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This week's reviews: T.I., VR and a couple of Kellys

In this week's review stack, we look at T.I.'s adventurous new venture, take a shot at Velvet Revolver, roll with Kelly Rowland and catch up to Kelly Clarkson, as well as experiencing Lifehouse, checking out the Bad Brains reunion and giving long overdue praise to Angelique Kidjo. Here are the capsules distilled for your short-attention-span reading pleasure:

> T.I. deserves "credit for trying something different," as he "goes toe-to-toe with a streetwise alter ego, T.I.P.," Steve Jones reports.

> Velvet Revolver's second album is not only somewhat surprising in that it got made at all, but is a "thoroughly vital enterprise," according to Edna Gundersen.

> Kelly Rowland's "flashes of feistiness" are what distinguishes her second album for Steve.

> Kelly Clarkson's third album is "joyless, nearly hopeless and, worst of all, virtually tuneless," says Ken Barnes (aka me), not mincing many words.

> Lifehouse can be "ponderous" and "obvious" in its imagery, but "it could have been a lot less pleasant," Brian Mansfield says in glass-half-full mode.

> The Bad Brains' original lineup "reconnects to revive its tough and spirited mix of reggae and hardcore punk," Edna says, as I practically give away the whole review.

> Angelique Kidjo "spans musical cultures with her mesmerizing vocals," a riveted Steve says.

Full reviews and a few clips follow.

> This week's spotlight album:

T.I., T.I. vs. T.I.P.: * * * out of four  T.I.P. for the top

Give T.I. credit for trying something different and not simply riding the wave of his 2006 blockbuster, King. The charismatic rapper goes toe-to-toe with a streetwise alter ego, T.I.P., that he struggles to keep in check. The conflict is presented in three acts, with the grimy T.I.P. asserting himself in the first. T.I. actually proves to be the soft center in this package with his typical status boast. But the third segment is an intriguing verbal free-for-all. Jay-Z, Wyclef Jean, Eminem and Busta Rhymes put in cameos and help egg on the conflict, but this is really an internal struggle. This may not be as hit-driven as King, but T.I.’s faceoff with the man in the mirror broadens his creative horizons. — Steve Jones

>>Download: Big ---- Poppin’ (Do It), Watch What You Say to Me, Touchdown, Respect This Hustle >>Skip: We Do This, Show It to Me

> Other notable albums:

Velvet Revolver, Libertad: * * * SURPRISINGLY SUCCESSFUL SECOND SET

Velvet Revolver’s Russian-roulette lineup of self-destructive rock vets had many wondering whether a sophomore album would materialize, much less match the fireworks of 2004 debut Contraband. Libertad defies the odds with riff rockets galore, fat choruses, Slash’s snarling guitar workouts and enough bruising hard-rock euphoria to excuse the ill-conceived Electric Light Orchestra cover, the only hint of suicidal instincts in an otherwise thoroughly vital enterprise. — Edna Gundersen

>>Download: Let It Roll, Just Sixteen, She Builds Quick Machines >>Consider: Spay >>Skip: Gravedancer, ELO’s Can’t Get It Out of My Head

Kelly Rowland, Ms. Kelly: * * 1/2 Spunky funk, bland ballads

Rowland’s spunk was always evident in Destiny’s Child, even in the presence of supernova Beyoncé. It serves her well on her second solo effort, which comes five years after her debut, Simply Deep. Aggressive and sassy up-tempo numbers confirm that she’s surely ready for her close-up. Her slow jams, while pretty enough, tend to be somewhat bland. But it’s with her flashes of feistiness that Ms. Kelly carves out her own niche. — Steve Jones

>>Download: Like This, Comeback, Work >>Skip: Still in Love With My Ex, Better Without You

Kelly Clarkson, My December: * 1/2 A painful exercise in exorcising pain

Everybody hurts sometimes, as the R.E.M. song says. Some people write about it in diaries, others talk it out with shrinks. Kelly Clarkson, the most engaging and talented American Idol yet, poured her pain into her third album, and the pain will be shared by anyone unfortunate enough to hear the dreary result. Wallowing in misery and spite, rife with clumsy Evanescence and Alanis Morissette knockoffs, it’s joyless, nearly hopeless and, worst of all, virtually tuneless. Her previous album, Breakaway, broke the mold of Idol shlock, setting a high standard of heartbreaks with hooks and selling 5.8 million copies to date. Minus the hooks and with a foot far too heavy on the heartbreaks, My December will stall considerably short of that mark. Hope for happier times next album. — Ken Barnes

>>Download: the not-entirely-depressing Be Still >>Skip: pretty much everything else

Lifehouse, Who We Are: * * Seriously soul-searching rock

When serious-minded bands set out to define themselves, it often spells trouble, especially when the act can be as ponderous as this trio of twentysomethings. But Jude Cole, who co-produced this disc and co-wrote most of its songs, brings a light touch to Who We Are, giving singer Jason Wade a reason to ratchet back his wail to a near-whisper and even a Brit-pop falsetto in spots. With the freak-show art on the CD sleeve and the themes of spiritual transformation in several songs, Lifehouse couldn’t have made the imagery of inner turmoil more obvious, but it could have been a lot less pleasant. — Brian Mansfield

>>Download: First Time, Easier To Be >>Skip: The Joke

Bad Brains, Build a Nation: * * * Reformation rock from D.C. pioneers

Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys produces this welcome reunion by the influential black punk-Rasta quartet from Washington, D.C. After a long spell of inconsistent albums and personnel shifts, the original ’80s lineup reconnects to revive its tough and spirited mix of reggae and hardcore punk. The album seesaws, almost too crisply, between percolating dubs and aggro-thrash with inflections of funk and metal. — Gundersen

>>Download: Natty Dreadlocks ‘Pon the Mountain Top, Universal Peace, Pure Love >>Consider: Roll On >>Skip: Peace Be Unto Thee

Angelique Kidjo, Djin Djin: * * * 1/2: Riveting Afro-pop and beyond

The Benin-born singer delivers a thoroughly engaging collection of songs that tap into both her African roots and a wide range of popular styles. With the help of such guests as Josh Groban, Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Peter Gabriel, Ziggy Marley and Joss Stone, she spans musical cultures with her mesmerizing vocals. The title translates to “seize the day,” and Kidjo seizes your attention and then keeps you riveted. — Jones

>>Download: Djin Djin, Gimme Shelter, Pearls, Mama Golo Papa, Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) >>Skip: nothing

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