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story.lead_photo.caption Album cover for Pepperboy's "Str8 off tha Block 6 Ghost Town"

B+Pepperboy

Alicia Keys’ new album is titled Here.

Str8 off tha Block 6 Ghost Town

Greenovasouth

Prolific Little Rock rap vet Pepperboy returns with another missive from the streets and the view is bleak. He's also keeping his eye on the news and -- spoiler alert -- not much of it is good. Police shootings, violence, dead-end lives, crumbling neighborhoods and general entropy are among the weighty topics Pep and his crew poignantly address over these nine tracks.

"Neighborhood GT," produced by Black Tim and featuring S. Ray, opens the album with a drug deal and a sprint to safety. Yung Envy guests on "Welcome 2 tha Town," which details a bullet-riddled neighborhood ruled by drugs and death. "Ball," featuring Squadda B, is a trap-life banger and "When the Money Gone," with a sleepy verse by Sickboyrari, finds Pepperboy flowing with his unique falsetto, longing for simpler times and fretting over cash flow.

Album closer "OMG," though, is perhaps the most striking. With newscast reports of police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota, Pepperboy nearly growls his lyrics as producer Koursky Lion's dark, minimalist beat -- the sound of madness -- propels him. He raps of buying a Bible and a gun, seeking answers from both. It's a harrowing and appropriate end to Ghost Town.

Str8 off tha Block 6 Ghost Town is available at greenovasouth.com.

Hot tracks: "OMG," "When tha Money Gone," "Welcome 2 tha Town"

-- SEAN CLANCY

B+Alicia Keys

Here

RCA

New York's Alicia Keys has always displayed her talents as a jazzily soulful singer, pianist and composer effortlessly and breezily. That's probably why, after the overly grand, overwrought but bland, forced-anthem overdrive of her last album, Girl on Fire, she's gone smaller, funnier, funkier and humbler with the New York stories of Here and its sometimes prickly peek at politics and social and personal issues.

Sleek without being slick, spare without being empty, raw without being rough, Keys benefits from having a husband (Swizz Beatz) with friends (Pharrell, Illangelo) in the R&B/rap production game whose lives as lovers, artists and friends spill into the shimmering rough diamond soul of "Blended Family" and the street scenes of "The Gospel."

Emotive and experimental (in a percussive sense, with vibraphonist Roy Ayers up front throughout), Here moves from the broad battle of "Holy War" to the communal howl of "More Than We Know." The best parts are its rich, avant-soul epics "Illusion of Bliss" and "She Don't Really Care -- 1 Luv." The latter elegantly and eerily connects the dots between Africa and New York's boroughs with grace and smarts. Gorgeous stuff.

Hot tracks: "Illusion of Bliss," "She Don't Really Care -- 1 Luv," "Blended Family"

-- A.D. AMOROSI,

The Philadelphia Inquirer

BSting

57th and 9th

A&M/Interscope

Somebody should drag 65-year-old Sting into a studio with a rock band more often. For the most part on his first album since 2014's mannered The Last Ship, the ex-Police frontman forgoes woodwinds, plays down big statements and mostly lets himself relax. The scratchy "Petrol Head," with a fantastic Vinnie Colaiuta drum-kit groove, a siren solo by guitarist Dominic Miller and boisterous backing by members of a San Antonio Tex-Mex band called The Last Bandoleros, is Sting's most punkish song in decades.

Fluteless, luteless and jazz-free, the first songs express gloomy sentiments in cathartic ways. "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" is a sturdy, Police-like rocker; "50,000," which Sting said he wrote the week Prince died, offsets low, talky verses on meaning and mortality with a killer Miller riff and a "Wrapped Around Your Finger"-like chorus.

Then Sting detours into heavy-handed "Russians" territory -- "One Fine Day" tries to be gently sarcastic in dealing with the climate-change crisis, but it's too often clunky and simplistic. In the downbeat "Inshallah," Sting sets his deep thoughts about European refugees to bongos and soft guitars. It's too bad the man who wrote "Roxanne" and "So Lonely" couldn't full-on rock for an entire album, but we take what we can get.

Hot tracks: "Petrol Head," "I Can't Stop Thinking About You, "50,000"

-- STEVE KNOPPER,

Newsday (TNS)

B+Lambchop

FLOTUS

Merge

Lambchop mastermind Kurt Wagner is a master of the head fake. And his band's 12th studio album is no different.

FLOTUS stands for "For Love Often Turns Us Still," and Wagner has said it is influenced by the work of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean.

That influence, though, is more in production techniques and mood rather than musical genre, as Wagner's poignant, lower-register vocals are still front-and-center as he offers poetic details about everyday occurrences.

Bookended by the 12-minute "In Care of 8675309," a likely nod to the Tommy Tutone classic, and the 18-minute "The Hustle" -- both groove-driven epics more interested in conjuring moods than filling dance floors -- FLOTUS is one of those albums that reveals itself over repeated listenings.

The gorgeous "Howe" is built on a lovely melody that would make Paul Simon proud, but is filtered through the electronic clattering and warm-percussion production that drives Frank Ocean's music. The '70s soul of "Old Masters" is updated by the heavy electronic distortion on Wagner's voice.

Hot tracks: "Howe," "In Care of 8675309," "Old Masters"

-- GLENN GAMBOA,

Newsday (TNS)

Style on 11/22/2016

Print Headline: Rapper lays out grim life in LR

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