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[2007] Joss Stone - Introducing Joss Stone (Mp3 Download)

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine @
Typically, artists dispense with introductions after their debut -- after all, that is an album designed to introduce them to the world -- but neo-soul singer Joss Stone defiantly titled her third album Introducing Joss Stone, thereby dismissing her first two relatively acclaimed albums with one smooth stroke. She now claims that those records were made under record-label pressure -- neatly contradicting the party line that her debut, The Soul Sessions, turned into a retro-soul project after Joss implored her label to ditch the Christina Aguilera-styled urban-pop she was pursuing -- but now as a young adult of 19, she's free to pursue her muse in her own fashion. All this is back-story to Introducing, but Stone makes her modern metamorphosis plain on the album's very first track, where football-star-turned-Hollywood-muscle Vinnie Jones blathers on nonsensically about change ("I see change, I embody change, all we do is change, yeah, I know change, we're born to change" and so on and so forth), setting the stage for some surprise, which "Girl They Won't Believe It" kind of delivers, if only because it isn't all that different from what Stone has done before. It's a sprightly slice of Northern soul propelled by a bouncy Motown beat that doesn't suggest a change in direction as much as a slight shift in aesthetic. Gone are the seasoned studio pros, in are a bevy of big-name producers all united in a mission to make Stone seem a little less like a '60s blue-eyed soul diva and a little more her age, a little more like a modern girl in 2007. So, the professional in-the-pocket grooves have been replaced by drum loops, the warm burnished sound has been ditched in favor of crisp, bright sonics, Harlan Howard covers have been pushed aside for cameos by Common and Lauryn Hill. It's a cosmetic change that works, at least to a certain extent: Introducing does sound brighter, fresher than her other two albums, pitched partway between Amy Winehouse and Back to Basics Christina yet sounding very much like Texas at their prime, but it's all surface change -- beneath that shiny veneer, Stone suffers from the two things that have always plagued her: songs that don't quite stick and overly labored singing. Since Introducing is a production-heavy album, the lack of memorable tunes doesn't quite matter as much because this about sound, not songs, but the singing is a problem: it's at once too big and too small, as Stone pushes every phrase too hard but never winds up seeming like the larger-than-life figure she so clearly desires to be. That's the kind of persona that could sell music like this -- music that gets by on its stylized tweaking of classic conventions (as opposed to her previous album, which celebrated classic conventions without offering a structure to support them) -- but too often Stone comes across like a contestant on American Idol, a voice in search of the right sound and the right songs to truly make her into a star instead of being a star right out of the gate. Which means this introduction isn't all that different than her debut, since it still presents a promising vocalist instead of a vocalist who's fulfilled her promise.

Track Lists
01. Change (Vinnie Jones Intro)
02. Girl They Won't Believe It
03. Head Turner
04. Tell Me Bout It
05. Tell Me What Were Gonna Do Now (Feat. Common)
06. Put Your Hands On Me
07. Music
08. Arms Of My Baby
09. Bad Habit
10. Proper Nice
11. Bruised But Not Broken
12. Baby Baby Baby
13. What Were We Thinking
14. Music (Outro)

[2006] Bullet For My Valentine - The Poison (Mp3 Download)

Review by Corey Apar @
Bullet for My Valentine hails from the same stomping grounds in South Wales as peers Funeral for a Friend, thus sparking comparisons between the Welsh acts that go further than a fondness for dark, morose band names. It's hard to deny a certain likeness to their Funeral friends throughout The Poison -- check out the dynamics of "Suffocating Under Words of Sorrow" -- but the difference lies with BFMV's songs falling much closer to the metal side of things, chugging harder through emotional lyrics than their melodic counterparts. For fans of Alexisonfire and Atreyu, they employ the glossy, melodic metal-meets-emo aesthetic, utilizing darkly romanticized lyrics that are smoothly sung and growled side-by-side. Bullet for My Valentine's self-proclaimed love of powerful riffs and classic metal is dotted all over their full-length debut ("Room 409," "Spit You Out"), though it begins with a deceivingly tranquil instrumental intro that leads directly into the metalcore realms of "Her Voice Resides." This song is one of many that, despite its rigorous execution, can't hide the fact that the guys are really softies at heart ("my heart is bursting through my chest/ and now I'm crying, the tears are pouring off my face"). Overall, The Poison is a well-produced, solid effort -- but seeing as they're now trying to take over American hearts, it would be nice to see future attempts to distinguish themselves more from the new-school pack.

