Steven Tyler, "We're All Somebody From Somewhere" (Big Machine)
Steven Tyler will always sound like Steven Tyler, bless his heart, whether you surround the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with Aerosmith's hard rock or squads of banjos. So his solo country debut isn't really as big a departure as one might expect. After all, country arguably has more in common with 1970s album rock these days than pop-rock does and, in any case, the album is still very Tyler-centric.
It's not that far a jump from, say, Aerosmith's "What It Takes" to Tyler's "What Am I Doin' Right?" aside from the acoustic guitars and the prominent tambourine. The swaggering, blues-tinged rock of "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly & Me" could have easily fit on any number of Aerosmith albums over the years, as Tyler relishes the chance to rock out.
The album is actually at its most interesting when Tyler reinvents "Janie's Got a Gun" as an acoustic blues jam, as he tries to sound his most menacing amid the fiddles and the jangling. His countrified take on "Piece of My Heart" is as thrilling as you'd expect, his voice filled with bluesy breaks and ad libs.
All that makes many of his adventures into mainstream country feel a bit underwhelming. It's not that there's anything wrong with the ready-for-country-radio niceness of "Gypsy Girl," but it doesn't give Tyler enough to sink his famous teeth into. The acoustic pop bounciness of "I Make My Own Sunshine" feels more than a little forced from someone who gave us the cataclysmic "Dream On."
Tyler may embrace the "We're All Somebody From Somewhere" vibe, but when you're "Steven Tyler from Aerosmith" it sometimes falls a little short.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Schoolboy Q, "Blank Face"
Despite albums rife with fellow MCs (e.g., Anderson .Paak, Kanye West) and a familial association with old hip-hop friends (his Black Hippy supergroup, featuring fellow Cali rappers Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Rock), Schoolboy Q rolls like a loner. A draining helplessness at the state of the sorry Union. A sense of loneliness even in the midst of loving people, including his daughter. Ruminations on gang initiations and absent fathers. It's all here, with Q's gruff voice and deeply felt, smartly written and sing-songy flow intact. Only this time, Lamar's avant-jazzy "To Pimp a Butterfly" is Q's sonic inspiration, an aural wallpaper as sleek and lively as its words are woefully reflective.
Sharp visions of gangbang life are captured on "Ride Out" and "Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane." "Neva Change" paints the album's most poignant picture when Q spits, "You see them lights get behind us / They pull me out for my priors / Won't let me freeze 'fore they fire / You say that footage a liar ... no wonder we riot."
Not everything Q & Co. rhyme is bleak. There's a gorgeous, warm family feeling on the thrumming "Blank Face," which finds its protagonist going Easter egg hunting and playing Santa at Christmas. Best yet is how, on "Black Thoughts," the rapper comes up with hope and solutions for the world so currently gone awry. "Let's put our guns down. All lives matter, both sides." Thank you, Q.
A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer
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