Gary Clark Jr.
Blak and Blu
Producers: Mike Elizondo, Rob Cavallo, Gary Clark Jr.
Warner Bros. Records
Release Date: Oct. 22
Fat, powerful blues-rock that recalls five decades of various strains of Southern R&B and rock makes for a curious signing to a major label. But if Warner Bros. Records can convince audiences that Gary Clark Jr. is more game-changer than left-field player, he has a future. His strength may also be an Achilles' heel: Different as Clark is from the current major-label landscape, he mines areas that have had their days in the sun. The song structures of Clark's 12 originals aren't just familiar, they're ingrained, whether it's the Prince-ly midtempo of the title track and "You Saved Me" or the leathery blues of "Ain't Messin' Around." The guitar solos -- vibrant and engrossing -- are played with the logic of six-string heroes from earlier generations. Forty years ago, late-night FM radio would have drooled over "When My Train Pulls In," but today it's a potential YouTube sensation among guitar aficionados. The distortion-drenched "Numb" is the hard rock not heard since Robin Trower was a dominant force. Beyond the blues, "Blak and Blu" positions Clark as a jack of all trades, capable of modernizing Chuck Berry ("Travis County"), rapping over neo-soul ("The Life") and reaching back to '50s doo-wop ("Please Come Home") and '40s Lightnin' Hopkins ("Next Door Neighbor Blues"). -PG
Release Date: Oct. 9
The Script opens its appropriately titled third album, #3, singing about the "Good Ol' Days" to come. The Irish trio has every reason to be confident, thanks to the breakthrough success of 2010's "Science & Faith" and frontman Danny O'Donoghue's profile as the Adam Levine equivalent on "The Voice UK." The Script's new 10-song set finds the group comfortably entrenched in a spit -- polished blend of pop, rap and contemporary R&B styles, with dramatically orchestrated arrangements that mostly resolve in anthemic choruses. O'Donoghue's fellow judge Will.i.am provides potent duet punch on the pro-social first single "Hall of Fame" ("You can move a mountain/You can break rocks/You can be a master"), while "Give the Love Around" spreads a utopian societal vision. Closer to the heart, O'Donoghue pays tribute to his late father on the moving "If You Could See Me Now" and laments a romantic breakup (from model Irma Mali, he's acknowledged) with a 12-step-style realization. #3 has its lighter moments, too, as heard on the buoyant "Glowing," the rich "Kaleidoscope" and the vibey "Millionaires." The combination ensures that the Script is making the most of its fertile moment. -GG
Producer: Kevin Parker
Release Date: Oct. 9
Australia's Tame Impala is still making the music that astronauts hear when they hit space, only now enlisting an armada of synthesizers for help. The through line of frontman Kevin Parker's vocals -- ostensibly an ongoing tribute to John Lennon's trippiest times -- keep the band's second album, "Lonerism", grounded in the same aesthetic as 2010's "Innerspeaker". But the introduction of unending electronic ambience morphs the set into a new breed of psychedelia. Songs like "Mind Mischief" and "Elephant" are far from locked into their flower power past, flaunting '60s heritage even as they tap into today's indie-rock jet stream. "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" resembles an unearthed classic, and the nuclear guitar meltdown closing on "Keep On Lying" would make the Black Keys blush. Parker recorded and performed the entire album, capturing the 12 songs in studios and improvised setups worldwide. The result is a Tame Impala both bolder and more assured in the vocal and instrumental mischief concocted. -ZD
Producers: Paul Stanley, Greg Collins
Universal Music Enterprises
Release Date: Oct. 9
Early on Kiss' 20th studio album, Gene Simmons declares he's "going back to the Stone Age/back where I come from." If that's what the early to mid-'70s were, then the dozen tracks on "Monster" validate that claim -- in a good way. It's a lean, taut and occasionally tawdry reminder that Kiss was once a big-riffing hard-rock concern. Everything on the set has a big beat, raw-edged guitars, meaty choruses and plenty of gang vocals. "Back to the Stone Age" tilts toward the MC5 brand of garage rock, while the lusty "Eat Your Heart Out" has an a cappella start and plenty of cowbell. Elsewhere, "All for the Love of Rock & Roll," sung by drummer Eric Singer, is a slice of Southern rock boogie, and guitarist Tommy Thayer's "Outta This World" brings in psychedelic flavors. Many of "Monster"'s tracks would fit comfortably on any of Kiss' pre-"Destroyer" (1976) releases. Kiss may be at the point in its career where new albums are merely adjuncts to the legend, but "Monster" proves the group can still convincingly shout it out loud. -GG
