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This CD cover image released by Columbia Records shows ‘Louder,’ the latest release by Lea Michele. (AP)
Michele is so-so on ‘debut album’ Ross good on ‘Mastermind’

Lea Michele, “Louder” (Colum-bia Records)
On some of the songs from her debut album, Lea Michele is convincing. On others, it’s like she is acting.
The “Glee” star, known for her big voice, provides the pipes on “Louder,” but some songs sound empty and don’t show much emotion or personality from the 27-year-old talent. The dance-flavored title track is typical and forgettable, as is “Don’t Let Go.” ‘’Empty Handed,” co-written by singer Christina Perri, comes off like an unimpressive Coldplay cover, while other songs echo Kelly Clarkson, but lack the energy that Clarkson’s learned to build on her songs.
 
Michele, who has appeared on Broadway in “Spring Awakening” and other shows, gets it right on the piercing “Burn With You,” where she sings: “I don’t wanna go to heaven if you’re going to hell/I will burn with you.” She also shines on the slow piano tune “Battlefield,” one of four tracks co-written by the exceptional Sia Furler (Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts”). Instead of yelling, she works her voice nicely on “Thousand Needles,” building it up when needed, but hitting softer notes to provide balance.
 
Collection
But, all in all, “Louder” is jagged. The songs don’t play well together, and the collection sounds more like a demo, instead of a Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated singer-actress’ debut album. That may be due partially to the group of producers and songwriters, which include Stargate, Benny Blanco, John Shanks, The Messengers, Anne Preven, Christopher Braide and more. While they’ve produced hits for others, from Clarkson to Rihanna, Michele might have been better off with a tighter and smaller group of collaborators. Michele closes the album with the ballad “If You Say So,” which was inspired by one of the last conversations she had with her “Glee” co-star and boyfriend, Cory Monteith, who died after overdosing on heroin and alcohol last year. The track is somewhat chilling and worth a listen, but while the rest of “Louder” features a big voice, most of the time Michele isn’t saying much.
 
Missing Persons featuring Dale Bozzio, “Missing in Action” (Cleo-patra Records)
With its first studio album in 25 years, Missing Persons featuring Dale Bozzio could have started slow, mindful of the time that’s passed. But why bother when the energy is vibrant, the spirit willing and Bozzio — the lone original member of the newly reformed band — bursting to show there’s energy comparable to the 1980s-era original incarnation that released “Walking in L.A.,” ‘’Words” and “Destination Unknown.” The 12-track release is largely a showcase for Bozzio and Billy Sherwood, who’s credited not only with drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals, but having written most of the songs, too. That means the title track is an apt one, at least in regard to the original band’s lineup.
The focus, however, is on Bozzio. Her 1980s new wave chirping and visualized kinetic persona propelled that version of Missing Persons to stardom on MTV.
 
Now, her voice is matured, measured even, and accomplished. Bozzio doesn’t have to prove anything and that’s evident from the opening track “Do or Die,” a fast-paced, keyboard-laced back-and-forth that brings to mind whirling and swirling. “Looking to the left, looking to the right, looking for the fire to ignite,” she sings, a wall of vibrating sound enhancing the effect of spinning. It’s a song that would not seem out of place in either 1985 or 2014. In all, the album is solidly done. The range of the tracks move from dance-floor staples to slow-dance grippers. Bozzio’s still got her form and the music is not out of place.
 
Drive-By Truckers, “English Oceans” (ATO)
The often-prolific roots rockers Drive-By Truckers took a four-year break from the studio before recording “English Oceans,” and the stockpile of songs pays off throughout the band’s 12th album. Stripping away the R&B influences and musical explorations of their last few albums, DBT focuses on guitars and a garage-band stomp on the new album — which also adds to the collection’s consistency.
 
Chores
The band has always shared songwriting chores between singer-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, usually augmented by contributions by other band members (most notably onetime band mate Jason Isbell in the early 2000s). This time out, Cooley is an equal partner, and he and Hood are the only songwriters — another beneficial change.
 
