November 30, 2017

Shaggy - Pure Pleasure (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Dancehall, Reggae
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© 1993 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Shaggy's debut album, Pure Pleasure, has been described as a dancehall album for those who generally don't care for dancehall and, to be sure, the CD managed to reach a lot of listeners who find dancehall limited and one-dimensional. The toaster accomplished this by striving for variety and being more musical than a lot of dancehall artists. Plus, the fact that he is fairly recognizable doesn't hurt; when other 1990s dancehall upstarts were becoming Shabba Ranks clones, Shaggy combined dancehall aggression with such influences as Yellowman. Pure Pleasure has its share of conventional, sexploitive dancehall, but Shaggy takes some chances on conscious numbers like "It Bun Me" and "Give Thanks and Praise" as well as his infectious interpretation of Prince Buster's "Oh, Carolina." Pure Pleasure isn't a gem, but it's an often enjoyable album that has some variety and does its part to broaden dancehall.

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Shaggy - Hot Shot (2001 Special Edition) ☠

*Reissued in 2001 by MCA records. Contains 1 bonus track. 16 tracks total.

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Dancehall, Reggae
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2000-2001 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Bryan Buss
Shaggy's fourth album is a classic hybrid of reggae, R&B, and pop. Following duets with Maxi Priest ("That Girl") and Janet Jackson ("Luv Me, Luv Me"), the Jamaica native teams up with master producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and a myriad of talented guest vocalists who complement his personality on each track. Coming with the minor hit "Hope" from 1999's For Love of the Game soundtrack, the first couple of singles, "Dance and Shout" (featuring a Michael Jackson sample) and "It Wasn't Me," show the strengths of this album -- they are smart, warm, and playful. Shaggy's persona is hard to not like. On "It Wasn't Me," a friend laments being caught by his girl with another woman; Shaggy continually advises him to flatly deny it. To be able to use that sentiment and still seem likable is a gift. There are such heavy samples, some of the tracks almost sound like remakes at points, but there is such originality and gifted wordplay that the combination works as opposed to seeming unoriginal -- something most rappers can't seem to accomplish. Each song on Hot Shot from the opening title track on is different, inviting, and infectious.

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Ashanti - Ashanti (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2002 Murder Inc. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Young, pretty, sexy, stylish, and hip, Ashanti is everything a modern, post-hip-hop soul crooner should be. She looks the part, trucks with hitmakers -- at the time her eponymous debut was released, she was featured on a hit single by Fat Joe -- and even approximates Alicia Keys' visuals on the back cover. She can sing, but she's not showy; she never hyperventilates, she croons. Her first album sounds modern, with fairly fresh beats and lightly insistent hooks, and is just naughty enough to warrant a parental advisory sticker (though if you're just listening to this record, it's nigh on impossible to figure out where the objectionable lines are). So why doesn't Ashanti play as greater than the sum of its parts? Largely because it lacks distinctive material, in either terms of the actual songs or the production -- and when that's combined with a singer who is good, yet not distinctive herself, the entire production sounds as if its treading water or providing nifty aural wallpaper. It's not bad by any means, and it has its moments, but at 17 tracks, including skits, it all becomes a blur. A pleasing blur, one that shows promise, but a blur all the same.

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Ashanti - Chapter II (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2003 Murder Inc. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The pictures on Ashanti's album covers mean something -- not just because she's gorgeous, but because they signal in which musical direction she's heading. On her first album, she was a streamlined, diva-esque spin on Alicia Keys; on her second, she was styled like Beyoncé Knowles, the Destiny's Child leader who had released her solo debut a week before Chapter II. Ashanti is malleable like that. She has a sweet, appealing voice that has no defining characteristics -- she doesn't have the dizzying range of Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, the sexiness of Janet Jackson, the riskiness of Aaliyah, the elegant smarts of Alicia Keys, the sheer ambition of Knowles, or, needless to say, the hell-bent skankiness of Christina Aguilera. She sings well and sounds good on modern R&B tracks, fitting into the fabric of the production more than delivering the song. That lack of personality, incidentally, makes her a good vocal foil for rappers, since she never overshadows them. This explains why Irv Gotti used her as the diva for his Murder Inc empire; he's also savvy enough of a producer (along with his colleague Chink Santana) to keep Chapter II entertaining -- more entertaining than her debut, actually -- all the way through. The key is that the production is seductive, whether it's on the actual ballads or the bright, sunny dance numbers, and that Ashanti's crooning fits right in without ever drawing attention to herself. She's not enough of a singer to really belt out the tunes and depart from the melodies with showy runs that are all about her, so she just sings the material straight, which is quite refreshing. The songs have about as much personality as Ashanti's voice, but that actually is a point in its favor, since it keeps everything on an even keel and makes Gotti and Santana's stylish production the star. They are the secret ingredients that make Chapter II good romantic mood music for the summer.

