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Kanye West

— "Graduation"

Roc-A-Fella

Kanye West can, and does, get away with pushing personal lyrics into mainstream rap because of his production.

The guy has a killer taste in music and a diverse palette for what will work in his songs. It's how he's able to show weakness, cocksureness and hopeful defiance on alternating tracks, and pretty much guarantee radio play for all three.

On "Graduation," as he did with samples from Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding on "Late Registration," West mines his own record collection to reinvent songs that can stand on their own. Here, that includes Daft Punk (on the house-tastic "Stronger") and more subtle elements from Michael Jackson and Public Enemy.

With the unique ability to make a cohesive album and churn out radio hits, West still hasn't quite made a record that's solid all the way through - "Drunk and Hot Girls," especially coming from West and Mos Def, just doesn't feel sincere.

But he sure is getting closer.

Rating: ''''

Ann Wilson

"Hope & Glory"

Zoe Records

It's unfortunate that Ann Wilson chose to start her first solo record with a soft rock cover of "Goodbye Blue Sky." One of Pink Floyd's best songs, Wilson's uninspired take is about the worst way to introduce yourself, a classic rock staple, to the classic rock fans who likely are buying your stuff.

Wilson - responsible for making one of the great albums of her heyday, Heart's debut "Dreamboat Annie" - props herself up on guest performances and misguided tributes with her first stand-alone, muddling through tracks with Elton John, Rufus Wainwright and Alison Krauss.

Just as nothing else Heart did could overcome the tenacity and hits on "Dreamboat," nothing Wilson does on "Hope & Glory" can cover up a lack of original ideas - even for someone else's songs.

Rating: ''

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