The album’s opening guitar chords recall an old Replacements riff and would’ve fit nicely on the Rolling Stones’ “Exile On Main Street.” It’s a strong kick off to the rawest rocking Truckers album since their early days. But it’s the storytelling that gives the band a special dimension. The colorful twists of “Till He’s Dead Or Rises” and “Primer Coat,” the desperation of “Hanging On” and the poignant “Grand Canyon” show that this veteran band can still equal the highpoints of its past.
 
Rick Ross, “Mastermind” (Maybach Music Group/Def Jam)
All of the songs on Rick Ross’ sixth album are built with strong production and the rapper’s normal shoot-from-the-hip approach. However, the performer is unable to move the needle on “Mastermind” like he did on previous releases, including 2012’s top-notch “God Forgives, I Don’t.” Ross’ 16-track set doesn’t transcend his message as a man of growth, wanting to expect more out of life than money, women and luxury cars. It comes as a surprise since the new album was co-executive produced by Diddy, who has helped mold albums for the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, the Lox, Mary J. Blige and others.
 
But the Miami rapper is certainly not a bore. Ross taps some of the top beat makers in hip-hop from Kanye West, Scott Storch, the Weeknd and production group J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League for his latest effort. Some songs entertain with introductions: Diddy is full of himself — in a serious tone — on “Nobody,” comedian Katt Williams is silly when he talks about staying in a home with 109 rooms on “Supreme,” and Ross boasts about having more than $92 million in his bank account on “Drug Dealers Dream.”
 
Ross upholds his gangster mentality with gunshots ringing on several songs such as “Rich Is Gangsta,” ‘’Walkin’ On Air,” featuring Meek Mill, and “Mafia Music III,” with Sizzla and Mavado. The production work by Mike WiLL Made-It (Miley Cyrus, Juicy J) is superb on “War Ready” featuring Young Jeezy — a rapper who Ross once had beef with.
 
The West and Big Sean-assisted “Sanctified” is one of the album’s best tracks, as each rapper talks about how the fast-paced lifestyle has impacted them. Ross also raps about beating the odds as a young man on “Thug Cry,” which co-stars Lil Wayne. While these are bright spots, most of “Mastermind” is Ross middling.
 
Eli Young Band, “10,000 Towns” (Republic)
The Eli Young Band continues to provide a smart, relevant antidote to all the male country acts focusing on clichÈs about the attractions of backwoods America. On “10,000 Towns,” the four-piece band from Denton, Texas, shines by focusing on insightful songs about how young men and women relate with each other. The album’s first hit, “Drunk Last Night,” continues the band’s string of potent songs that don’t rely on the usual Nashville formulas. While most other country bands celebrate drinking and partying in superficial ways, singer Mike Eli instead elucidates, with restrained drama, how a night of over-indulgence can lead to actions that might be regrettable the following day. 
 
Similarly, the band’s new hit, “Dust,” depicts the complex emotions involved even when driving away from a relationship that’s taken a bad turn. Not everything on “10,000 Towns” hits such high notes. A few clunkers — including “Just Add Moonlight” and the title cut — rely on standard country tropes. But those potholes only briefly slow down an otherwise solid effort by the band, which includes guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson. Overall, though, the Eli Young Band’s second major-label album — and fifth overall — gives plenty of reasons for cities across America to embrace them with open arms. (AP)
 
From the time the two musical icons stepped on the Madison Square Garden stage, it was clear from their very first glance that Paul Simon and Sting shared mutual affection for each other. After opening with Sting’s “Brand New Day” Tuesday night, followed by Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” the two performers rotated on and off stage for the next two-and-a-half hours. By the end of the night, the two legendary performers had covered a poignant mix of their hits and obscurities and brought life to each other’s music. The show’s final songs were duets of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” ‘’Every Breath You Take,” and “Late in the Evening.”
 
 By Mesfin Fekadu

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