Rick Ross, "Black Market" (Def Jam )

Ross long seemed content to be a boss in the background. His Maybach Music label ran the careers of Meek Mill and Wale. Rumors abounded of tight business control — and ghostwriters for rappers needing help with lyrics. Ross recently has been more in the foreground. He and fiancée Lira Galore visited Larry Wilmore's "Nightly" program on Comedy Central. He has remixed Adele's "Hello." Even his new CD opens out in a more public fashion. Broader, more personal and sounding brighter than ever, "Black Market" shows off a Ross ready to be out and about, with his Maybach crew conspicuous by their absence.

Ross joins forces with soul's nicest guy (John Legend) and biggest voices (Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey) for music and universal messages less aggressive than his usual strip-club-money rants. On "Sorry," he duets with Chris Brown with production by Scott Storch. It's a new way to broadcast contrition for celebs in need of public forgiveness, way better than renting a Goodyear blimp. After the guest bits, we have "Ghostwriter," which stays personal but gets catty, and "Black Opium," which shows that this boss keeps his eyes on the streets and his fingers in the pie.

A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer


Chris Isaak, "First Comes the Night" (Vanguard)

What becomes of the brokenhearted? They end up in a Chris Isaak song. Just kidding. But after three decades, romantic heartache does remain the singer-songwriter's overriding theme. Just look at this new album, his first of original material in six years: "First Comes the Night" ("You're still in my heart"); "Please Don't Call" ("We fell in love and we went too far"). And that's just the first two songs.

What's remarkable is how much mileage the 59-year-old Isaak continues to get out of a musical approach that has changed so little. It's still a retro-tinged blend of brooding, Orbisonesque drama and frisky Elvis sexiness.

Anyone who has seen Isaak live or on TV knows he has a sense of humor that isn't readily apparent from his often lovesick musical persona. That surfaces here with the rockabilly-fueled "Down in Flames" and the rollicking piano-pounder "Insects."

The San Franciscan recorded part of "First Comes the Night" in Nashville — his first foray to Music City — keeping things fresh while sounding like a natural outgrowth of his bedrock style. "The Way Things Really Are" is elegant countrypolitan soul reminiscent of Charlie Rich, and "Every Night I Miss You More" — one of five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition — is a lively country two-step.

Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer