Steve Perry, “Traces” (Fantasy)
Even in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” heyday, Perry’s powerful alto stood alone in rock, one of the most recognizable in the world. Now, as Perry returns with his first solo album in 24 years, he sounds like an even more unlikely standard-bearer.
The well-crafted, eclectic songs on “Traces” all make the most of Perry’s voice, whether it’s the blues-tinged “No More Cryin’,” the Motown-influenced “Angel Eyes,” or the gorgeous ballad “We Fly.”
Sure, any song in nearly any style becomes a Steve Perry song once he starts singing it. And there are some excellent additions here, starting with the rocking “Sun Shines Gray,” channeling a more updated version of the catchy rock Journey produced in the “Girl Can’t Help It” days. Perry’s tributes to his late girlfriend Kellie Nash, especially “We Fly,” are so personal and laced with loss that you almost feel like you’re eavesdropping on his pain. Of course, that has always been Perry’s talent, using his voice to somehow make us feel more intensely.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Lil Wayne, “Tha Carter V” (Young Money)
The role of Tha Carter series in Lil Wayne’s career is kind of like the “Mission: Impossible” franchise in Tom Cruise’s. Both stars are past the point of being central figures in their respective fields but are still capable of commanding attention with the latest iteration of their signature brands.
In the New Orleans rapper’s case, he is a full decade past his most-loved hit, “A Milli,” when calling himself “the greatest rapper alive” seemed more than just an idle boast. He’s spent most of this decade tied up in contractual woes, however. The release of “Tha Carter V” was first said to be imminent in 2014, and Wayne has spent the interim offering subpar mixtapes.
It would be inaccurate to say that “V” finds the rapper back on top of his game. But the seriousness of assembling an event release has snapped Wayne to attention. Sure, the 23-track, 80-minute enterprise is flabby and rarely flat-out brilliant, though the soulful and sexy “Dark Side of the Moon” collaboration with Nicki Minaj is a superb use of both of their talents, and the high-concept teaming with Kendrick Lamar on “Mona Lisa” showcases the verbal skills of both MCs.
“V” can’t maintain that level of inspiration, but the album is enlivened by guest spots from Snoop Dogg and Ashanti on the 18th track. “V” has begun to feel like a slog by that point, but it’s worth skipping ahead to the final track, “Let It All Work Out,” which turns out to be a deeply personal, moving song in which Wayne admits that the incident in which he shot himself in the chest when he was 12 was not an accident, but a suicide attempt.
DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Quavo, “Quavo Huncho”
• Tom Morello, “Atlas Underground”
• Elvis Costello, “Look Now”
• John Hiatt, “Eclipse Sessions”
• Belly, “Immigrant”
• Kurt Vile, “Bottle It In”