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Ashanti - Concrete Rose (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2004 The INC Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Now that Ashanti's career runs three albums deep, not including 2003's floptastic Ashanti's Christmas, it's high time Inc head Irv Gotti put the Mary J. Blige comparisons to rest. Mary -- power tempered with finesse -- and Ashanti -- consistently soothing, never overstated -- are entirely different stylistically, and a compilation of the younger singer's best work wouldn't stand a chance against her elder's What's the 411? or My Life. Disregarding the ill-suited standards, an Ashanti album is always good for a handful of strong singles, as Concrete Rose helps indicate. As expected, Ashanti firmly believes this is her best album to date, but it's no better or worse than her 2002 debut or 2003's Chapter II, with the standout singles, decent album cuts, and filler fluff provided in equal doses. As opposed to Chapter II, which was essentially a production showcase for Chink Santana (with some work and guidance by Gotti), Concrete Rose puts most of the control back into the hands of 7 Aurelius, the one behind "Foolish" and "Baby." Excepting an appearance from T.I., the album is strictly an in-house Inc. affair, with staffers Santana, Jimi Kendrix, and Demi-Doc also on board. Ja Rule makes an appearance on "Turn It Up," the most energetic club track, and doesn't destroy it. He also seems to be having a good time -- a rare occurrence in 2004.

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Ashanti - The Declaration (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2008 The INC/Universal Motown
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
On her fourth proper studio album, Ashanti remains with The Inc., but you would not know it unless you checked for the logo. The closest tie is the occasional presence of ex-Irv Gotti associate and longtime Ashanti collaborator Seven Aurelius (who now calls himself Channel 7), followed by a minor assist from Chink Santana. Gotti himself is nowhere to be found. L.T. Hutton (Snoop Dogg, Bone) is behind most of the production work, with a handful of notables -- Rodney Jerkins, Jermaine Dupri, Ron Feemster, Babyface, Akon, and...Diane Warren -- on separate tracks. Even though this album marks a nearly complete break from The Inc., it's very much in line with what came before it, hardly a major departure. Each Ashanti release has had at least one major single, and in this case it's "The Way That I Love You," more in the mold and spirit of "Rain on Me" -- full of similarly effective melodramatic flourishes -- if much more vengeful in nature than depressive. Nothing is quite as irresistibly fun as "Baby" or "Rock wit U," or as sexy as "Only U," but "You're Gonna Miss" comes close in the case of the former, while the lifeless Akon/Nelly feature "Body on Me" is no good at all, containing no distinguishing qualities. Bottom line, this is neither a great nor a poor Ashanti album. It's decent, just like the rest of them.

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November 29, 2017

Heavy D. & The Boyz - Living Large (1987)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1987 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Heavy D & the Boyz' debut album, Living Large, finds the group still in a formative stage, but they're already engaging enough to make the record entertaining, if nothing earth-shattering. This being 1987, the production is spare and heavy on the beatbox, with some samples of James Brown and other well-known vintage soul records. As an MC, Heavy D strongly favors swingbeat rhythms at this stage (even saying so at the start of "Here We Go"), and he hasn't yet developed the smooth, resonant delivery that would make his most complex rhymes sound deceptively easy. There isn't as much variety in his subject matter, either -- "The Overweight Lover's in the House," "Chunky but Funky," "Overweighter," and "Mr. Big Stuff" represent a major concentration on the most obvious part of his image, charmingly confident though they are. There are some other cuts geared for the dancefloor, and some freestyle-type lyrics that are well-executed but rather generic. The excitement of landing a recording contract spills over into "Moneyearnin' Mount Vernon" and "I'm Getting Paid," and there's some pleasant filler elsewhere. But overall, Heavy D hadn't yet hit his stride; that would happen the next time out.

