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story.lead_photo.caption Empire

B Various artists

Original Soundtrack from

Season 1 of Empire

Columbia

If there's one thing that could have sunk Fox's Empire faster than bad acting, it's bad music. But ratings for the hip-hop drama are soaring (read more in Michael Storey's The TV Column on Page 2E), thanks to its addictive story line, entertaining cast and slew of catchy tunes.

Not every song is a gem, but the set is worth a listen, if only for a chance to hear more from actor/singer Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyons, middle son of Empire music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). Smollett is the breakout star -- a position for which veteran producer and Empire music supervisor Timbaland deserves at least some of the credit.

Songs like "Good Enough" and "Keep Your Money," crafted by Timbaland and co-producer Jim Beanz, marked pivotal moments in establishing Smollett's role. But the upbeat "I Wanna Love You" and irresistibly sunny "You're So Beautiful" -- both co-written by Smollett -- give audiences a sense of his musical abilities. The contributions of actor-rapper Bryshere Gray (Yazz the Greatest) are in line with his onscreen persona as youngest son Hakeem Lyon ... shallow and more rap parody than real rap.

Depth comes from V. Bozeman, with her emotional delivery of "What Is Love"; U.K.-born Estelle is a perfect duet partner to Smollett on the uplifting "Conqueror"; and Howard is an almost believable singer alongside Mary J. Blige on the sweet "Shake Down."

Other guests include Jennifer Hudson and Courtney Love. But even with all that star power, fans will be left thinking about Smollett.

Hot tracks: "Good Enough," "You're So Beautiful," "What Is Love," "Conqueror."

-- MELANIE J. SIMS

The Associated Press

B+ Brother Moses

Thanks for All Your Patience

Self-Released

It's nice to hear this fine debut EP from Fayetteville trio Brother Moses. Over the course of five alt pop-inflected tracks, the group proves it has a deft hand at filling in just enough musical space to make things even more interesting than one would suppose. The collection opens with the quirky "Older," with its minimalist percussion and clean guitar lick. "Wake You Up" follows with its exhortation to get up and get out -- of bed or a relationship? You decide.

Shades of The National can be heard in the turmoil beneath the gentle exterior of the final tracks, "Hopeless" and "The First Step (Is Admitting You Have A Problem)." After this too brief introduction, we're ready to hear more from Brother Moses.

Hot tracks: "Hopeless," "Wake You Up."

-- SEAN CLANCY

B Modest Mouse

Strangers to Ourselves

Epic

It has been eight years since Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank smashed onto the charts at No. 1. Will lightning strike twice for frontman Isaac Brock?

After aborted sessions over three years -- in Atlanta with Outkast's Big Boi and Portland, Ore., with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic -- and countless hours of studio tweaking, the resulting album is a hodgepodge of styles and ideas that improves with every listen.

Although the 15-track release lacks a cohesive structure -- with experimental space rock such as "Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)" rubbing up against calypso-influenced travelogues like "Ansel" -- the joy of Strangers is in anticipating what challenging curve ball will be pitched next. Every time Brock and Co. flick on the Modest Mouse-autopilot ("Lampshades on Fire" and acoustic lament "Coyotes"), they veer thrillingly off-course, throwing out a funk-flecked, brass-coated track like "The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box."

Modest Mouse is a chart-topping rock act with brains.

Hot tracks: "Ansel," "Pistol."

-- MATTHEW KEMP

The Associated Press

A- Colleen Green

I Want to Grow Up

Hardly Art

Los Angeles songwriter Colleen Green specializes in simple three- and four-chord bubble-gum pop-punk songs that are instantly catchy and sometimes sung in an affectless stoner's voice. On her first two home-recorded albums, that was an entertaining enough formula. What creates welcome tension and makes I Want to Grow Up a more compelling, and frequently thrilling, proposition is the ticking-clock anxiety palpable in such confronting-adulthood songs as "Things That Are Bad for Me" (Parts I and II) and, especially, the emotionally frank "Deeper Than Love."

Green lays it uncomfortably on the line on "Deeper Than Love": "Will I find a love that lasts as long as my life, or will I die before ever becoming a wife?" she wonders. "Nowadays commitment seems like a burden to carry. I don't want to think about it, it's too scary."

The claustrophobia of that six-minute inward look is relieved on both garage-rock kickers such as "Grind My Teeth," which bears the imprint of producer Jake Orrall of Jeff the Brotherhood, and the breezily existential closer "Whatever I Want," which makes growing up seem not so scary after all.

Hot tracks: "Things That Are Bad for Me," "Deeper Than Love," "Whatever I Want."

-- DAN DeLUCA

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Style on 03/24/2015

Print Headline: Smollett is breakout star on Empire soundtrack CD

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