When Three 6 Mafia mixes blaxploitation soul with sinister sentiment or conjures up a devious nickname for potent marijuana, the resulting menace is joyfully intoxicating. These songs and the driving, confrontational "Beatem to da Floor" and "Mosh Pit" are likely too rough for mass appeal, though they're sure to be favorites among the rowdy hip-hop set.
The speedy, club-ready "Shake Dat Jelly" and the warped, slowed-down "Rainbow Colors" probably will be smashes in dance clubs from Texas to Georgia, where Three 6 Mafia's fan base is strongest. That audience is sure to be more than satisfied by another standout set from the self-proclaimed Kings of Memphis.
-- Soren Baker
Getting older but not wiser
"Hotel Paper" (Maverick)
The notion of Branch and Avril Lavigne as the anti-Britneys has been so overplayed that you'd think they were Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. That's not fair -- they point in more substantial directions than Spears et al, but their debut albums were, in truth, just different shades of professionally polished, fashion-conscious teen-pop.
It also would be unfair to expect a breakthrough simply because Branch is heading out of teenhood. Still, it would have been nice if she'd, uh, branched out more on this second album. "Hotel Paper" is state-of-the-art pop, written by Branch (with producer John Shanks co-writing four songs). There's just no sense of an emerging artist at work, of anything that's specifically Branch's vision in play.
The most distinctive moments seem borrowed, such as "Love Me Like That" -- a duet with Sheryl Crow that could be a Stevie Nicks song, right down to the Lindsey Buckingham-like guitar figure and gypsy reference.
The only thing Branch sings about is dating problems, and she does so in generic terms. Even in "Tuesday Morning," when she muses "we were finding out who we are," it's not an existential issue but a relationship one.
Branch has experienced a big, wide world out there in the last couple of years. Too bad it's not reflected in her songs.
-- Steve Hochman
"Terroir Blues" (Act/Resist)
If Jeff Tweedy has taken Wilco far from the wood-grained Americana of his origins, his former partner in the alt-country fountainhead Uncle Tupelo stays the course on his second solo album. Farrar, who plays the Roxy on July 19, isn't a slavish roots-hugger, and is willing to indulge a little psychedelia and reverb, but the heart of "Terroir Blues" is pure, intimate chamber-folk right in the Neil Young/ Beck pocket. It's heartfelt but overly solemn, and no longer trailblazing.
-- Richard Cromelin
It's easy to see why this L.A. quintet is getting so much attention: It looks like the Strokes and bops a lot like Weezer. But its simple pop ultimately lacks the attitude or the ironic wit of those bands. Though some tunes recall the Beach Boys' sun-soaked sonnets and ELO's heightened harmonies, rudimentary hooks and retro flair don't add up to a rousing debut.
-- Lina Lecaro
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.