“Mastermind” (Def Jam)
Perhaps Rick Ross simply took his drug-lord act as far as it could go with 2012’s “God Forgives, I Don’t,” in which the portly Miami rapper somehow made a seizure he’d suffered on a private jet sound like the mark of a true player. But for the first time in a career that’s gotten only more interesting since his background as a corrections officer was revealed, Ross has run out of imaginative ways to describe his power on his latest.
“Before the crib you gotta clear the guard’s gate,” he brags of his home in “Rich Is Gangsta,” “Elevators like Frank’s on ‘Scarface.’ “ Snooze.
He’s helped by collaborators such as the Weeknd, who gives “In Vein” a queasy menace, and Jay Z, who boosts the swagger in “The Devil Is a Lie.” And Kanye West’s trippy, gospel-fied production in “Sanctified” is its own reward. (Ditto West’s guest verse, in which he tries out a wonderful new pronunciation of “handkerchief.”) As “Mastermind’s” mastermind, though, Ross seems on auto-pilot here.
“English Oceans” (ATO)
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By now, Drive-By Truckers have gotten used to losing songwriters. While the core of the neo-Southern rock act has always been frontman Patterson Hood and guitarist-singer Mike Cooley, over the years the band has seen gifted colleagues come and leave the fold.
“English Oceans,” the band’s 12th LP, is the first to present Hood and Cooley as equal vocal and songwriting partners, and the results are muscular and more experimental than you might expect. The two are excellent foils for each other, with their styles providing deft contrasts. The album starts with a Cooley ripper, “… Shots Count,” that instantly proves the vitality of this new lineup. “Pauline Hawkins” lets the group’s Tom Petty flag fly, with sweetly sour harmonies over a tale of domestic revenge – and a dramatic left-turn into a piano ballad.
The LP closes with Hood’s “Grand Canyon,” a panoramic rocker that turns Crazy Horse feedback freakouts into something funereal and joyful at once.