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Nas finally lives up to his hip-hop billing

Nas

“God’s Son” (Columbia)

*** 1/2

Long revered as one of hip-hop’s brightest stars, this Queens rapper has rarely lived up to the hype. His albums have been inconsistent affairs that highlight his striking storytelling abilities and his use of metaphors as narrative tools, but that also showcase his inability to distinguish his essential work from his lesser music.

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But Nas gets everything right on his stunning sixth studio album, which was scheduled to be released Friday. On the funky “Get Down,” the Public Enemy-like “Zone Out” and the muscular single “Made You Look,” he raps with the type of flair present on nearly all of the major hip-hop recordings of the middle and late 1980s

Unlike most rappers who claim to “keep it real,” Nas takes an impressively personal take on “Warrior” and “Dance,” which feature him rhyming extensively about the death of his mother earlier this year. The uplifting “I Can” is equally impressive, as Nas encourages children to believe in themselves and gives a history lesson designed to instill hope in the hopeless.

Nas emerges here as a legitimate rap voice without the aid of a slew of A-list guests or overtly commercial cuts. For anyone doubting rap’s relevance, “God’s Son” is a reason to get excited about hip-hop again.

-- Soren Baker

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Carrabba speaks to alien nation

Dashboard Confessional

“MTV Unplugged 2.0" (Vagrant)

***

There’s delicious irony when an alienated, isolated voice in the wilderness is surrounded by adoring fans who all feel the same way. That’s the essence of a lot of pop music, and rarely is it so acute as at a Dashboard Confessional concert. There, clean-cut kids don’t just take in Chris Carrabba’s edge-of-anguish accounts of the tough search for love and truth in a young life. They sing along. Every word. On every song. Loudly.

This “Unplugged” combo audio CD and video DVD (in stores Tuesday) fully captures this scene, a summer camp hootenanny where “Kumbaya” is supplanted by “Screaming Infidelities” chronicles of the searing pain of being lied to by a girlfriend and other treacheries. The sharing-session setting expands Dashboard’s emotional range by giving it a meaningful context -- it’s the vantage of youth, where everything that happens to you is very important, and much of it reeks.

That he does it with folkie earnestness rather than nu-metal rage or Blink-182 slapstick is a plus. And on much of the session Carrabba is joined by his stellar band, giving the songs new life. It’s that kind of progress that could add many more voices to the fan chorus.

-- Steve Hochman

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Catchy hooks and a few jabs

The Snitches

“Star Witness” (Oh!Tonito)

***

The Reunion Show

“Kill Your Television” (Victory)

** 1/2

Give the Reunion Show credit -- the Long Island foursome has seen the garages emptying and suspects the bandwagon is getting full. “It’s all been done before,” proclaims the call-out on “New Rock Revolution,” a rollicking number that wouldn’t be out of place on any revivalist’s playlist. “We are rebels with no yell / We are idols in the prime of nothingness / Let’s do it for the right reasons ... / Let’s do it for a cause.”

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OK, let’s. Let’s ride that cranky old Moog that careens across your title tirade to somewhere special. Or recall those jagged guitars that pinprick the princess in “Star Training.” Alas, too infrequently on the band’s gutty debut does its bombast advance beyond wallowing in self-loathing.

While the Reunion Show might have aimed for Weezer’s “Pinkerton,” the Snitches show what might happen if the Buzzcocks stole Weezer’s gear. The veteran Montreal collective’s third album brims with lean riffs, bouncy synths and tongue-in-cheek snappiness that is indebted to bands ranging from the Cars to the Clash.

While displaying formidable range in tempo, the Snitches peak on the relentlessly catchy “Right Before My Eyes.” They reference the revolution too, but seemingly only to mock -- in a rib-poking, French Canadian way -- anybody who takes it too seriously.

-- Kevin Bronson

Quick spins

Alanis Morissette

“Feast on Scraps” (Maverick)

***

Morissette matters most when resisting the demons of society and herself, as she does erupting on the frantic “Sister Blister” or the big, windy “Fear of Bliss.” Quieter songs tend to lose that fire, but “Simple Together” is delicate and true, transforming this two-disc collection into more than curious leftovers from “Under Rug Swept.” Add a DVD disc and you have odds and sods for true believers and the rest of us.

-- Steve Appleford

Stellastarr

“Somewhere Across Forever” (Tiswas)

***

Galloping through NYC boroughs eager to breathe free of garage and electroclash, Stella- starr has harnessed a great new-wave hybrid, part Echo & the Bunnymen drama, part Pixies post-punk howl, headed with a muscular certainty toward chiming guitar pop. This three-song teaser to a 2003 full-length album serves as a West Coast debut and loses no time building perfectly to singer Shawn Christiansen’s plaintive evocation of all the burning sons of Robert Smith, crying, “Hey teachers, hey preachers, cheerleaders, I’m gonna school ya.” Stellastarr plays today at the Derby and Monday at Spaceland.

-- Dean Kuipers

Swizz Beatz

“Swizz Beatz Presents G.H.E.T.T.O. STORIES” (DreamWorks)

***

After helping make DMX and Eve household names in the late 1990s, this keyboard-dependent rap producer became one of the genre’s most in-demand beat-makers. An adequate rapper at best, Swizz delivers a few verses on his strong debut album. He remains behind the mixing boards on most of the collection’s 17 cuts, allowing such able friends as LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Eve and the nearly forgotten Shyne to deliver clever rhymes about life, love and the streets that work well with his thunderous backdrops.

-- Soren Baker

Enanitos Verdes

“Amores Lejanos” (Universal Music Latino)

***

The veteran Argentine trio engineers a triumphant comeback, following 1999’s disastrous “Nectar” with a strong, poetic album informed by the kind of instrumental fluidity and unabashed nostalgia that three years of nonstop touring can bring to a band. Enanitos’ strength has always been its ability to add delicate, nocturnal shadings to its harmless pub-rock confections. A highlight: the infectious Edith Piaf tribute “Frances Limon.”

-- Ernesto Lechner

Various artists

“Right to Chews: Bubblegum Classic Revisited” (Not Lame)

** 1/2

Parents: Not only is this batch of sunny pop worth sharing with your kids, but apparently you ought to perform with them too. That’s Kayla, the 4-year-old daughter of the disc’s executive producer, Orange County’s John Borack, singing on Receiver’s version of the 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s “Goody Goody Gumdrops.” That wink aside, the collection succeeds because many of the 25 artists indeed “revisit,” not merely cover, the 3-decade-old material. The yummiest: Cliff Hillis’ take on Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Get Down” as performed by Marykate O’Neil (with help from Jill Sobule) and “Saturday Night” as revved up by Japan’s the Oranges.

-- K.B.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.


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