Track Lists
01. Intro
02. Her Voice Resides
03. 4 Words (to Choke Upon)
04. Tears Don't Fall
05. Suffocating Under Words If Sorrow (What Can I Do)
06. Hit The Floor
07. All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me)
08. Hand Of Blood
09. Room 409
10. The Poison
11. 10 Years Today
12. Cries In Vain
13. Spit You Out (bonustrack)
14. The End

[2005] Jeff Hanson - Jeff Hanson (Mp3 Download)

Review by Kenyon Hopkin @
Jeff Hanson's debut showed a singer/songwriter with signs of more talent to come, and his self-titled follow-up proves that he's simply no one-off curiosity. Jeff Hanson is a second outing of soft, endearing rock, continuously wrapped around lyrics that imply lost relationships and soul-searching. While that in itself doesn't sound like something new, it's made more distinctive by an angelic voice that simply can't be frowned upon. His creative techniques with guitar are also prominent ("Now We Know"), as are the pieces with violin or piano ("Long Overdue"). Hanson's songwriting skills are just as enjoyable, whether he chooses only guitar or the sound of a full band (he plays most of the instruments himself). Perhaps his most ambitious moment comes with the lovely "I Know Your Name," where it's evident he can match the wits of Ken Stringfellow or Bright Eyes.

Track Lists
01. Losing A Year
02. Now We Know
03. Welcome Here
04. I Just Don't Believe You
05. I Know Your Name
06. Someone Else
07. This Time It Will
08. Let You Out
09. Long Overdue
10. Something About

[1998] Kid Rock - Devil Without A Cause (m4a Download)

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine @
I don't suspect that even Kid Rock believed he had an album as good as Devil Without a Cause in him. Nobody else believed it, that's for sure. But he didn't just find the perfect extention of his Beastie and Diamond Dave infatuations here, he came up with the great hard rock album of the late '90s -- a fearlessly funny, bone-crunching record that manages to sustain its strength, not just until the end of its long running time, but through repeated plays. The key to its sucesss is that it's never trying to be a hip-hop record. It's simply a monster rock album, as Twisted Brown Trucker turns out thunderous, funky noise -- and that's funky not just in the classic sense, but also in a Southern-fried, white trash sense, as he gives this as much foundation in country as he does hip-hop. But what really reigns supreme on Devil Without a Cause is a love of piledriving, classic hard rock, not just that of hometown hero Bob Seger, but Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, and faceless arena rock ballads. The Kid makes it all shine with rhymes so clever and irresistible that it's impossible not to quote them. For all its modernity -- Rock's rapping, the titanic metallic guitars, Joe C's sideshow sidekick, the plea to "get in the pit and try to love someone" -- this is firmly in the tradition of classic hard rock, and it's the best good-time hard rock album in years (certainly the best of the last three years of the '90s).

Track Lists
01. Bawitdaba
02. Cowboy
03. Devil Without A Cause
04. I Am The Bullgod
05. Roving Gangster (Rollin')
06. Wasting Time
07. Welcome To The Pary
08. I Got One For Ya
09. Somebody's Gotta Feel This
10. Fist Of Rage
11. Only God Knows Why
12. Where U At Rock

[2004] Breaking Benjamin - We Are Not Alone (Mp3 Download)

Review by Johnny Loftus @
On We Are Not Alone, Breaking Benjamin's sophomore effort for Hollywood, the Philadelphia quartet still enjoys coursing the downcast dynamics and dour cerebrals of early Tool through post-grunge's more accessible melodics. Vocalist/guitarist Ben Burnley channels Maynard James Keenan throughout "So Cold" and "Simple Design," and fills their shadows with scary roars. But the choruses are as uplifting and hopeful as anything from 3 Doors Down, and the latter even features a quiet acoustic interlude. It's this baiting of the darker mental animal while realizing the power of a cool hard rock riff that drives We Are Not Alone. "Why am I so pathetic?" asks Burnley in "Sooner or Later." "Help me break my conscience in," goes "Break My Fall," "To free us from our innocence." Both cuts stick to the familiar formula of introducing huge chords before dwelling on the personal struggle in the verses, only to surge toward hopeful choruses. In this, Breaking Benjamin is quite capable. They understand that it can't be all gloom and doom all the time -- that the people need some light at the end of the tunnel. Alone's choruses offer that urgency throughout, but "Forget It" takes it to heart. With its whispering synthesizers, layered guitar effects (Billy Corgan guests), and filtered harmonies, the cut is a warm departure from the album's bruised push forward. We Are Not Alone has its moments of genre-aping filler, and Burnley's delivery does at times seem forced -- he just sounds so much like his peers. But We Are Not Alone is still a solid second effort, with plenty of appeal for fans of groups like Crossfade, Default, and Smile Empty Soul.

Track Lists
01. So Cold
02. Simple Design
03. Follow
04. Firefly
05. Break My Fall
06. Forget It
07. Sooner Or Later
08. Breakdown
09. Away
10. Believe
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