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Heavy D. & The Boyz - Big Tyme (1989)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1989 MCA/Uptown Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Like Whodini, Heavy D. has managed to appeal to both R&B audiences and rap's hardcore. Indeed, Heavy shows strong R&B leanings on Big Tyme, his second album, which is definitely softer and more congenial than what one would have expected from Ice-T or Public Enemy that year. But the Long Island MC has a lot of technique -- a fact that hardcore hip-hoppers couldn't overlook when hearing him let loose on such numbers as "Here We Go Again, Y'all," "More Bounce" and "You Ain't Heard Nuttin' Yet." Residents of the hood may have viewed the commercial appeal that "Somebody for Me" had suspiciously, but they couldn't ignore Heavy's obvious technique. Although not remarkable, Big Tyme is an enjoyable effort that works well as escapist party music.

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Heavy D. & The Boyz - Blue Funk (1992) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1992 MCA/Uptown Records
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart
On his fourth release, Heavy D handed over the production duties to three of the hottest underground producers in the business at the time--Tony Dofat, DJ Premier, and his younger cousin Pete Rock--as well as excellent newcomer Jesse West, and the results are outstanding, if completely unlike any previous or subsequent Heavy D & the Boyz recording. Whereas the Heavster's style had always been positive and accessible before, careful not to come across as too confrontational or provocative, he came entirely streetwise on Blue Funk, altering (if only for the moment) his straight-laced reputation. Whether it was a deliberate attempt to shift creative gears and explore different headspace--between each track there is a brief pseudo-therapeutic session--or merely a natural outgrowth of the circles in which the rapper was traveling at the time, the result is one of his least orthodox but most thoroughly satisfying efforts. It takes a moment to register that it is the Overweight Lover who is spitting out lyrics on "Who's the Man?," a song that even liberally quotes the non-upstanding Cypress Hill. He almost could have passed for Notorious B.I.G. (who, indeed, later shows up on the album) in a blind taste test. Of course, he didn't abandon his sensitivity entirely, as "Truthful," with its R&B hook, immediately makes clear, and still tossed several lovey-dovey cuts to the around-the-way girls. But the album decidedly hits with more force, from the smack-talking "Talk Is Cheap" right down to the final "A Buncha Niggas," on which D successfully orchestrates another top-notch posse cut along the lines of Peaceful Journey's uncharacteristic "Don't Curse." Perhaps sonically the album veered too far from the commercial-ready sound that he had successfully mined up to that point, but Blue Funk managed only a lackluster reception from critics. (It was a slightly different story with the public, reaching certified gold status.) In any event, it remains a stellar, wholly underrated entry in his discography.

tags: heavy d & the boyz, heavy d and the boys, blue funk, 1992, flac,

Heavy D. & The Boyz - Peaceful Journey (1991)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1991 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Heavy D. maintained his high visibility in both the R&B and rap markets with his third album, Peaceful Journey. The title says a lot about Heavy's outlook -- he was never an inflammatory, confrontational rapper, and generally sought to entertain rather than challenge. While most of this melodic, very R&B-ish album (which includes his remake of the Gamble & Huff classic "Now That We've Found Love") is fun and escapist in nature, the self-proclaimed Overweight Lover shows himself to be a noteworthy and effective social commentator on the title song, "Letter to the Future" (which urges a teenage criminal to change his ways) and "Sister Sister" -- a salute to Black women clearly written in response to misogyny in rap. Whether being socio-political or simply aiming to entertain, Heavy still makes it clear that he has a lot of technique.

