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New releases from J. Cole, TimLee3, and Mike Watt

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J. Cole
  • J. Cole

J. Cole

4 Your Eyez Only

Dreamville/Universal

File next to: Big Sean, Wiz Kahlifa, Kendrick Lamar

J. Cole has grown significantly as a poet across four albums, but the leap from 2014 Forest Hills Drive to 4 Your Eyez Only propels the North Carolina hip-hop artist to a new level of lyrical royalty. It's a concept album in the form of a letter to a young neighbor, lamenting the passing of her father, who died from a life of oppression and violence. While several artists made strong political statements in 2016, Cole populated tracks like "False Prophets" and "Everybody Dies" with carefully arranged strings, brass and woodwinds, avoiding overblown backup tracks. The result is a work of high drama that recalls Gil Scott-Heron as much as modern hip-hop. With its message of hope and redemption, 4 Your Eyez Only is a stark but honest look at a life of despair. — LW

TimLee3
  • TimLee3

TimLee3

Tin, Man

Cool Dog Sound

File next to: The Blasters, X, Long Ryders

TimLee3 is the band started by former Windbreakers guitarist Tim Lee and his wife, bassist Susan Bauer Lee. Their 2015 album 33 1/3 was another excellent twangified take on power pop, and the trio's fifth album Tin, Man is every bit as good. But simultaneous with its release comes the news that — after a critically (if not commercially) successful 10-year run — the Knoxville, Tennessee-based band is going on indefinite hiatus. The good news is that this final album takes them out on a high note. Its amped-up approach (with little of the Windbreakers' Byrdsy jangle) showcases husband-and-wife vocal arrangements that call to mind John Doe and Exene Cervenka at their best. While TimLee3 will be missed, here's to seeing what these musicians come up with next. — BK

Mike Watt
  • Mike Watt

Mike Watt

"Ring Spiel" Tour '95

Columbia

File next to: Meat Puppets, Mission of Burma, Sugar

Gravelly-voiced bassist Mike Watt first made his name as the bassist in The Minutemen, and after that group's end in the wake of D. Boon's untimely death, with Firehose. Eventually Watt embarked on a solo career; his first solo tour featured an unnamed all-star band backing him as he sang and played his thunderous bass lines. The archival release "Ring Spiel" Tour '95 documents a show from that tour. The band includes Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Pat Smear (The Germs) and William Goldsmith (Sunny Day Real Estate). Despite that heavyweight backing, Ring Spiel is completely Watt's show. The set list — drawing mostly from Ball-Hog or Tugboat? — features Watt's trebly-yet-roaring electric bass at the center of most of the songs. Left-field covers (Madonna, Blue Öyster Cult) only add to the fun. — BK

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