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Chris Brown

Fortune

RCA

File next to: Usher, Nicki Minaj

While Chris Brown sullied his reputation with his beat-down of girlfriend-at-the-time Rihanna and last month's nightclub brawl with fellow R&B star Drake, that hasn't stopped him from selling records by the boatloads. In fact, he's still one of the most bankable stars on the R&B scene. That said, he's also never shown much musical originality or lyrical depth, and Fortune doesn't buck that trend. The raw "Till I Die," with guest appearances from Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa, is a particularly run-of-the-mill below-the-belt boast. Nas also falls short of his usually thoughtful standards with his rap on "Mirage," which is actually one of Brown's stronger efforts on a strictly musical level. On "2012" and "Strip," attempts at steamy balladry are just lukewarm, as are by-the-numbers bangers like "Turn Up the Music." There's enough mediocrity on the radio for Fortune to do well, but that doesn't mean it hasn't all been done before. — Alan Sculley

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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

The Lion The Beast The Beat

Hollywood Records

File next to: Black Crowes, Janis Joplin

Coming off of a 2010 self-titled third album that gave Grace Potter & the Nocturnals a taste of mainstream success, The Lion The Beast The Beat finds the group at a critical point in its career. Fortunately, Potter hasn't dropped the ball with this solid collection of '70s-rooted rock that demonstrates why she's one of the genre's best female vocalists. Potter exudes charisma and sensuality throughout, moving easily from the sweet, restrained tones of "Parachute Heart," to the soaring highs of the big ballad "Stars" and the full-throttle power packed into "Turntable," "Never Go Back" and the title song. There are also new directions: "Loneliest Soul" adds some tangy psychedelic touches, while a hint of funk powers "Keepsake." This confident and highly listenable collection just might provide the serious commercial breakthrough that's still well within reach. — Alan Sculley

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The Dirty Heads

Cabin by the Sea

Five Seven Music

File next to: 311, Jack Johnson

Propelled by the hit single, "Lay Me Down," the Dirty Heads made quite an entrance with their 2008 debut album, Any Port in a Storm, joining an increasingly crowded reggae-hip-hop-rock field led by groups such as 311, Slightly Stoopid and the Expendables. Now comes the tricky task of meeting expectations with the follow-up Cabin by the Sea. True to form, the band's sound remains easygoing and enjoyable with an upbeat lyrical stance, with the title song and "Dance All Night" epitomizing the easygoing combination of reggae rhythms, pop melodies and a sunny lyrical disposition. Meanwhile the Dirty Heads' hip-hop side comes out in the island vibe of the horn-accompanied "Disguise," while the hard-hitting "Smoke Rings" gets extra cred from a guest rap by Del the Funky Homosapien. The Dirty Heads' sound isn't overly original, but the group's way with a bright hook and a warm groove should make fans happy. — Alan Sculley

  • Chris Brown, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, The Dirty Heads

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