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Heavy D. & The Boyz - Nuttin' But Love (1994)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1994 Uptown Records
AllMusic Review by M.F. DiBella
Heavy D continued his '90s resurgence with the release of the multi-genre Nuttin' but Love in 1994. Calling on the likes of heavyweight producers Erick Sermon, the Trackmasters, Marley Marl, Teddy Riley, Kid Capri, Easy Mo Bee, and fellow money earnin' Mount Vernon native Pete Rock, Hev ventures into slow-jam R&B as well as his usual catchy hip-hop offerings on this funky album. The first single, "Got Me Waiting," fueled by a sample from Luther Vandross' "Don't You Know That?" registered some success as did the follow-up "Nuttin' but Love," which featured an MTV video with a number of up-and-coming supermodels at the time, testimony to the Overweight Lover's Casanova persona. Pete Rock's production is particularly tight including the up-tempo "Black Coffee." While the heavy-handed quiet storm stuff is trite and repetitive, it does not damage the overall pleasurability of the album. Heavy D's respect among the hip-hop community is evidenced by guest appearances (some simply spoken intros) from the likes of LL Cool J, KRS-One, Queen Latifah, and Q-Tip, to name a few. A solid release from a slick hip-hop king.

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November 28, 2017

Drowning Pool - Drowning Pool (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2010 Eleven Seven Music
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Drowning Pool have never been very much fun, but on their eponymous fourth album the group attempts to up the ante, partially due to much of it being written in the wake of various traumas in singer Ryan McCombs’ personal life. During the creation of Drowning Pool, McCombs lost his father and saw his marriage fall apart, so naturally these events bubble up throughout the 11 songs here, sometimes explicitly and sometimes elliptically. Since Drowning Pool are not a subtle band, they’re best when they address the pain head-on or, better still, avoid it for a dunderheaded rocker like “Horns Up,” which is the closest they’ve gotten to a fist-pumping anthem since “Bodies.” It also indicates what works best on Drowning Pool: McCombs may attempt to mine the darkness but the production is the slickest and cleanest they’ve ever had, which fits because the group’s hard rock has opened up some, no longer confined to a heavy minor grind. They’re still not a lot of fun but here they’re marginally entertaining -- which is both more than they’ve ever mustered before and rather ironic given the record’s tortured origins.

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Drowning Pool - Desensitized (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2004 Wind-Up
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
Desensitized doesn't dwell directly on Dave Williams' death. The fallen singer is remembered in the liners, and the band's search for the reason behind his untimely demise seems to drive tracks like "This Life" and "Numb." But for the most part Drowning Pool's sophomore effort takes the band and new shouter Jason "Gong" Jones to places they likely would've anyway. Instead of the blistering pummel of breakthrough hit "Bodies," lead single "Step Up" is a muscular hard rock number with a bona fide hook -- it's closer to the midrange rock hedonism of types like Saliva or Monster Magnet than anything on Sinner. This makes sense, as the spooky and tuneless churn that typified turn-of-the-century active rock has largely given in to rockers capable of both aggression and melody. There are still moments of gritty sludge on Desensitized, amplified (or downtuned, rather) by producer Johnny K, who helps give opener "Think" a dirty sting similar to his work with Disturbed. Late album entries "Cast Me Aside" and "Killin' Me" are better -- they cross a catchy, "Bodies"-like groove with Jones' guttural scream and thick, nearly atonal distortion. But the rest of Desensitized takes the relative tunefulness of "Step Up" (and a hint of Alice in Chains) as a guide, and delivers throaty, catchy hard rock laced with metallic elements. Highlights include "Bringing Me Down" and "Love and War." All in all, a decent second album from a band that's persevered. Too bad about that porn star cover art, though -- it looks like the packaging for the stupidest Seduction Cinema sexploitation film ever.

