New: Kristine W., Belmares, Bettis and more

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imageProfessional fraternity man by day and roving entertainment reporter by night, Buck Cooke moved to Atlanta in 2000. Armed with a passion for pop culture and rabid appetite for music, Buck scours the entertainment landscape for treasures in music, TV and cinema.

Sometimes, there is so much going on in gay Atlanta that the powers-that-be here at PQA get a little behind. Fear not, gentle reader, for we’re going to power through a few weeks of album releases to catch you up.

imageARTIST: Jason Antone
TITLE: “Start to Move”

This steel-blue-eyed hunk isn’t just a pretty face; Antone has good vocals and wrote 11 of the album’s 13 tracks. The tracks are mostly dance fare, which is fine, but Antone should ease up on the vocoder just a bit in the future. Highlights of the album are uplifting dance anthem “Start to Move,” “Like Me” (a great afterhours track, perfect for some heavy petting after a night at the club), and the superb cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” In a female-dominated industry, it’s great to hear a male voice belting out some dance hits.

ARTIST: DJ Roland Belmares
TITLE: “Party Groove: One Mighty Weekend – Volume 3”

Party promoter Johnny Chisolm partners with Centaur Records again this year to bring some of the biggest sounds from his Gay Days events into your living room, car or MP3 player. Belmares works his usual magic as he mixes hits from some of the biggest producers in dance music into a continuous mix of big vocals, dark beats, and everything in between. Included are “Twisted” by Peter Rauhofer, “Real Love” by Deborah Cooper, “Rise Up” by the Funky Green Dogs, “Hook Up” by Offer Nissim and Maya and the explosive album closer, “You Make Me Feel Good” by Pat Hodges.

imageARTIST: DJ Randy Bettis
TITLE: “Party Groove: Gay Days – Volume 6”

Centaur Records delivers another dance compilation designed to bring home the happy and well, gay feeling of Gay Days. Bettis assembled a solid collection of covers and originals mixed for the dance floor. Loveless features Amanda Wilson on the Freemasons-esque “Found a Miracle,” Distant Soundz and Rozalla collaborate on the groove-tastic “Love Fool” and Brian Kent offers up his latest, “Drive.”

There is a decent cover of David Archuletta’s “Crush,” but the album really hits the money shots with fantastic dance covers of Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real,” Robin S.’s “Show Me Love,” and Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood.” Matt Zarley’s cover of Steve Windwood’s “While You See a Chance” and Ari Gold’s cover of Human League’s “Human” are also included and those two tracks are ideal for the summer.

imageARTIST: Black-eyed Peas
TITLE: “The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)”

The Peas have been everywhere in the months leading up to their third major-label release. Thank goodness that’s over. Or is it? You cannot escape the lead single “Boom Boom Pow” and it looks like “I Gotta Feeling” is set to follow up the charts.

While the Peas might be stepping a little away from hip-pop and straying more into proper pop or even dance, will.i.am’s slick production still keeps the Peas’ sound at the root of the tracks, even if they take some risks and have some misses, like “Ring-a-Ling” and “Electric City.” Hopefully their new infatuation with dance music means we can look forward to more dance remixes of future singles. Target offers a deluxe version of the album with four new songs, six remixes and bonus video content on a second CD.

imageARTIST: Lynda Carter
TITLE: “At Last”

Wonder Woman sings. Now, it’s not anything that’s going to burn up the chart, but if you like jazzy cover songs, this one’s for you. Carter’s apparently been touring and garnering critical praise as a vocalist. Who knew? Included here are standards “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Secret of Life,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” and the title track, among others. (And, no, children, the “Cry Me a River” that’s included is not a cover of the Justin Timberlake song by the same name.)

imageARTIST: Dave Matthews Band
TITLE: “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”

Last year, DMB was rocked by the sudden death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore, but they continued touring and completed the work for this album. Matthews drew the album cover, which includes a portrait of Moore, whose nick-name was the GrooGrux King.

This album is both a tribute to Moore and a return to their roots as a band. While DMB continues to attract packed crowds for concerts, they went through a rough patch when it came to recording albums for the past few years.

The album starts off with a haunting piece Moore recorded before his death and explores some big themes (life, death, loss) on some of the tracks that follow. It’s not all a downer, though. Tracks like “Shake Me Like Monkey” and “Funny the Way It Is” recall the band’s biggest hits from 1994’s “Under the Table and Dreaming.”

imageARTIST: Electrik Red
TITLE: “How to Be a Lady – Volume One”

This debut album is filled with an energetic combination of hip-hop and R&B thanks to powerful vocals from the talented New York-based quartet. The slick production is due to the smooth handiwork of Terius “The-Dream” Nash and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, who both have the Midas touch these days when it comes to crafting hip-hop hits.

