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NE-YO & r & & r & Year of the Gentleman & r & & r & 3-1/2 STARS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & e-Yo and Usher have this R & amp;B thing figured out: Chiseled, hard bodies? Check. Lyrics dedicated to adulation of the opposite sex? Check. Lyrics dedicated to sex? Check.

It's a formula that works, one that will no doubt yield (you guessed it) big checks for Ne-Yo. Year of the Gentleman, Ne-Yo's third studio joint in as many years, is an ode to the Rat Pack of the 1960s, when style and taste reigned supreme. Gentleman exhibits that worldly maturity, and Ne-Yo navigates the tired waters of women dexterously.

"Mad" has heart, the jam you bump when you're frustrated with your chick. It even offers sage advice: Don't go to bed mad. "Miss Independent" is the album's engine, and Ne-Yo's crisp voice pushes the bouncing jam along, driving it straight into the mainstream.

The record has the right parts. It's catchy and heartfelt and pop-oriented all at the same time. It's a formula that works.

-- Tim Bross

DOWNLOAD: "Miss Independent"




& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & elly would like you to think he's pretty tough. He's got Band-Aids on his pretty face, and albums titled Brass Knuckles, and shirtless machismo oozing on that record's cover.

But Nelly ain't tough. He's a tourist to the rap game, and everyone knows it.

In his fifth studio album, Nelly does not borrow the talents of rap's heavy hitters because he can't. No Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Nas, Jay-Z or related royalty. Instead, Brass features the contributions of Whitney Houston, Fergie and Ciara. And while Snoop (in "L.A.") and Pharrell ("Let It Go") stop by, the result is lackluster at best: Nelly's Southern drawl does not coalesce with either artist, and both tracks fail.

Nelly is best when he embraces his role as a pop-rapper, best when he raps alongside Tim McGraw or duets with Kelly Rowlands. He's best when he jams about footwear in "Stepped on my J'z" or 2002's Air Force Ones.

He's best when he doesn't try to be so tough.

-- Tim Bross

DOWNLOAD: "Party People" (feat. Fergie)
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