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The Early Bird: Top New Releases 7-10-20 – 7-16-20 Reviewed

Life after death hip hop album releases has been a side hustle ever since Tupac Shakur (25 years old) was shot to death in 1996,  and opened the floodgates with a deluge of young black men dying and then releasing albums: from Big L  (24 years old) to last December’s sad and bizarre overdose by Juice WRLD (age 21). It is the latter’s first post death (and third overall) album release that brings us here.  Considered both emo rap and Soundcloud Rap, he was still looking for a song as great as “Lucid Dreams” and doesn’t find it on Legends Never Die -a heartbreaking name for a heartbreaking man. Life after death albums feel awful cobbled together as a rule of thumb and even last week’s Pop Smoke (age 20) release had to be carried by a ton of featured artists (and 50 Cents). Legends Never Die is more than a skeleton of what Juice WRLD would have released had he lived and also has some big names jumping on, but less than a true follow up.  For the uninitiated, try the EDM DJ Marshmello (and Polo G) featured “Hate The Other Side,”  where Juice nails his persona in two bars, “I got pain in my heart I told you a hundred times, but it’s money money money money money on my mind” (Grade: B+).

Over at singles, H.E.R. continues her great year of loosies and features, from the Skip Marley drop in “Slow Down” to the Pop Smoke , A Boogie Wit A Hoodie, Chris Brown remix of “Slide,” one of the best #BLM songs “I Can’t Breath” two weeks ago and now with her reggae pop appropriation of the hook to Lauryn Hill’s “Lost One,” “Do To Me,” H.E.R. could quite possibly be the artist of the year (Grade: A).

Staying with singles, James Blake has a haunting  newbie “Are You Even Real?” which adds some tech and synth swirls along with an 808 in the background thumping (Grade: B+), Goat’s Head Soup is on no ones best Rolling Stones albums, despite “Angie” and the #metoo “Star Star,” now with the upcoming box set on the horizon, the Stones continue to dance with Mr. D on the blueprint outtake “Criss Cross (Grade: B+) . Fresh off his EP with Travis Scott, Kid Cudi invites Eminem along on “The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady”, the Moon Man is a mess and Shady is a right this moment looking at the zombie apocalypse (Grade: B).

Three old timers have new singles, Nick Lowe drops a live “So It Goes” for no good reason (Grade: B), I initially loathed Elvis Costello’s “Hetty O’Hara Confidential,” so give it a third listen on this atonal yet melodic look at gossip column and more than likely an outtake from “A Face In The Crowd”, and you may change your mind as I did (Grade: B),  and the relentlessly pious Bon Jovi work a little on the break with a harmonica and the only reckoning Jon Bon Jovi should do is with his audacious oratory (Grade: C).

Grateful Dead recorded one flat out Americana blueprint with American Beauty, and one nearly as good on the album that is getting a re-release Workingman’s Dead (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) and if you want demos or outtakes or jams, look elsewhere, you get the album proper and a live album from 1971, precisely what you don’t need (Grade: B-). The Streets problem has always been that his first two albums were so great his career stuttered on his third album and then the UK rapper found God and technology and then retired. With a cast of thousands , The Streets returns nine years later with his best songs since 2006, None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive, pure hip hop and some of the best rhyming in the world -pretty fly for a white guy (Grade: B+). Has there ever been a more aptly named band than the Drifters? They drift through decade after decade stopping off for doo wop here, 60s pop there, 70s disco for five years, back to the greatest hits and now what seems to be a new album (I can’t find much more info than it was just released), American Portrait takes them from “Gimme Some Lovin'” to “Lady” to a disco workout “Ladies Night” and and an overwrought “This Little Girl” (Grade: B-) . Finally, a long awaited return to form as Rufus Wainwright updates the sound he perfected twenty years ago, a singer songwriter, baroque pop confection on the very lovely Unfollow The Rules which does everything the dreaded Mark Ronson sincerely failed to do on Out Of The Game, hold out for “You’re Not Big” though it’s “Damsel In Distress” that will probably turn you around (Grade: B+) .

American Reckoning – Bon Jovi – C

Hetty O’Hara Confidential – Elvis Costello – B+

Workingman’s Dead (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) – Grateful Dead – B-

Do To Me – H.E.R. – A

Are You Even Real – James Blake – B+

Legends Never Die – Juice WRLD – B+

The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady (feat. Eminem) – Kid Cudi, Eminem – B

So It Goes (Live)- Nick Lowe – B

Unfollow The Rules – Rufus Wainwright – B+

American Portraits: The Drifters – The Drifters – B-

Criss Cross – The Rolling Stones – B+

None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive – The Streets  – B+

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