Most of the tracks have a club vibe with banging and bouncing beats and aggressive vocals. The songs have a sexual feel to them, which is not surprising since Naomi, Sarah, Lesley and Binki picked their name because they felt it “exuded their collective sexuality,” or so they say in promotional materials.

imageARTIST: Kristine W.
TITLE: “Power of Music”

Better late than never, Kristine W.’s fourth album is finally here and it is fantastic. Her smash hits “Never,” “Walk Away,” “The Boss” and “Love is the Look” are included, along with a kick-ass version of “Feel What You Want” (from her 1996 debut album, “Land of the Living”). Eleven other songs are included, including the heart-felt “Strings,” the rocking “Be Alright” (which is the latest single from the album), and the funky “Do You Really Want Me?” This is Kristine’s most consistent album to date and you can tell crafting it was a labor of love.

ITunes users get two bonus tracks with the purchase of the album: a cover of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and the rocked-out “All In.” Look for remixes of “Be Alright” from Hex Hector, Offer Nissim, the Perry Twins and more to drop this month. (Read the Project Q Atlanta interview with Kristine W.)

imageARTIST: Little Boots
TITLE: “Illuminations” EP

This little five-song EP is a sampling of great things to come from this British dance/pop singer when her U.S. debut album, “Hands,” is released later this year. “New in Town” is the new single and it crackles with energy and bodes well for future releases. “Stuck on Repeat,” a hit in her native UK, is also included, along with “Not Now,” “Magical,” and “Love Kills.” The video for “New in Town” is included as well.

imageARTIST: Mandy Moore
TITLE: “Amanda Leigh”

Moore showcases her artistic growth on this new album. It has a singer/songwriter vibe and should be more successful than 2007’s “Wild Hope,” which fell flat. Moore collaborated with songwriter Mike Viola on seven of the album’s 11 tracks and three others are the result of a Moore/Viola/Inara George (of The Bird and the Bee) collaboration, which makes the album feel more cohesive.

Album opener “Merrimack River” is beautiful thanks to tight harmonies and solid writing, but the reprise of the song in the middle of the album is downright creepy and belongs in a horror movie soundtrack. Moore goes country on “Love to Love Me Back” and it sounds great to hear her pop vocals backed by steel guitars and some serious twang. All in all, “Amanda Leigh” is a solid album and while we miss Moore on the pop music landscape, it’s good to see an artist challenge herself and grow.

ARTIST: The Sounds
TITLE: “Crossing the Rubicon”

After a strong sophomore effort, 2006’s “Dying to Say This to You,” the Swedish group is back with a new album and a high-profile touring gig as opening act on No Doubt’s smash summer tour. They follow their successful formula again on this album, but the material sounds fresh and inspired, as evidenced by the uplifting rock vibe of lead single “No One Sleeps While I’m Awake.” “My Lover” has a slight 80s glam-rock feel, the title track sounds like a cross between Coldplay and Depeche Mode, and “Midnight Sun” has more of an epic feel. All-in-all, this is a good offering and most of the album is enjoyable.

imageARTIST: Vanessa Williams
TITLE: “The Real Thing”

Williams makes a welcome return to music her jazzy, soulful roots on this album. Williams’ time onscreen as the villainous and fierce Wilhelmina Slater on “Ugly Betty” has not diminished her vocal prowess in the slightest. She glides through tunes like “Breathless,” “Just Friends,” and “Hello Like Before” and smolders on the jazzy tracks, like “Loving You” and “Come on Strong.”

Williams didn’t shy away from big-name collaborators for this album, her firstof original material since 1997’s “Next.” (Her second holiday album, “Silver and Gold” from 2004, and 2005’s collection of 70s love songs, “Everlasting Love” were enjoyable, but don’t count.) Stevie Wonder penned the title track, a midtempo jazz number with Latin influences and plenty of horns. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds wrote and produced “Loving You” and “Just Friends” and turns up on background vocals for the latter. Edmonds and Williams sounds so good together that they should team up for an album of duets. How would that be for a follow-up?

imageARTIST: Various artists
TITLE: “Just Dance”

Here’s a great sampling of some of the biggest dance hits released in the last year or so. The album opener might be a little unfamiliar , but Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” is infectious. As the album continues, lots of the big names are included: Rihanna with “Disturbia,” Ne-Yo with the smooth “Mad,” the Killers with “Human,” and Mariah Carey with “Touch My Body.” A proper dance remix of “Mercy” by Duffy is included along with remixes of “Absolutely Positively” by Anastacia, “Just Go” by Lionel Richie, and “Feel Your Love” by Kim Sozzi. This album is perfect for getting ready for a night on the town.

Bonus Track
Brace yourself, here’s a weird one, even for me. Joe Jonas, the middle (and most attractive) member of the Jonas Brothers, apparently lost a bet and performed the dance Beyonce did in the video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” unitard and high heels included, to promote the group’s upcoming “Lines, Vines, and Trying Times” album. Watch it.

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