He's got all the Southern-fried charm and funky infectiousness that made Kid Rock a superstar, but Uncle Kracker's laid-back libations, while simple by comparison, go down a lot more smoothly. The new one from Rock's DJ and co-songwriter is less rap-driven than his hit debut, "Double Wide," but it still oozes with groove-filled hooks. Though wistful, country-tinged ditties including "In a Little While" and a spot-on version of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" (with Gray a guest on vocals) don't take any chances, they've got a soulful sweetness that's nothing to be ashamed of.
-- Lina Lecaro
**, Island Def Jam
Another Jersey boy's latest album is touched by Sept. 11, mostly in the mournful defiance of "Undivided" and the embrace-life rocker "Everyday." Though cliched, these and the resilient title anthem are hooky and sincere, which is highly preferable to the lunkheaded, romantic-to-inspirational ballads that dominate the album. This time the music's trademark epic quality comes less from Richie Sambora's sprawling guitar work than from an overdose of strings and piano that reflects singer-actor Jon Bon Jovi's movie and TV interests. But what's really howl-worthy is the unintentionally hilarious "Right Side of Wrong," a dead-serious, Springsteen-esque tale of desperate outlaws that redefines "hokey."
-- Natalie Nichols
*** 1/2, Naked Music/Astralwerks
In the pop world, this Northern California producer-DJ could be a hit-making machine along the lines of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Instead, Migs is one of the fastest-rising acts in the dance music world. On "Colorful You," he displays a dazzling gift for melody and soul, evidenced by the Sade-esque "Waiting" and the R&B vibe of "Brand New Day." For a dance collection, "Colorful You" may be the best neo-soul record of the year.
-- Steve Baltin
"Out From out Where"
** 1/2, Ninja Tune
Like the label he's represented for four albums now, this Brit via Brazil loves to toy with the boundaries of electronic music. He believes any sound is fair game for his sampler, and "Out From out Where" is marked by an atmospheric sense of melody and a playfulness throughout. Unlike some tech heads, Tobin realizes his music can be cerebral without losing its sense of humor.
Hot Hot Heat
"Make Up the Breakdown"
*** 1/2, SubPop
This frenetic foursome from Victoria, Canada, presides over a colossal jousting match between synths and guitars that is liable to leave its audience breathless. It's as if Hot Hot Heat, which performs Wednesday at Spaceland, has imprisoned 10 punk songs in myriad dance rhythms. With Steve Bays' faux-tortured vocals (Robert Smith on antidepressants?) providing the narration, listeners might want to rage, or they might want to disco. Or maybe both.
-- Kevin Bronson
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.