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Drowning Pool - Full Circle (2007)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2007 Eleven Seven Music
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
First off, Drowning Pool are docked points for not featuring Jesse Jane on the cover of Full Circle, but then again, the Jenna Jameson wannabe never quite seemed appropriate for Drowning Pool, who never quite seemed to capture the sleazy girlz, girlz, girlz vibe a porn star cover girl lends a band. No, the band returns to a gloomy black-and-white cover photo, as if we've been plunged back into the murkiness of a Saw dungeon, which is a pretty fair representation of the roiling torment of Full Circle. It's an album filled with drop-D tunings and grinding grunge riffs hammered into submission as if they were pure, processed metal. Often, this comes across as a flattened Stone Temple Pilots crossed with Alice in Chains, but instead of being either the unabashed revival of Puddle of Mudd or the lunkheaded arena rock of Nickelback, Drowning Pool concentrate on slick, stylized angst that theoretically could play with teenagers, assuming that they'd be into this music in 2007. The thing about this glossy gloom is that Drowning Pool aren't good at the murk: they're good at the riffs, they're good at piecing together hooks, they're good at the rhythms -- all the things that make them sound like a heavy party band. These are elements that were present on Sinner, particularly the chant-along "Bodies," and Desensitized, and they're here too, just buried underneath affected darkness that is starting to feel a little long in the tooth. Maybe next time around, they'll lighten up a bit and make an album that just has a little bit of fun -- enough to warrant Jesse Jane coming back for another cover, perhaps.

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Drowning Pool - Sinner (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal, Alternative Metal
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© 2001 Wind-Up
AllMusic Review by Kurt Morris
Drowning Pool's debut album, Sinner, is a surprise. Sure, the four guys who compose the band are displayed on the back cover like they were tailor-made for the rap-core scene which had arisen out of the late '90s, but musically they're a little better than the rest. Singer Dave Williams has really impressive vocals, which unlike many of their comrades actually shows diversity and a refreshing breadth. Multiple variations of melodic singing to multiple ranges of screaming that is unlike little of what comes out from the Ozzfest crowd. Musically, Drowning Pool are a cross between Korn and Tool, but much more akin to Tool, primarily in reference to the vocals. Everything else on the album is smooth and perfect, like a plan having gone off according to plan. The riffs on Sinner are huge, with enormous grooves and great dance parts. In fact, the track "Bodies" was written inherently to be a song to get people to dance with its line of "something's got to give/let the bodies hit the floor." While Drowning Pool may not be the next musical Beethoven, they are a welcome breath of fresh air in the midst of all the so-called "hardcore" that is on the airwaves today. A strong starting piece, Sinner shows Drowning Pool's great potential.

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Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways (2014)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2014 Roswell/RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nobody ever would've thought the Foo Fighters were gearing up for a hiatus following the vibrant 2011 LP Wasting Light, but the group announced just that in 2012. It was a short-lived break, but during that time-off, lead Foo Dave Grohl filmed an ode to the classic Los Angeles recording studio Sound City, which in turn inspired the group's 2014 album, Sonic Highways. Constructed as an aural travelog through the great rock & roll cities of America -- a journey that was documented on an accompanying HBO mini-series of the same name -- Sonic Highways picks up the thread left dangling from Sound City: Real to Reel; it celebrates not the coiled fury of underground rock exploding into the mainstream, the way the '90s-happy Wasting Light did, but rather the classic rock that unites the U.S. from coast to coast. No matter the cameo here -- and there are plenty of guests, all consciously different from the next, all bending to the needs of their hosts -- the common denominator is the pumping amps, sky-scraping riffs, and sugary melodies that so identify the sound of arena rock at its pre-MTV peak. There are a few unexpected wrinkles, as when Ben Gibbard comes aboard to give "Subterranean" a canned electronic pulse and Tony Visconti eases the closing "I Am a River" into a nearly eight-minute epic, but the brief eight-song album just winds up sounding like nothing else but the Foo Fighters at their biggest, burliest, and loudest. They've become the self-proclaimed torch barriers for real rock, championing the music's history but also blessedly connecting the '70s mainstream and '80s underground so it's all one big nation ruled by six-strings. That the mainstream inevitably edges out the underground on Sonic Highways is perhaps inevitable -- it is the common rock language, after all -- but even if there's a lingering predictability in the paths the Foo Fighters follow on Sonic Highways, they nevertheless know how to make this familiar journey pleasurable.

