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Drake's fresh and vital; Tom Petty loves Haight

"A lot of you all are sounding like last year/ The game needs a change/ I'm the . . . cashier."

Drake spotlights his sensitivity.
Drake spotlights his sensitivity.Read more

"A lot of you all are sounding like last year/ The game needs a change/ I'm the . . . cashier."

So declares singer/rapper Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham) on his much anticipated debut album, "Thank Me Later" (Aspire/Young Money/Cash Money, B).

And that old-school posturing notwithstanding, there really is a lot that's fresh and vital here.

More than most, this biracial, bar mitzvahed performer (and former regular on the Canadian TV teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation") dwells on his sensitive side, creating a different kind of atmosphere.

With crooning like John Mayer on Auto-Tune, some quietly confessional rapping and tasteful applications of strings and horns, Drake's production comes as close to "easy listening" as hip-hop ever has.

And please consider the topics of conversation. Drake talks about his dad walking out (when he was, like, 3), the mixed blessings of success (like all the hangers-on he doesn't know) and his issues with buying more stuff than he needs or can afford.

Then there's the ever popular business with the ladies, some too accessible, others who kiss and scram.

"The honesty in my music has left me too exposed," Drake frets in "Fear." Yeah, but it's also your thing, dude. Live with it. Profit from it.

Drake plays a sold-out show tomorrow at the TLA on South Street.

BLASTS FROM THE PAST: There's a lot of artistic turning back the clock this week, some good, some not so.

There are times on "Mojo" (Reprise, A-) when it feels like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have transported themselves back to San Francisco in the flower-power era.

I'm loving the noodlin', jazzy jamming, waltz-time grooves and mojo rising vibes of "First Flash of Freedom" (think Quicksilver Messenger Service through the Doors); the trippy, Dylanesque blues on "Good Enough"; and the Arlo-Guthrie-gone-reggae, law-skirting vibes of "Don't Pull Me Over."

For all their sideline trips in cartoon scoring and jingle land, you might have thought Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale would have picked up some new notions to apply to the first-in-20-years Devo album, "Something for Everyone" (Warner Bros., C+). Even with the help of Santigold and the Dust Brothers, they're still whipping it with the same herky-jerky, robotic, man-as-machine dance-pop sagas.

On paper, the marriage of Stax/Volt guitar legend Steve Cropper and singer/composer Felix Cavaliere (of Rascals fame) sounded promising. But, in the grooves on "Midnight Flyer" (Stax, C) I'm almost embarrassed by their "they don't write music like they used to, but we're still gonna try" approach.

But maybe they'll get their vintage base on the dance floor again with the likes of "Move the House" (think "Brick House" meets "Celebrate"). Elsewhere, the duo challenge Lionel Richie (or maybe better, Will Ferrell) with the unintentionally funny "Sexy Lady" and revive the Motown/Philly thing (complete with O'Jays-style backup singers) on "You Give Me All I Need."

HAPPY SURPRISES: When an opera singer goes slumming and makes a pop album, the results are usually pretty horrendous, with way too much over-singing, mirror cracking and general histrionics.

So let's give major props to Renee Fleming and "Dark Hope" (Decca, A-) for wending a course through the likes of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Arcade Fire's "Intervention," Death Cab for Cutie's "Soul Meets Body" and the Jefferson Airplane's "Today" in a way that puts a new glow on and adds insights, yet also remains natural, understated and even, geez, a little edgy, thanks to David Kahne's savvy, suggestive production.

A more traditional crossover approach is taken by soprano Jesse Norman on her two-disc, cut in Germany concert recital "Roots: My Life, My Song" (Sony, B).

Accompanied by a small but versatile band, the opera singer veers to all the other styles she's long adored, from gospel ("His Eye Is on the Sparrow") to Broadway ("Somewhere") to jazz ("Take the 'A' Train"). I found her French chanteuse numbers the most subtle and appealing, and only occasionally winced when Norman swatted big notes to the bleachers on the likes of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

WORLD CUP RUNNETH OVER: I wish the warm-up concert for the World Cup in Johannesburg had been shown in prime time on ESPN last Thursday, rather than in the middle of the afternoon, as it was loaded with terrific talents, many from Africa.

Just in time to catch your new interest (we hope) in African culture, though, is a gorgeous set of tunes by the former Malian football (soccer to us) player/coach-turned-singer/composer Salif Keita, "La Difference" (Decca, A). True championship material.

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A varied pack of mostly lesser known artists is served on "Putumayo Presents South Africa" (Putumayo, B), veering from the hip-hop-quoting Blk Sonshine to the Caribbean-flavored Phinda.

ROOTS ROCKING: Two rough-hewn singer/songwriters who deserve more attention have new sets of note. Fred Eaglesmith's "Cha Cha Cha" (Lonesome Boy, B) sometimes sounds like the more melodic, meaningful stuff Tom Waits used to do.

Anders Osbourne's "American Patchwork" (Alligator, A-) is the punchiest, most powerful collection of post-Katrina ruminations you may ever hear. Perfect fodder for Springsteen fans.