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Rihanna

Rated R

Island Def Jam

Buy if you like: Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige

If there were any worries Rihanna's fast-rising career would be sidetracked after the attack by then-boyfriend Chris Brown in February, set those concerns aside. Rated R, the follow-up to her hugely popular album Good Girl Gone Bad, is a strong step forward artistically. Up-tempo jams like "Fire Bomb" and "Rockstar 101" sound like sure-fire hits with their infectious hooks and insistent beats. Ballads such as "Photographs" (with guest vocal from will.i.am) and "Cold Case Love" are silky and strongly melodic delights. She addresses the Brown saga on occasion (most directly in "Stupid in Love"), but several songs ("G4L" and "Hard") are full of tough girl attitude, while the album's romantic side emphasizes the flirtatious and fun side of romance ("Rude Boy"). Rated R should easily give the top stars of R&B (Beyoncé? Mariah? Are you listening?) a run for their money. — Alan Sculley

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Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures

DGC/Interscope

Buy if you like: Cream, Stone Temple Pilots

Last year, while Josh Homme's main band, Queens of the Stone Age, was on break, he recorded with his side band, Eagles of Death Metal, and toured with them through last spring. Now he's one-third of Them Crooked Vultures, along with drummer Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and former Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones. Their debut album lives up to the star power, with Jones and Grohl forming an explosive rhythm section and Homme handling guitar and most singing. So it makes sense there's a good deal of the hazy but oh-so-addictive QOTSA sound here. The band especially hits its stride with the tangy rocker "New Fang," and the wicked tempo shifts of "Elephants," the mystical strains of "Bandoliers" and the psychedelic stomp of "Caligulove." With side projects like these, Homme makes it easy to tolerate his main band's extended hiatus. — Alan Sculley

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Hank Williams

Revealed: The Unreleased Recordings

Time Life

Buy if you like: Johnny Cash, George Jones

It's rather amazing that the famed WSM radio, home station to the Grand Ole Opry, had saved a collection of 72 shows that country legend Hank Williams recorded for sponsor Mother's Best Flour Co. Recently recovered from the vault, this three-CD sequel to a companion box, The Unreleased Recordings, is culled from the best of these radio shows from 1951. Williams recorded many of his classic songs for the show ("Move It on Over," "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Moanin' the Blues"), as well as a bevy of B-sides and lesser-known tracks. The range of music here is impressive, ranging from pure country to rustic blues, mountain music to hayseed honky tonk. The songs, spiced with commentary from Williams himself, offer an up-close look at the country music icon with an unfiltered authenticity that rarely emerges on finished studio tracks. — Alan Sculley

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