TrapStar Turnt PopStar
For his first Billboard Top 5 album, Germantown rapper-singer PnB Rock picks up where he left off with his debut album, 2017’s Catch These Vibes. Here, PnB tackles the harder aspects of his block’s crime-ridden politics, as well as the pop life he’s grown accustomed to with renown.
The difference between the two sides of Rock, however, isn’t always so clear cut. The slow and the supremely melodic “Nowadays,” with its AutoTune crooning and reminiscences of his past (“Used to sleep in the crib, no heat on/Some crates under the bed, just to sleep on/Put syrup on my bread, just to eat on/Nowadays… we on”) could apply to both Rocks. So could the backward instrumentation and clap-rhythms of “Go to Mars,” or the throbbing “Deez Streetz.” One thing that puts PnB far above the competition, pop or trap, is his innate sense of song. From the curvaceous melody of “Swervin’” and the hypnotic “I Like Girls” to the moody, synth-driven “Middle Child” with the late rapper XXXTentacion, PnB proves he’s a star where melody is concerned. — A.D. Amorosi
The Dope Shows Fest w/PnB Rock, Pusha T, NBA Youngboy, Lil Durk and more, Saturday, July 6, the Mann Center, 5201 Parkside Ave., manncenter.org
Carly Rae Jepsen
(Schoolboy / Interscope ***)
Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen scored one of the biggest, most eminently likable hits of the decade with 2012′s “Call Me Maybe.” She’s still best known for that song to the world at large, but since then she’s made the right moves in building a I’m-not-a-one-hit-wonder career, playing to her strengths while building a cult following. That process began with Emotion, the 2015 album that wasn’t an enormous hit, but was successful in carving out a space for Jepsen along with artists such as Swedish singer Robyn as a thinking woman’s pop star adept at 1980s synth pop and 1970s disco stylings.
Dedicated builds on that brand, with songs co-written by Jepsen and a wide range of collaborators that are never grandiose or overblown, but impressively consistent. Starting with the understated opener “Julien,” the sleek, emotionally intelligent tunes are often clever — the Jack Antonoff-produced “Everything He Needs,” yearns for a strong, macho man, but interpolates Harry Nilsson’s “He Needs Me,” and turns out to be about the spinach-eating star of the 1980 movie Popeye. “The Sound” — co-produced by ex-Chiddy Bang Philadelphia producer Noah Beresin under his Xaphoon Jones moniker — is about a relationship lost at sea that plays on the title’s double meaning as a body of water, but also asserts the truism that its the music, and not the lyrics, that ultimately matters. “I don’t need the words,” Jepsen sings. “I want the sound.” — Dan DeLuca
8 p.m. Saturday, July 20, Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St., $53-$140.50, 215-309-0150, thefillmorephilly.com
It was fitting that Southern Avenue’s self-titled 2017 debut bore the label of the revived Stax Records, since the Memphis band offered a dynamic update of the sounds of the city’s fabled “Soulsville U.S.A,” home to Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and other immortals. For Keep On, there’s no “Stax” on the label, but the band again recorded in Memphis, and brings even more fire and focus to the retro-tinged music.
Bluff City-bred Tierinii Jackson, who cowrote most of the album with Israel-born guitarist Ori Naftaly, is a powerhouse vocalist whose style often hints at her roots in church singing. She can flash plenty of sass, whether declaring, “I bend but, baby, I don’t break,” on the defiant “Switchup” or kissing off a feckless lover with “Desperation ain’t my move” on “Too Good for You.” But just as often she offers healing and uplift, from the empowerment anthem of the title song, which leads off the album, to the hymn-like closer “We’re Gonna Make It” (not the old Little Milton number).
On the irresistible soul-pop nugget “We’ve Got the Music,” Southern Avenue is joined by one of Stax’s early greats, William Bell, who also helped to write it. The collaboration not only underscores the connection between past and present, it also affirms that, in Southern Avenue, the Memphis soul legacy is in good hands. — Nick Cristiano