JAY-Z/LINKIN PARK: "MTV Ultimate Mash-Ups Presents Collision Course" (Warner Bros.) ***
The "mash-up" concept - splicing together two songs to create a new one - goes overground in this MTV-sanctioned meeting of the hip-hop and pop-metal worlds.Unlike cut-and-paste creations by underground DJs, "Collision Course" came together with Jay-Z and Linkin Park collaborating in the studio, pairing off their hits to spawn a rap-rock fusion.
It's surprising how well the "Collision" collusion works. Jigga's "Big Pimpin' " melds with "Papercut," and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" segues seamlessly into "Lying From You."
Jay-Z comes out on top, largely because his dexterous rhyming is far more impressive than the Chicago rockers' unexceptional riffing.
But this is one savvy double crossover that makes musical as well as marketing sense.
\ LINDSAY LOHAN: "Speak" (Casablanca) ** 1/2
Lohan is the latest ingenue actress to make the leap into a recording career.
She lands with impressive force. From start (the Lenny Kravitz-style guitar blast of "First") to finish (the club thumper "Rumors"), this is a punchy, juiced-up debut.
No surprise there. She's working with a slew of hot pop songwriters, including John Shanks, Kara DioGuardi, Andreas Carlsson and Kristian Lundin.
Lohan doesn't have a pretty voice, but it's sassy and piercing like Pat Benatar's.
\ LUDACRIS: "The Red Light District" (Def Jam South) *** 1/2
Whether rakishly chatting on others' smashes or elastically yakking on his own, Ludacris hasn't met a chorus he doesn't like.
So, it's surprising that this disc is less immediately lewd and contagious than its predecessors. But with few skits and more wit poured into his rubbery verbal attack, Ludacris has made his most clever CD yet.
It's not dedicated simply to sexed-up braggadocio, but to soft, warm autobiography ("Two Miles an Hour"), even when the music is cold and hard (the Timbaland-produced "The Potion").
All this smart-bomb blabbing doesn't stop him from staying anthemic.
The hooks on "Get Back" are stickier than licked candy canes, but he spits it best through brassy Austin Powers samples on "Number One Spot": "My music sticks in peoples' veins like an IV."
\ TONY BENNETT "The Complete Improv Recordings" (Concord) *** 1/2
Tony's Bennett's personal label, Improv Records, lasted only two years in the mid-1970s. But the five albums he made after growing disenchanted with Columbia account for some of the best work of his long career.
The songs are classic, and the backings fit him like a tailored suit as he goes from sumptuous orchestras to quartet sessions with cornetist Ruby Braff to duets with pianist Bill Evans.
Bennett is both impeccable and approachable as he goes through the Rodgers and Hart songbook, often framed by George Barnes' guitar.
The fourth and final CD catches him in a relaxed live jam session with Marian and Jimmy McPartland that's memorable for the mood and the players, including guitarist Charlie Byrd.
But the affinity Bennett shows for Evans is a special case.
Evans, who had pushed back jazz boundaries 15 years earlier with Miles Davis, was a challenge for any singer.
A lesser vocalist could not have stood in, but Bennett has a humanizing effect on Evans, and their collaboration is a dear one.
\ Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent)