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Pop reviews — week of March 9

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Mastermind

Rick Ross

All of the songs on Rick Ross’ sixth album are built with strong production and the rapper’s normal shoot-from-the-hip approach. However, the performer is unable to move the needle on Mastermind like he did on previous releases, including 2012’s top-notch God Forgives, I Don’t.

Ross’ 16-track set doesn’t transcend his message as a man of growth, wanting to expect more out of life than money, women and luxury cars. It comes as a surprise since the new album was co-executive produced by Diddy, who has helped mold albums for the Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, the Lox, Mary J. Blige and others.

But the Miami rapper is certainly not a bore. Ross taps some of the top beatmakers in hip-hop from Kanye West, Scott Storch, the Weeknd and production group J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League for his latest effort. Some songs entertain with introductions: Diddy is full of himself — in a serious tone — on Nobody, comedian Katt Williams is silly when he talks about staying in a home with 109 rooms on Supreme, and Ross boasts about having more than $92 million in his bank account on Drug Dealers Dream.

Ross upholds his gangster mentality with gunshots ringing on several songs such as Rich Is Gangsta, Walkin’ On Air, featuring Meek Mill, and Mafia Music III, with Sizzla and Mavado. The production work by Mike WiLL Made-It (Miley Cyrus, Juicy J) is superb on War Ready featuring Young Jeezy — a rapper who Ross once had beef with.

The West and Big Sean-assisted Sanctified is one of the album’s best tracks, as each rapper talks about how the fast-paced lifestyle has affected him. Ross also raps about beating the odds as a young man on Thug Cry, which co-stars Lil Wayne. While these are bright spots, most of Mastermind is middling.

— Jonathan Landrum Jr.

Associated Press

The Chase

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Janet Evanovich, author of the popular Stephanie Plum series, and Lee Goldberg, who has written several novels and TV shows, return with a follow-up to their popular adventure The Heist. The action never stops in The Chase, and a humorous tone keeps everything moving at a fun clip.

FBI agent Kate O’Hare had been trying to capture master con artist Nicolas Fox for quite some time. When she succeeds, her bosses unveil a plan to use Fox and his connections to bring down even bigger criminals.

In The Chase, an artifact sacred to the Chinese government is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution. A deal is struck, and a representative from the Chinese plans to retrieve it. However, the one housed in the Smithsonian is a fake. O’Hare and Fox must learn who stole the original, retrieve it, steal the replica and replace it with the real one.

Can they pull off the various heists without anyone figuring out what they are doing? Can they keep their alliance secret? And will they be able to keep their budding feelings for each other alive, assuming they survive?

The characters are exciting, and the story escalates as the initial job becomes more elaborate. Readers familiar with Evanovich’s novels will love this series, and hopefully there will be more adventures by this writing duo.

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press

English Oceans

Drive-By Truckers

The often-prolific roots rockers Drive-By Truckers took a four-year break from the studio before recording English Oceans, and the stockpile of songs pays off throughout the band’s 12th album.

Stripping away the R&B influences and musical explorations of their last few albums, DBT focuses on guitars and a garage-band stomp on the new album — which also adds to the collection’s consistency.

The band has always shared songwriting chores between singer-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, usually augmented by contributions by other members (most notably onetime bandmate Jason Isbell in the early 2000s). This time out, Cooley is an equal partner, and he and Hood are the only songwriters — another beneficial change.

The album’s opening guitar chords recall an old Replacements riff and would’ve fit nicely on the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street. It’s a strong kickoff to the rawest-rocking Truckers album since their early days. But it’s the storytelling that gives the band a special dimension. The colorful twists of Till He’s Dead Or Rises and Primer Coat, the desperation of Hanging On and the poignant Grand Canyon show that this veteran band can still equal the high points of its past.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press


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