Glad All Over
Producer: Jay Joyce
Release Date: Oct. 2
Two decades after their self-titled debut, the Wallflowers end a seven-year recording hiatus by returning to the front with plenty of firepower. "Glad All Over" boasts the band's hardest-hitting sound to date. Maybe it's the addition of erstwhile Pearl Jam/Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons' muscular beats, or perhaps Jakob Dylan just needed a visceral jolt after the laconic singer/songwriter sounds of the two solo albums he released during the band's vacation from the studio. Whatever the reason, gentle ballads and pokey tempos are nonexistent here, and opening cut "Hospital for Sinners" is one of the edgiest, most intense tracks to emerge from the Wallflowers camp. The Clash-indebted funk/dub/dance-rocker "Reboot the Mission" (featuring Clash guitarist Mick Jones) and the amped-up Motown moves of "Have Mercy on Him Now" show Dylan and company have come a long way from the roots rock that made them famous in the '90s. Stalwart keyboardist Rami Jaffee's rich organ textures on tunes like "First One in the Car" recall those days, but "Glad All Over" presents a band uninterested in looking backward. -JA
Producer: Alan Parsons
Release Date: Oct. 2
Some may find it difficult committing to a whole album of ukulele instrumentals, but Jake Shimabukuro makes it easy with his virtuosic chops and tasteful sensibilities. On the Alan Parsons-produced "Grand Ukulele", he ups the ante with an occasional 29-piece orchestra with arrangements by Kip Winger. With an already established reputation for dating covers, Shimabukuro turns in a sharp treatment of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and sweet renderings of "Over the Rainbow" and Sting's "Fields of Gold." His own material holds sway, too, evidenced by the sweeping "Ukulele Five-O," the lively "More Ukulele" (inspired by the "more cowbell" sketch on "Saturday Night Live"), the playful "Music Box" and the classically tempered "Missing Three." Shimabukuro also captures a version of live favorite "143" and recasts the Hawaiian traditional "Akaka Falls" with the strings, adding a jazzy coda. He remains an original and fresh voice on a 19th-century instrument, and at the end of "Grand Ukulele" listeners will likely find themselves calling for "More Ukulele" as well. -GG
La Musica No Se Toca
Producer: Julio Reyes Copello
Universal Music Latino/Universal Music Latin Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 25
Spanish singer/songwriter Alejandro Sanz is starting the next chapter in his career with a new label and project. Sanz's "La Musica No Se Toca" ("Music Is Not to Be Touched") features more than a dozen romantic pop ballads that hint at his early years. Back then he earned his place in Latin pop with hits like "Corazon Partido" ("Broken Heart"). And now with his 12th studio set, Sanz returns to the basics with music about love and its complicated nuances. To know Sanz is to understand that his music appeals to a global audience that has helped the balladeer become a top-selling act. The soulful, well-crafted set is sure to spawn hits like "Se Vende" ("For Sale"), a lyrically moving composition. An iTunes bonus track, the bilingual "Down" (featuring rapper Fat Joe), is a departure from the rest of the album, but it's perhaps part of the adventure for Sanz, who keeps making heartfelt music while also showing listeners a new side. -JA
Edited by Mitchell Peters (albums).
CONTRIBUTORS: Justino Aguila, Jim Allen, Zach Dionne, Phil Gallo, Gary Graff, Andrew Hampp, Dan Hyman, Jason Lipshutz, Jillian Mapes, Lindsey WeberAll albums commercially available in the United States are eligible. Send album review copies to Mitchell Peters at Billboard, 5700 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90036 and singles review copies to Jason Lipshutz at Billboard, 770 Broadway, Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10003, or to the writers in the appropriate bureaus.