nolead ends California singer-rapper Anderson .Paak's name caught people's attention when it showed up not once but six times in the credits on Compton, Dr. Dre's 2015 album of new music tied in with the Straight Outta Compton biopic. Dre's imprimatur is an invaluable asset, as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar can attest. And on his second album as Anderson .Paak - his given name is Brandon Anderson Paak, and he used to record as Breezy Lovejoy - the 29-year-old drummer makes the most of the opportunity.
From the warm, rolling opening track, "The Bird," the son of a Korean mother and African American father pulls the listener in with compelling autobiographical details. "My sister used to sing to Whitney," he sings. "My mama caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle / My papa was behind them bars." Malibu bears some resemblance to Lamar's 2015 standout To Pimp a Butterfly. Pianist Robert Glasper is one of the guest players, along with .Paak's able, genre-fluid band the Free Nationals. But its hip-hop/R&B-jazz groove is less urgent in its approach, and .Paak's vocal delivery is more relaxed and easygoing. He's poised to be one of the breakout acts of 2016.
- Dan DeLuca
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nolead ends nolead begins It's About Time
nolead ends nolead begins (Big Machine ***)
nolead ends "Hell, yes, I'm an icon," Hank Williams Jr. declares with typical bravado in "Dress Like an Icon." "Don't call me an icon," he urges with uncharactertic humility in "Just Call Me Hank."
Mixed messages aside, Bocephus is in blazingly fine form on It's About Time. He's still as self-referential as any rapper, and he gets a little ornery when he perceives a threat to his "God and Guns." But he steers clear of the boorishness that sometimes mars his work.
From his take on Neil Young's "Are You Ready for the Country" (with Eric Church) to his own, set-closing "Born to Boogie" (with Brad Paisley, Brantley Gilbert, and Justin Moore), the self-professed "dinosaur" offers a primer on Southern rock and barroom honky-tonk. "The Party's On," indeed.
- Nick Cristiano
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Charlie Puth, Nine Track Mind; Sia, This Is Acting; Bloc Party, Hymns; Yanni, Sensuous Chill