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OutKast - Aquemini (1998)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1998 LaFace Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Even compared to their already excellent and forward-looking catalog, OutKast's sprawling third album, Aquemini, was a stroke of brilliance. The chilled-out space-funk of ATLiens had already thrown some fans for a loop, and Aquemini made it clear that its predecessor was no detour, but a stepping stone for even greater ambitions. Some of ATLiens' ethereal futurism is still present, but more often Aquemini plants its feet on the ground for a surprisingly down-home flavor. The music draws from a vastly eclectic palette of sources, and the live instrumentation is fuller-sounding than ATLiens. Most importantly, producers Organized Noize imbue their tracks with a Southern earthiness and simultaneous spirituality that come across regardless of what Dre and Big Boi are rapping about. Not that they shy away from rougher subject matter, but their perspective is grounded and responsible, intentionally avoiding hardcore clichés. Their distinctive vocal deliveries are now fully mature, with a recognizably Southern rhythmic bounce but loads more technique than their territorial peers. Those flows grace some of the richest and most inventive hip-hop tracks of the decade. The airy lead single "Rosa Parks" juxtaposes front-porch acoustic guitar with DJ scratches and a stomping harmonica break that could have come from nowhere but the South. Unexpected touches like that are all over the record: the live orchestra on "Return of the 'G'"; the electronic, George Clinton-guested "Synthesizer"; the reggae horns and dub-style echo of "SpottieOttieDopaliscious"; the hard-rocking wah-wah guitar of "Chonkyfire"; and on and on. What's most impressive is the way everything comes together to justify the full-CD running time, something few hip-hop epics of this scope ever accomplish. After a few listens, not even the meditative jams on the second half of the album feel all that excessive. Aquemini fulfills all its ambitions, covering more than enough territory to qualify it as a virtuosic masterpiece, and a landmark hip-hop album of the late '90s.

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Gunshot - Patriot Games (1993)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hip-Hop, Britcore
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© 1993 Vinyl Solution
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (2011) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2011 RCA/Roswell Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Forget all that nonsense about Dave Grohl listening to the Bee Gees and ABBA when writing Wasting Light. You can even forget Bob Mould's killer cameo on "Dear Rosemary,” no matter how seamlessly the Hüsker Dü frontman’s patented growl slides into the Foo Fighters' roar. What really matters is that nearly ten years after Songs for the Deaf, Josh Homme's influence finally rears its head on a Foo Fighters record, Dave Grohl leading his band of merry marauders -- including Pat Smear, who returns to the fold for the first time since 1997’s The Colour and the Shape -- through the fiercest album they’ve ever made. Nowhere is Homme's tightly defined muscle felt as strongly as it is on "White Limo," a blast of heavy sleaze that's kind of a rewrite of "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar,” yet Grohl isn’t thieving -- he’s tweaking his frequent bandmate with a song that could have graced SFTD or Them Crooked Vultures. That sense of humor is welcome on Wasting Light, nearly as welcome as the guitars that ring loud and long. Things tend to crawl on the ballads, as they usually do on a Foos record, but these slower spots have a stately dignity that contrasts well with the untrammeled rock of the rest of the album. Perhaps Butch Vig -- working with Grohl for the first time since Nevermind (and that’s not the only Nirvana connection, as Krist Novoselic plays bass on “I Should Have Known”) -- should take some credit for the ferocious sound of Wasting Light, but the album isn’t the Foo Fighters' best since their ‘90s heyday because of its sound; it’s their best collection of songs since The Colour and the Shape, the kind of record they’ve always seemed on the verge of delivering but never have.

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Rainbow - Rising (1976) ☠

*Digitally remastered from the original master tapes by Dennis M. Drake, Polygram Studios, USA

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1976-1987 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Geoff Ginsberg
On their second release, Rainbow not only avoid the sophomore jinx; they hit a home run. After replacing the entire band (except Ronnie James Dio) immediately following the recording of the first album, Ritchie Blackmore and the Rising lineup (Blackmore; Dio; Tony Carey, keys; Jimmy Bain, bass; and the late, great Cozy Powell, drums) had plenty of time on the road touring the first album to get the chops and material together for their second. In particular, "Stargazer" really came together on the 1975 tour and featured stunning keyboard work from Carey. The material is uniformly strong, with "Starstruck" and "A Light in the Black" standing out in particular. Ronnie Dio turns in a great vocal on the stunningly direct (under three minutes!) "Do You Close Your Eyes." All six songs on the album are up there with anything the band has done, before or since. The playing has a very tight, colorful feel to it, which was lacking a bit on the first record. This album can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as classic Deep Purple.

