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Strait’s ‘Somewhere’ another good one

From wire reports

George Strait

“Somewhere Down in Texas” MCA Nashville (•••)

Country superstar George Strait is easy to take for granted. In his unassuming way he’s amassed one of the most successful music careers in history.

The title of his recent “50 Number Ones” CD was made an immediate lie when its one new song hit No. 1, giving him a 51st chart-topper. Now he’s in line for No. 52 with this CD’s fast-rising single, “You’ll Be There.”

This singing Texas cowboy’s as reliable as Saturday following Friday; he never releases a bad album. That doesn’t change with “Somewhere Down in Texas,” his 33rd long-player. Quality control remains relatively high, and there is a first this time: Strait duets with his first woman, the estimable Lee Ann Womack, on the somber heartbreak ballad “Good News, Bad News.”

“Texas” would earn more points had Strait added another up-tempo tune or two, or thrown in some unexpected instrumentation. The Southern gospel flavor of “You’ll Be There” is a move in the right direction.

Howard Cohen, Miami Herald

R. Kelly

“TP.3 Reloaded” (Jive) • 1/2

He once ruled the R&B world with an air of haughty cool, but things do change. Singer-songwriter-producer R. Kelly comes limping into view waving his new album like a white flag of surrender: Look, we’ve got sex, we’ve got rap – Snoop, the Game. We’ve got reggaeton and dancehall. Did we mention sex?

Kelly’s last album, 2004’s two-CD package “Happy People/U Saved Me,” was retro in style, G-rated in content and heartfelt at the core, and it was a commercial disappointment. He’s also been tarnished by the fiasco of his aborted tour with Jay-Z, and then there’s that nagging business of criminal charges for child pornography.

That’s a lot of baggage to haul around, and the strain shows in “TP.3 Reloaded.” This return to formula isn’t without its disarming moments, suich as the entertainingly preposterous “Trapped in the Closet,” a jam-packed narrative in five “chapters” recounting the convoluted encounter of several adulterers.

Snoop Dogg generates his usual contact high on the breezy “Happy Summertime,” some of the up-tempo tracks are infectious, and the burbling ballads have a lush sensuality.

But Kelly’s whole approach is familiar and threadbare. It’s not much of a revelation that he’s preoccupied with sex, which he wants in the morning, in the kitchen, with his girlfriend, with his girlfriend’s girlfriend. At least all the characters appear to be over the age of consent.

Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times

Cassidy

“I’m a Hustla” (Full Surface/J) •••

To Philadelphia homicide detectives, Barry Reese is a local man charged with murder, assault and related crimes in a recent shooting. To hip-hop fans, he’s Cassidy, and he’s got street cred; lawyers, guns, money and felony charges can be a rapper’s badge of honor.

As on his previous CD, “Split Personality,” Cassidy shows off two selves on “I’m A Hustla.” There’s the sexy, diabolically ambitious Jay-Z sort who makes himself known on the repetition-driven title track and the cutesy acoustic confection “Bellybutton.”

Then there’s the Nas-ish prophet-eer with a leery eye for trouble of “B-Boy Stance” and “Crack.” That smooth street druggist appears with Quan and Nas himself on the string-kissed, soulful “Can’t Fade Me.”

Thicker and more musically elegant than its predecessor, “Hustla” shows off a groovy growth process. Cassidy’s progress, not the bust, should be what enhances his rep.

A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

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