Producers: Rush, Nick Raskulinecz
Release Date: June 12
It's not exactly a news flash when at the beginning of Rush's latest album, "Clockwork Angels," frontman Geddy Lee proclaims, "I can't stop thinking big." The Canadian trio has always stretched large ideas across an expansive soundscape, blending hard rock, prog and metal. And the five years since the band's last album, "Snakes & Arrows," have given Rush plenty of time to create a lot of new music. "Clockwork Angels" weighs in at a formidable 66 minutes, time enough for a kitchen-sink's worth of ideas and a weighty conceptual focus by drummer/lyricist Neil Peart about one man's journey to realize his dreams. (Look for the novel soon.) The album's seven-minute opuses range from tight ("Headlong Flight") to the messy title track, while fans of Rush's classic, riff-driven approach and ensemble virtuosity will find aural nirvana in "The Anarchist," "Seven Cities of Gold," "The Wreckers" and "Wish Them Well."
In Our Heads
Producers: Hot Chip, Mark Ralph
Release Date: June 12
What do you do when the major label you're signed to hits the auction block and your A&R guy (Matt "MasterChef" Edwards) leaves the music biz, only to turn up on a reality cooking show? If you're Hot Chip, you put your head down, record one of the best albums of your career and release it on major-indie Domino Records. "In Our Heads" is a return to form for the British quintet whose last album, "One Night Stand" (2010), lacked the classics strewn throughout its previous three releases. No such dearth here, as absurdly hooky romantic pop sits atop beds of transfigured techno, house and funk beats all crisply self-produced (with Mark Ralph's help). Alexis Taylor's plaintive tenor and/or Joe Goddard's comparatively rough-hewn baritone when paired with the right beats (the Daft Punk break on "Motion Sickness"), arrangements (the Prince-like vamp on "Flutes"), grooves (the shuffling "These Chains") or lack thereof (the minimalist gurgle on "Always Been Your Love") can induce chills. Without that coupling, some tracks fall short; however, those cuts are the exception on this fine album.
Jordan House Records/EMI
Release Date: June 5
Eric Benet adds a dash of funk and hip-hop seasoning to sixth studio album "The One," the first on his own label. But the sexy crooner doesn't forsake - or trivialize - his signature, mid-'70s soul vibe. The result is a modernized, diverse take on old-school elements that more fully explores the scope of his musical talents. Opening with the vibrant, midtempo charmer "Harriet Jones" - reminiscent of the playful tone behind Benet's earlier top 20 hit, "Georgy Porgy" - the album segues into the Earth, Wind & Fire-influenced "News for You." From there, it's on to infusions of hip-hop (Benet fan Lil Wayne weighs in on the subject of females on the catchy "Red Bone Girl") and jazz ("Come Together"). Family also comes into play. Older daughter India Benét shows off her own pleasing voice on the duet "Muzik," while dad sings about new baby girl Lucia on the lilting lullaby "Here in My Arms." His supple tenor still works its best magic on ballads like "Runnin'." All in all, The One rates as the artist's most satisfying project since 1999's "A Day in the Life."
Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials
Producers: Ed Williams, Bruce Iglauer
Release Date: June 5
For 25 years, slide guitarist/singer Lil' Ed Williams has taken the sting and bite from the style of his late uncle, J.B. Hutto, and created a good-time, hard-partying brand of Chicago blues. On "Jump Start," his eighth album for the pre-eminent Chicago blues label Alligator, Williams alternates between singing about good times and bad, adding bursts of guitar to the buoyant uptempo rhythms. Blossoming during the '80s blues-guitar revival has a residue effect on his songwriting, both in the shoulder-swinging soul-blues of "House of Cards" that recalls Robert Cray and the rolling shuffles popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan-"Born Loser" being a prime example. Williams' voice rarely goes beyond passable-the humor and double-entendres in the lyrics ramp up the enjoyability factor-but his sharp guitar work is the draw here. Williams keeps the solos compact and clearly voiced, which adds a unique level of gravitas to the five-and-a-half-minute "Life Is a Journey," a slow burner that captures him at his most expressive as a guitarist and singer.