured's already lovely, very LCD Soundsystem-like chill-out track the remix treatment by kicking up the beat, adding some synths, and dicing up Ms. Englund's sultry vocals. The result is sun-drenched love letter to the softer side of electro-house. Four stars
-- reviewed bySteve Adams
POP & ROCK
Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City (XL Recordings)
AFTER releasing two bouncy albums of reggae-flavoured pop laced with African rhythms, Vampire Weekend turns down the tempo and ups the indie-rock vibe on its third effort. Modern Vampires of the City, which the band characterizes as the culmination of a trilogy, puts singer-songwriters Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij's guitars and harmonies front and centre.
The New York quartet maintains the layered arrangements it established as its signature on its self-titled 2008 debut and 2010's Contra, with organs and strings in the musical mix. But the vocals are more in focus here, with a choir adding haunting depth to the two closing tracks, Hudson and Young Lion.
These 12 new songs are more coffee house than college party, but that's not a bad thing. There are enough upbeat entries -- including cleverly titled rockabilly single Diane Young -- to satisfy expectations, and the slower pace allows Vampire Weekend to show what else it can do. Three and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Young Lion
-- Sandy Cohen, The Associated Press
She & Him
Volume 3 (Merge Records)
IS there any limit to Zooey Deschanel's creativity?
With her comical hit show, New Girl, it's hard to work out when she would have the time to write music. And the new album Volume 3 from her duo, She & Him, with singer-songwriter M. Ward, definitely doesn't sound like an album that's been made on the side.
Their third record bursts to life with the bluesy I've Got Your Number, Son, and Deschanel's tone is dulcet. It's the kind of song you imagine being played on the jukebox in a 1950s diner.
The lyrics throughout the album are dreamy and full of unrequited love, but sung in an almost theatrical way. In Never Wanted Your Love, Deschanel adopts a Texan drawl. The addition of Ward's voice on Baby creates a beautiful harmony with Deschanel's tone, and an electric guitar riff adds a rock 'n' roll spin to the record.
The album's only weak moment is the cover of Blondie's Sunday Girl, which comes off flat. Otherwise, She & Him has a winner. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: I've Got Your Number, Son
-- Sian Watson, The Associated Press
Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator)
JAMES Cotton is one of the few remaining second-generation bluesmen in existence, and while he's pushing 80 years old, the harmonica ace and songwriter shows few signs of wanting to hang up the mouth harps. Cotton Mouth Man delivers enough scorching contemporary blues and blast-furnace harmonica licks to satisfy any fan of the form and maybe even pull in some new sets of ears.
Cotton doesn't sing anymore. All those smoky nights blowing and sucking on whisky-soaked harmonicas will do that to a man's vocal cords, so guest vocalists are the norm now on his recordings. Regular Cotton Band singer Darrell Nulisch shares duties with Gregg Allman, Keb Mo, Ruthie Foster, Warren Haynes and Delbert McClinton, so there's no shortage of star power to compensate for Cotton's lack of vocal muscle.
The album doesn't stray too far from the Alligator label template-contemporary blues, recorded well with a few surprises, but nothing that will cause anyone to re-evaluate the style. Cotton's harp hoots are still loud and proud and it's his rough tone that brings the tough edge to the title track and Bird Nest on the Ground. As a biographical soundtrack to Cotton's "funky life" it works, and if he never records again, Cotton Mouth Man is a wonderful coda to an incredible career serving the blues. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: He Was There
-- Jeff Monk
Love Will... (Show Dog/Universal)
TRACE Adkins works with five different producers on his 11th album, suggesting the country music veteran and reality TV star is searching for an infusion of fresh energy.
And Love Will... does find Adkins occasionally trying out new sounds. There's the soul-country vibe of So What If I Do, which features a saxophone to play up the pop-crossover possibilities. And there's a duet with pop singer Colbie Caillat on Watch the World End, a strange love song set during the apocalypse.
While the arrangements test new territory, the themes tend toward the middle-of-the-road romanticism he's stuck with for two decades. Eschewing any up-tempo rockers, the tall, muscular former oil rigger concentrates on romantic themes, some of which push at the steamier edges of conservative country music conventions -- as on his cover of the Exile pop hit Kiss You All Over.
For such a roughneck guy, he excels at tender ballads, as on Come See Me and the spiritually oriented title song, which features the Harlem Gospel Choir. But there's nothing here likely to lift him to the upper tier of country stars -- which seems like a missed opportunity, considering the high media profile his role on TV's Celebrity Apprentice has given him. Two and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Watch the World End
-- Michael McCall, The Associated Press