Neil Young with Crazy Horse 'Psychedelic Pill' (Reprise)
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Neil Young has often found ways to push forward while looking back, whether writing nostalgic songs as a young man ("Helpless"), exploring American history ("Pocahontas"), or periodically reconnecting with his longtime pals in Crazy Horse, as he does on "Psychedelic Pill." He's been playing with guitarist Poncho Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Frank Molina since 1975, and they're still a lumbering, powerful, intuitive force, as they proved earlier this year on "Americana," their rewardingly idiosyncratic take on old folk songs.
Even more than that album, "Psychedelic Pill" is a Crazy Horse-lovers' dream, a two-disc set that alternates three-to-four-minute garage stomps with four epic tracks that stretch from eight to nearly 28 minutes and allow plenty of time for Young to dig deeply into his distortion- and feedback-drenched guitar solos. It's a companion piece, in a way, to "Waging Heavy Peace," Mr. Young's new autobiography, with first-person songs about channeling his rage (including his frustrations with recording technology), about his admiration for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, about being "Born in Ontario," about the failed (or foiled) dreams of the '60s.
-- Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
Patterson Hood 'Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance' (ATO)
3 stars = Good
As the lead voice of the Drive-By Truckers, Patterson Hood has always given his character-driven narratives a strong sense of place -- namely, the Deep South (he's from Alabama). On his new solo album, the difference is that the songs are overtly autobiographical; as he puts it in the liner notes, they provide a soundtrack to memories.
Those memories are usually not so sweet. There's personal and family upheaval, grappling with demons, the burying of beloved elders. But as Mr. Hood puts it in the finale, "Fifteen Days," "Hurt's the price for being alive," and ultimately there's a sense that love and family can provide some hope and a shot at redemption. The spare and evocatively rootsy accompaniment, provided by various Truckers and others, including Mr. Hood's father, famed Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood, neatly augments the quietly involving nature of Mr. Hood's stories.
-- Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Kendrick Lamar 'good kid M.A.A.D city' (Interscope)
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Dr. Dre's most promising protégé since Eminem differs from the hazy Illmatic-ATLiens hybrid he invokes in some key ways, with an Occupy Wall Street-worthy understanding the most obvious: "We're living in a world that come with plan B/ A scapegoat cuz plan A don't come free."
From the Gil Scott-Heron quote about "people living their life in bottles" to "You moving backwards if you suggest you sleep with a Tec," no rapper this loving and calm has ever had this much cred, much less hailed from Compton, Calif. His affinity for women and sex is a relief, the Nas-conjuring "The Art of Peer Pressure" says it all about his gang acquaintances, and on the big battle showcase "Backstreet Freestyle," he compares himself to both MLK and OJ.
-- Dan Weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer