NEW YORK (Billboard) - When he premiered new single "Yerbatero" during the World Cup opening ceremonies, Juanes returned to his rock 'n' roll roots -- the guitar-driven track's twangy lines are as clearly identifiable as their performer is. Co-produced with Steven Lipson (Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney), "Yerbatero" is an aggressive departure from the more romance-laden fare of Juanes' last album, but it has tremendous pop appeal and a contagious, dance-ready beat. Here, Juanes is unapologetically Juanes. The song is eminently Latin in its rhythm and lyrics, as Juanes sings colloquially about the prowess of the local "yerbatero," or medicine man. Instrumentally, the artist returns to an earthier, albeit unabashedly catchy sound coupled with surprising elements: a subtle flute on the bridge and a Middle Eastern-inspired hook. The chorus shouts may be a little too enthusiastic, but "Yerbatero" is a startling track that stands out from the overproduced, overprogrammed fare that saturates radio today.
SINGLE: THIS AIN'T NO LOVE SONG (Show Dog/Universal Music)
Trace Adkins' strong first single on the Show Dog label signals a new chapter in his career and serves as the initial taste of his new album, due in August. Penned by Tony Lane, Marcel and David Lee, "This Ain't No Love Song" describes a man coping with a relationship's demise. Adkins uses his gift for interpreting a great lyric to infuse this breakup tune with the right mix of denial, ache, resignation and kiss-my-butt attitude that will surely resonate with listeners. One of the industry's most underrated vocalists, Adkins has always scored well on country radio but has yet to rack up major industry awards. Here's hoping this new deal and a fresh start yield even greater success for this talented artist.
SINGLE: IMPOSSIBLE (SRP/SRC/Universal Motown)
Barbadian singer Shontelle shines on "Impossible," giving one of the year's standout female vocal performances and recalling the poignancy and technical precision of Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." Shontelle already earned a top 40 entry in 2008 with "T-Shirt," but this arresting midtempo ballad is now the bigger hit of the two. The 24-year-old's vulnerable delivery demands attention when she sings, "Tell them all I know now, shout it from the rooftops/Write it on the skyline/All we had is gone now," releasing the pain of a broken heart. A gentle piano melody, acoustic guitar line, simple drumbeat and light synth production support a stunning melody co-written by Swedish producer Arnthor Birgisson (Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson) and Norwegian singer-songwriter Ina Wroldsen, who also supplies backing vocals.
SINGLE: BEAUTIFUL MONSTER (Island Def Jam/IDJMG)
Ne-Yo comes to terms with the masochism in his relationship on his latest track, "Beautiful Monster." "You're a knife, sharp and deadly, and it's me that you cut into," he belts atop an intergalactic Stargate production. Unfortunately for the song's protagonist, the woman he loves is also the woman who torments him: "She's a monster, beautiful monster/Playing with my heart, and she's playing with my mind, but I don't mind." "Beautiful Monster" may not boast the profound lyricism of Ne-Yo's past hits ("Do You," "Because of You") or fully showcase his storytelling ability, but the beat's thumping bass line and the singer-songwriter's smooth voice make for a perfect combination on this summer hit in the making.
SINGLE: DON'T WASTE THE PRETTY (19/Jive Records)
With her "American Idol"-rebel persona and brazen, Pink-influenced vocals, Allison Iraheta has shown the makings of a star since placing fourth in the show's 2009 season. The 18-year-old's first two singles were too deliberate and too dark, respectively, to reach a broad audience, but "Don't Waste the Pretty" corrects all that. The breezy midtempo track boasts a country lilt and an anthemic girl-power chorus worthy of mass appeal. The album version of the song underplayed its rock side, but this version kicks up the energy with grinding riffs courtesy of singer/guitarist Orianthi. "Don't Waste the Pretty" deserves to become for Iraheta what "Whataya Want From Me" was for Adam Lambert -- a breakthrough record for an "Idol" alum with outsize talent.
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