Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Strength & Loyalty (Interscope). How can a veteran group past its prime get back on top? By befriending Akon, who dominates the mewling yet undeniably catchy "I Tried." Been-there, done-that cuts such as the cheesy, Fleetwood Mac-sampling "Wind Blow" have little follow-up single potential. But "Never Forget Me" could hit, since it features (surprise) Akon. Whose ass the Thugs had better keep smooching. -- Roberts
Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage (Heads Up). Saxophonist Michael Brecker's final album secures his legacy as a great modern-era jazzman. Featuring Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnette and John Patitucci, Brecker, who died in January, punctuates his oft-overlooked career with Coltrane-like free-jazz abandon, scintillating bop and smooth modern arrangements, all filled with his typically creative twists. -- Glenn BurnSilver
Funeral for a Friend, Tales Don't Tell Themselves (Atlantic). Tales is a song cycle about a shipwrecked fisherman, and on strong tracks such as the ornate and effective "All Hands on Deck, Part 1: Raise the Sail," the concept stays afloat. Still, the music would pick up a lot more steam if it steered clear of the standard emo sound rather than riding the usual waves. -- Roberts
Hail Social, Modern Love & Death (Self-released). Dayve Hawk's melancholy dance music won't be unfamiliar to fans of the Human League or its disco-minded brethren, Heaven 17. Philadelphia's Hail Social is more than a mere copycat act, however. Comedown synth-pop grooves and captivating melodies encounter occasional face-melting guitar and an endearing indie-rock uncertainty that give Hail Social a compelling individuality. -- Eryc Eyl
Panthers, The Trick (Vice Records). While cleaning the grease vats at QOTSAburger, Brooklyn's Panthers uncover a sharper, slimier take on the bong-hit boogie they debuted in 2004. Filled with pelvis-loosening beats, knee-weakening guitars and witty lyrics like "I was obsessed with concupiscence, and now I'm just looking for a piece that's decent," The Trick is best enjoyed with Thorazine and a thesaurus. -- Eyl
Arturo Sandoval, Rumba Palace (Telarc). Cuba's fiery heat and passion -- fueled by the blazing Caribbean sun but tempered by gentle sea breezes -- inhabits this music, which pulses with provocative percussion and breathy horns yet finds restraint in well-construed syncopated rhythms. Travel to Cuba may be restricted for Americans, but with Rumba Palace, Arturo Sandoval brings Cuba to us. -- BurnSilver
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