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Stones’ natural assets undisputed on ‘Bigger Bang’

From wire reports

The Rolling Stones

“A Bigger Bang” (Virgin) “““ 1/2

The original bad-boy band is once again hot stuff – and not just on the concert trail. The Rolling Stones have been playing with fire in the studio, too.

Recognized as the world’s leading musical box-office draw, the Stones haven’t generated similar stampedes for new records in the past decade or two. Their last No. 1 album was “Tattoo You” in 1981.

Get ready for some jumping jacked-up flashbacks. “A Bigger Bang” is a jolting reminder of the iconic British rock band’s indestructible chemistry and primitive instincts. It boils the Stones down to their scrappy and earthy essence, without the techno-frills that diversified past efforts but also camouflaged the band’s natural assets.

“Bang” finds singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards in peak form again, writing tunes steeped in rock and blues roots but not mired in the past. It’s a mature record, yet it retains the Stones’ signature swagger and defiance. And it may be their most topically diverse and emotionally honest album to date.

At 16 tracks, “A Bigger Bang” is the band’s longest studio album since 1972’s “Exile on Main Street.” It’s unfair to expect the Stones, or any band, to match the brilliance of that landmark, but they’ve certainly found their way back inside “Main Street’s” ZIP code.

Compared with most rock records falling off the assembly line today, “Bigger” is better.

Edna Gundersen, USA Today

Tony Yayo

“Thoughts of a Predicate Felon” (Interscope) ““ 1/2

The gruff-voiced Yayo makes his belated debut after having been locked up on gun charges for much of the meteoric rise of his comrades 50 Cent and G-Unit. He could be the crew’s most hard-core member, judging from such tunes as the menacing “Homicide” and the combative “Drama Setter,” a harrowing, Eminem-produced track featuring Obie Trice.

He partners with 50 Cent on “So Seductive,” but he doesn’t have the same knack for those slinky songs as he does for the grimy ones. He’s much more comfortable when he can “Live by the Gun.”

Steve Jones, USA Today

Eric Clapton

“Back Home” (Reprise) ““ 1/2

I’m happy that Eric Clapton is happy. Really I am. But domestic bliss is not often the most productive grist for the artist’s mill. And on “Back Home,” Clapton returns from his recent blues travelings with the legend of Robert Johnson to take stock of all he has to be thankful for – namely the three daughters that the English guitar god has sired since the tragic 1991 death of his son Conor, whom he’s seen serenading in the family playroom on the CD sleeve.

The results are polished, tasteful, tender-hearted, occasionally soulful, hopeful (a cover of George Harrison’s “Love Comes to Everyone”) and perfectly pleasant. But “Back Home” is only truly gripping on “Lost and Found,” when Clapton steps out, plugs in – and plays the blues.

Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

The Pussycat Dolls

“PCD” (A&M) “““

Don’t hate the Dolls because they’re beautiful, or because they’ve determined to leave no romantic or post-feminist cliche unturned in their effort to put the sex back in sextet.

Scratch past the insipid lyrics on this debut and you’ll discover that lead singer Nicole Scherzinger and at least a couple of her fellow Dolls have supple voices. And they make the infectious hooks and grooves driving better tracks such as “Stickwitu” and “I Don’t Need a Man” sparkle despite their superficiality.

Who says catnip can’t have a little bite?

Elysa Gardner, USA Today

Lewis Taylor

“Stoned” (HackTone) ““““

Not since Terence Trent D’Arby’s heyday has an artist fused old-school R&B and pop influences and techno-savvy arrangements as seductively or joyfully as this singer/songwriter. Taylor’s sinuous, keening tenor – which can recall D’Arby’s voice, as well as Marvin Gaye’s – is the perfect instrument for “Stoned’s” searching, substantive ear candy, which fittingly includes covers of The Stylistics and Brian Wilson.

From the soaring title track to the beatific “‘Til the Mornin’ Light,” Taylor reminds us that soul can be playful as well as poignant.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

“Come On Back” (Rounder) “““ 1/2

Jimmie Dale Gilmore takes a break from recording his own songs, or those of fellow Flatlanders Butch Hancock and Joe Ely, on this superbly realized collection of classic country songs that were favorites of his late father.

Brian Gilmore, a guitar-picker in his own right who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease five years ago, named his son after the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, and he clearly had excellent taste. The baker’s dozen of tunes sung in Jimmie Dale’s trademark warble isn’t exactly full of surprises, though it does sneak in Slim Willett’s “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” and the Carter Family’s “Jimmie Brown the Newsboy” along with honky-tonk staples such as Hank Williams’ spooky “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” and Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan.”

Gilmore and Ely, who produced, stick with what works: a great singer singing great songs.

Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

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