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Rainbow - Down To Earth (1979)

*Digitally remastered from the original master tapes by Dennis Drake, Polygram Studios, USA.

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1979-1988 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The departure of Ronnie James Dio gave Ritchie Blackmore a chance to reinvent Rainbow, which he does to a certain extent on Down to Earth. Adding former Deep Purple colleague Roger Glover as bassist and Graham Bonnet as vocalist, Blackmore tones down some of the excess of the Dio years, particularly in terms of fantastical lyrics, and turns to straight-ahead hard rock, only occasionally adorned by prominent synthesizers. In general, their material is fairly solid, and "Since You Been Gone" easily ranks among the band's best songs, but overall the record is a little generic and sounds very much of its time -- namely, the late '70s, when album rock still ruled the arenas. Nevertheless, Rainbow has a distinct idea, primarily through the guitar artistry and mystical sensibility of Ritchie Blackmore. He sounds invigorated on the album, turning in muscular performances and strong solos on each cut; clearly, the reunion has revitalized him. Unfortunately, Bonnet tends to oversell his vocals, screaming a little bit too often, but he doesn't distract from the fact that Blackmore, Glover, and drummer Cozy Powell turn Down to Earth into a fine hard rock platter. It might not offer anything unique, but it delivers the goods.

tags: rainbow, down to earth, 1979, flac,

Rainbow - Difficult To Cure (1981)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1981-1985 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rainbow ditched vocalist Graham Bonnet after Down to Earth, hiring former Fandango singer Joe Lynn Turner as their frontman. As it turns out, Turner is less hyperbolic than his predecessor, which fits the focused polish of Difficult to Cure. Where Down to Earth was a streamlined version of early Rainbow, Difficult to Cure is a shot at crossover. Problem is, the band never comes up with the right crossover songs. Russ Ballard's "I Surrender" comes close, but much of the record is fairly undistinguished, riding on strident melodies and big riffs that are never quite memorable. It's all given a contemporary sheen, with plenty of studio gloss that now instantly evokes the early '80s. On that level, it's somewhat of an entertaining artifact -- anyone pining for an example of what album-oriented radio sounded like in the pre-MTV years should check this out -- but it's never more than that, since the bids at chart success are only occasionally memorable ("I Surrender," "Magic"). Perhaps Ritchie Blackmore felt stifled by the exacting nature of Difficult to Cure's attempt at crossover -- witness how "Spotlight Kid" veers from a dexterous Blackmore solo to a ridiculous keyboard run, then just verges on collapse -- and that's the reason why each side ends with a pretentious pseudo-classical instrumental that functions as nothing more than a guitar showcase. Certainly, his playing is impeccable, but both numbers are really awkward (particularly the title track, based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and with a weirdly synthesized pulse as a rhythmic underpinning) and just highlight the fact that Difficult to Cure would have been better if Blackmore had channeled that energy into the rest of the album.

tags: rainbow, difficult to cure, 1981, flac,

Rainbow - Long Live Rock N' Roll (1978) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1978-1989 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Geoff Ginsberg
Long Live Rock 'n' Roll may be singer Ronnie James Dio's last album with Rainbow, but at least he went out on a high note. While the material is not quite as strong as on the previous studio effort, Rising, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll maintains the momentum the band had built up. "Kill the King" had been previously heard on the live On Stage record, but here it sounds more fully realized. Also, the title track from the album stands as one of the best songs the band did, not to mention a noble sentiment. The chugging "L.A. Connection" is another highlight. As with all of their first four albums, this one was produced by Martin Birch (who produced everyone from Blue Öyster Cult to Wayne County), and he really knows how to get the best out of the band by this point. The result is that the songs couldn't sound any better, so even if some of the material isn't quite up to their best, the album is still very cohesive, steady, and, ultimately, satisfying. This would turn out to be the last great album Rainbow would ever make, although they did enjoy a great deal of chart success in the post-Dio era.

tags: rainbow, long live rock n roll, 1978, flac,