AMERICAN singer/songwriter Devendra Banhart has risen to the top of the ranks in the variety of music labelled "freak folk." For the uninitiated, the term loosely describes a kind of mellowed-out, quasi-psychedelic yet sunshiny (i.e.: non-protest) take on the august folk music form.
In Banhart's case "folk" music is represented by a generally quiet, slow-moving ramble through a range of low-wattage, artful creations. To put it plainly, there's nothing at all here that makes you stand up and take notice, yet his peculiar musical insinuations and willowy hooks eventually ooze into your memory like the earworms they are intended to be.
The carefree Won't You Come Over will remind certain fans of late U.K. glam rocker Marc Bolan's mid-'70s T. Rex-isms, yet Banhart relies more on wispy synthesizers and trilling vocals than chunky guitar figures. Hatchet Wound delivers another kind of simple yet not unsophisticated sound, with gently strummed electric guitar providing a kind of percussive effect while Banhart and crew delicately frame the beat with vocals and handclaps. For a song that's hardly there, it works. To his credit, this artist has carved out a niche for his music that still pulls in fans after eight full-length albums -- and that, in itself, is startling. Whether his hairy, hippy-dippy style is for you is for your own ears to decide. HHH
DOWNLOAD THIS: Won't You Come Over
-- Jeff Monk
Reincarnated (Vice/Mad Decent/RCA Records)
IT'S not just a name change, but there's a new take on life for Snoop Lion, who switched his stage name from Snoop Dogg after a trip to Jamaica, where he embraced Rastafarian culture.
And the new project works.
Snoop's first reggae album, Reincarnated, includes some fine production by Major Lazer (a.k.a. Diplo), with guest appearances from Miley Cyrus, Akon, Rita Ora and Angela Hunte, who co-wrote the Jay-Z hit Empire State of Mind.
The rapper is still the marijuana-smoking, ultra-smooth Snoop we've all come to know and love. But he's also more focused on love and happiness, and not the gangsta raps he spewed in the past.
He sings against gun violence on No Guns Allowed, which features rapper Drake and vocals from his daughter Cori B. The track is special because it shows how Snoop has matured as a musician -- and bringing on his 13-year-old daughter only drives home the point. He tackles global warming on Tired of Running with Akon, and preaches unity on Lighters Up, featuring Mavado and Popcaan.
The gem of the album, though, is the dancehall track featuring Cyrus. Ashtrays and Heartbreaks is an easygoing track where Cyrus shines alongside Snoop.
While there are some misses -- like Get Away and Fruit Juice -- most of Snoop's 12th studio album is an entertaining piece of work. HHH1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Ashtrays and Heartbreaks
-- Jonathan Landrum Jr., The Associated Press
Tape Deck Heart (Xtra Mile/Universal)
ON his fifth solo outing, British punk-rock poet Frank Turner sounds introspective and honest, somewhat poppy and more polished .
Trading the U.K. for L.A., the 31-year-old Turner spent a month (uncharacteristically long for him) recording Tape Deck Heart, yet it's not lacking in intensity. Armed with an acoustic guitar, Turner is still a darker, non-political Billy Bragg sporting a Joe Strummer sneer.
Reflecting some obvious changes in his life (and not just those that come with selling 100,000 copies of his last disc, England Keep My Bones) Tape Deck Heart is full of broken hearts, broken dreams, broken promises, broken families and even a Broken Piano (a captivating performance that demands attention). There's even a hint of a country flavour on Fisher King Blues and Tell Tale Signs.
On The Way I Used to Be, Turner sings "You shine like truth in all you do." So does he. HHHH
DOWNLOAD THIS: Broken Piano
-- Bruce Leperre
Dear Bo Jackson (Serpents and Snakes)
HERE'S more proof Nashville, Tenn., is saving rock 'n' roll one band at a time: The Weeks.
The mostly Mississippi quintet moved to Nashville a few years ago after putting out a few promising albums, signed with Kings of Leon imprint Serpents and Snakes Records, and have been polishing the music and enhancing the songs on Dear Bo Jackson till they shine.
The only real knock against them was that lead singer Cyle Barnes sounded waaaayyyy too much like KOL frontman Caleb Followill. Dear Bo Jackson mostly dispenses with that issue with 11 flavour-packed songs that show a band unafraid to embrace -- and update -- its Southern-rock roots with the kind of love that's mostly missing from today's scene.
Five or six listens in and Dear Bo Jackson is still offering new delights from keys, pedal steel and strings that were initially obscured by the country funky, groove-oriented heart of each song.
The Weeks rocked harder on earlier albums, but show they've grown into a band with the ability to stun on slow, emotional tracks like Ain't My Stop, a song that stays with you awhile, Gobi Blues and Chickahominy.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Ain't My Stop
-- Chris Talbott, The Associated Press
Janelle Monáe feat. Erykah Badu
Q.U.E.E.N. (Bad Boy/Atlantic)
Nearly three years after her critically acclaimed debut The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monáe is back, guns blazing. The first offering from her upcoming Electric Lady project has more than enough attitude to spare, strut-worthy electro-funk that would make Prince proud, and an awesomely unexpected rap in the third act. ****
Drake feat. James Fauntleroy
Girls Love Beyoncé (Cash Money/Universal)
Following up the all-out swagger of Started From the Bottom, the latest single from Drake's upcoming Nothing Was the Same album sees him switching into syrupy, oversexed R&B mode, jacking the chorus from Destiny's Child's Say My Name. You probably wouldn't complain if this was the soundtrack to your 3 a.m. booty call, but on its own, it's kind of dull. **1/2
Armin Van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie
This is What it Feels Like (Armada/Sony)
The Dutch DJ and producer's latest album Intense drops this week, and this lead single featuring Trevor Guthrie (who you may or may not remember as the lead singer of Canadian outfit soulDecision) is easily the poppiest thing he's ever done. Upbeat, enjoyable, but ultimately fairly disposable, it's bubblegum trance cut very much from the same cloth as Swedish House Mafia's Don't You Worry Child. ***
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams