A half-dozen cool things in music, from two points of view:

Kendrick Lamar, "To Pimp a Butterfly." On Monday, he surprised us all by releasing his new album a week early. Why? I don't know. But I do know that it's one of the most captivating albums to come out in 2015 so far.

Jill Scott, "You Don't Know." After a four-year absence, her heavenly voice is back on this single. Per usual, it's wonderful.

Madonna, "Rebel Heart." She released a new album and announced a huge tour (coming to Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Oct. 8). It looks as though the Queen of Pop isn't stepping down anytime soon — nor should she.

Justin Levy, Minneapolis

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Nikki Hill, the Dakota. If Tina Turner and Little Richard had a daughter who was raised by her uncles Chuck Berry and James Brown, she'd sound like Hill. This new face from North Carolina has the guttural growl and contagious zeal of a rock 'n' soul contender. And the hot-hot chemistry between her and guitarist/husband Matt Hill made you want to shout: "Get a room!"

Shannon Curfman, Famous Dave's. Now best known as a backup singer to Kid Rock, the Twin Cities blues-rock singer-guitarist has her own band of top talent (from Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa), a batch of top-shelf originals and covers (loved her "Black Dog") and a top-notch voice that has grown stronger and more soulful thanks to playing in all those big venues.

Bettye LaVette, "Worthy." It's another collection of deeply felt dirges and ballads from the R&B stylist who makes listeners feel the pain like few singers can. Even though the songs are by Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and others, LaVette makes you believe she wrote those penetrating words.

Jon Bream, Star Tribune