Kenny Chesney, "Life on a Rock' (Blue Chair/Columbia), three stars
Kenny Chesney exists on such a large scale, as both an album and concert-ticket seller, that it's disarming when he decides to gets small — as he's increasingly done on record since 2005's "Be As You Are (Songs From an Old Blue Chair).' But Chesney, who's racked up a streak of 11 No. 1 country albums since 2002, is as genuinely adept at gentle balladry as he is at stadium-shaking anthems, and "Life On a Rock' is a convincing collection of reflective moments that runs deep but also finds a pleasant, settled stillness amid the memories and sentimentality he expresses in these 10 songs. "Pirate Flag' starts things off with some spirited, cheerful defiance and there are other lively moments in the jazzy "Must Be Something I Missed' and the loping "Coconut Tree' with Willie Nelson.
Iggy & the Stooges, "Ready To Die' (Fat Possum), three stars
Though the late Ron Asheton is missing — and missed — this "follow-up' to 1973's "Raw Power,' with James Williamson back on guitar and serving as Iggy Pop's songwriting partner, shows the group is far from ready to pack it in. There's plenty of Cro-Magnon rocker on tracks such as "Burn,' "Dirty Deal' and "Job' and the social commentary "Gun,' while "Sex and Money' and "DD's' tap into the group's soul influences and let saxman Steve Mackay honk away to good effect. And the quiet moments — especially the album-closing tribute to Asheton, "The Departed' — are effective as well, with Pop voicing the soul of a genuine warrior who's wisened but defiantly unbowed.
New & Noteworthy:
!!!, "Thr!!!er' (Warp): The California dance-punk troupe (pronounced "Chk-Chk-Chk') doesn't re-create Michael Jackson's landmark album here, but it turns out its own set of thrills with Jim Eno of Spoon producing.
The Airborne Toxic Event, "Such Hot Blood' (Island): The Los Angeles indie rockers up the ante and the sonics on their third album, recorded in Nashville with well-decorated producer Jacquire King.
Big Country, "Journey' (Megaforce): The anthemic British group's first album in 14 years finds The Alarm's Mike Peters out front in place of the late Stuart Adamson.
Deep Purple, "Now What?!' (Eagle Rock): The rock veterans recorded their 19th album — and first studio set in nine years — in Nashville with equally seasoned producer Bob Ezrin.
Guided By Voices, "English Little League' (GBV Inc.): The Dayton group keeps it tight; album No. 20 charges through 17 songs in 46 minutes.
Heaven Shall Burn, "Veto' (Century Media): The German quintet took three years to deliver this follow-up to "Invictus (Iconoclast III)' — which presumably let its fans' necks rest up for another round of extreme headbanging.
HIM "Tears on Tape' (Razor & Tie): The Finnish hard rock troupe snakes four instrumental pieces through its eighth full-length album.
Tom Keifer, "The Way Life Goes' (Merovee): The Cinderella frontman's first solo album, although the band is still a going concern.
LL Cool J, "Authentic' (429/Savoy): The old-school rapper is ready to knock us out again with help from Eddie Van Halen, Brad Paisley, Snoop Dogg, Bootsy Collins, Public Enemy's Chuck D, Earth Wind & Fire and others.
Louana, "Behind a Mas' (Red Decade): The award-winning Russian hard rock group makes its move on the U.S. market with English versions of 10 songs from the band's first two albums.
The McCrary Sisters, "All The Way' (McC): The second album by the Nashville sibling quartet, which wrote 10 of the 12 songs here.
Shannon McNally, "Small Town Talk' (Sacred Sumac): Dr. John helps McNally out on this tribute to the great songwriter Bobby Charles.
The Melvins, "Everybody Loves Sausages' (Ipecac): The Seattle heavy rock group celebrates its 30th anniversary with this set of covers of songs by Queen, Roxy Music, Venom and others, with Mudhoney's Mark Arm and Jello Biafra helping out.
Carla Olson, "Have Harmony Will Travel' (Busted Flat): The former Textones leader covers songs by Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, Gene Clark and others with help from friends such as Richie Furay, Peter Case and many others.
Os Mutantes, "Full Metal Jack' (Krian Music Group): The artful Brazilian group leaps through its usual variety of styles and instrumentation on its first new album in four years.
Red Line Chemistry, "Tug Of War' (Bulldog): The Kansas City hard rockers enlisted Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice In Chains) to produce their fifth album.
Gina Sicilia, "It Wasn't Real' (VizzTone): The Philadelphia singer-songwriter populates her latest album with nine originals and a cover of Etta James' "Don't Cry Baby.'
Various Artists, "Heroes Fall' (Marvel Music/Hollywood): The arrival of "Iron Man 3' inspired this collection of new material from Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit, Neon Trees and nine others.
Denison Witmer, "Denison Witmer' (Asthmatic Kitty): The birth of his son and the loss of his father inspired the Lancaster, Pa., singer-songwriter's latest albums.
Wolf People, "Faint' (Jajjaguwar): The British group continues to fuse traditional folk melodies with fuzzy sonics on its third album.
From The Archives: Head East, "Raise a Little Hell' (CME); Midnight Oil, "Essential Oils' (Columbia/Legacy); Jerry Lee Lewis, "The Essential ... The Sun Sessions' (Legacy); Mott the Hoople, "The Essential ...' (Columbia/Legacy); Harry Nilsson, "The Essential ...' (RCA/Legacy); Johnny Winter, "The Essential ...'
Soundtracks: Brian Tyler, "Iron Man 3' (Marvel Music/Hollywood)
Gary Graff's work can also be found at www.goanddomichigan.com, www.twitter.com/GraffonMusic and in the Facebook group Gary Graff on Music, while his Classic Rock Insider reports appear at www.wcsx.com. Gary's latest book, "Rock & Roll Myths: The True Stories Behind the Most Infamous Legends' (Voyageur Press) is available now.