De La Soul

After plugging away for more than 15 years, De La Soul takes an introspective peek at its extraordinary longevity and proves its heady raps are still relevant on "The Grind Date," the trio's most satisfying full-length disc in nearly a decade.

Avoiding skits and hurling plenty of disses at anemic rappers, De La Soul wordsmiths Pos and Trugoy delve into their roles as hip-hop elder statesmen, pleasantly reminding folks that it takes massive amounts of "grinding" to survive hip-hop's fickle mix.

The seductive "Much More" speaks of stellar stuff folks expect from a De La disc as Pos spits one of the year's most engaging verses. "Are you listening?" he asks like a tenured hip-hop professor over swirling strings. "Are your eardrums open for christening?"

But considering such masterly moments as the inspirational self-analysis of "Church" and the thoughtful contemplation of life sans hip-hop on "It's Like That," it's mystifying that "Shopping Bags (She Got From You)" wasn't snipped onto their studio floor before it found its way onto this weighty disc. As the song cautions against squandering dough on name-brand-addicted ladies, it offers disappointingly vapid wordplay over what sounds like sticks smacking empty bottles.

The album boasts heavyweight guest raps from Ghostface and Common along with jams that inspire head bobs as well as critical thinking, like the Jackson 5-infused "No," with Pos crowing about exceeding lofty expectations. "I'm back on it," he raps assuredly. "That's why you never disappointed."

-- Craig Smith


Darryl Worley

The chart-topping "Have You Forgotten?," a pro-war anthem that linked Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden months before the United States invaded Iraq, had an unforeseen, and perhaps unfortunate, effect on singer Darryl Worley's career. The record catapulted the west Tennessee native into the upper echelon of male country singers not so much for his greatest gift -- his molasses, Merle Haggard- and Lefty Frizzell-inspired baritone -- as for what, in one high-minded moment, he felt he had to get off his chest.

Thankfully, Worley keeps the moralizing to a minimum on his self-titled new album. Sure, there's "Whistlin' Dixie," a genial paean to southern pride that stops just short of waving the Confederate flag. And there's "Wake Up America," which bemoans crack and meth use among kids with much the same can't-anybody-see-this-but-me tone as "Have You Forgotten?" Mostly, though, Worley sticks to the quotidian, whether he's admonishing us to smell the roses ("Work and Worry") or conducting gratitude inventories of his own ("Awful Beautiful Life," "Better Than I Deserve").

None of the material on this album digs very deep, but like its meat-and-potatoes backbeats and brawny, country-rock guitar (the record sounds great), it should hit 9-to-5ers with bass boats where they live. Two exceptions with greater reach: "If Something Should Happen," a song about a young father facing surgery for the same cancer that took his dad, and "Was It Good for You," a romp about good sex that's a whole lot randier than its colloquial title lets on.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren


Jimmy Eat World

The title track of Jimmy Eat World's new record could be about the importance of college-age kids voting. Or it could be about the resumption of a relationship between two college-age kids during Thanksgiving break. The genius of this Arizona band is that singer Jim Adkins's lyric "I hope for better / In November" will mean different things depending on who is listening.

Two years ago, Jimmy Eat World leaped from the basement punk scene to the stadium circuit, powered by "The Middle," a single that sounded as great to a teenager nursing a broken heart as it did to a baby boomer tearing up I-270 on an antiquing crusade. And while nothing on "Futures" is an instant power-pop anthem in the manner of "The Middle" or its follow-up single, "A Praise Chorus," Jimmy Eat World's talent for meticulously crafted rock songs that bristle with celestial harmonies and soaring choruses remains intact.

A big part of that ability is Adkins's knack for making banal observations seem momentous, such as when he sings "The best DJs are saving their slowest songs for last" as guest vocalist Liz Phair backs him up in the future prom-ballad "Work." He's whoever you need him to be: a big brother, a spurned lover, a good listener, often in the same song.

The only time Adkins ever comes close to dropping his everything-to-everydude game face is on a power ballad called "Night Drive," which delves into the personal territory of having sex with someone. "Lay back baby and we'll do this right," he coos. "There are blankets in back we can use." But by the end of the tune, he's talking about how love makes him feel in a way that a youngster bound by an abstinence pledge can relate to.

And just like those best DJs, Jimmy Eat World saves a slow song for last, letting synthesized strings swell as Adkins declares, "I'm here now, I'm ready" to a fickle lover. He needn't worry -- we know he's there for us.

-- Andrew Beaujon


Robyn Hitchcock

For better and worse, Robyn Hitchcock has a warped way with words. Over the course of a decades-long career, he's issued albums with the head-scratching titles "Groovy Decay," "Globe of Frogs" and, strangest of all, "Gotta Let This Hen Out."

But if Hitchcock has a knack for lyrical inscrutability, left unchecked his verbal quirks can quickly start to seem like nervous tics. In the 1998 concert flick "Storefront Hitchcock," the British-born singer comes on like a Tourette's-suffering acid casualty that no one, not even director Jonathan Demme, can quite shut up.

Fortunately, Hitchcock's fine new album, "Spooked," includes only one rant between songs, and it's mercifully brief. Instead, the disc is chock-full of highly singable, vaguely psychedelic melody-making that recalls, but never quite imitates, the likes of the Beatles and Pink Floyd's real-deal acid casualty, Syd Barrett. On "Everybody Needs Love" Hitchcock unpacks his electric sitar, while the simmering and soulful "Full Moon in My Soul" is powered in part by a backward guitar riff that George Harrison would no doubt be proud to call his own.

But what separates "Spooked" from the rest of Hitchcock's groovy oeuvre is the twangy atmospherics served up throughout by collaborators Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Under the tutelage of these two well-regarded Nashville scenesters, Hitchcock laces "English Girl" and "Sometimes a Blond" with bluesy slide guitar and soft country harmonies.

Indeed, on the former, Hitchcock even name-checks Merle Haggard -- sort of. "So haggard," he intones over Rawlings and Welch's gently swaying lullaby. "And I don't mean Merle."

Given Hitchcock's lyrical, um, gifts, that's probably about as straight as the guy can play it.

-- Shannon Zimmerman

De La Soul (from left, Pasemaster Mase, Posdnuos and Trugoy the Dove) has released its most satisfying album in a decade in "The Grind Date."Robyn Hitchcock, above left, has an album of highly singable melodies in "Spooked"; Darryl Worley, above, holds the moralizing down on his new self-titled album. Jimmy Eat World, left (Jim Adkins, Zack Lind, Tom Linton and Rick Burch) continues its knack for making the mundane seem momentous in "Futures."