Slangin’ yayo–it all remains the same…

Another at ArtistDirect.

Cleveland’s most thuggish-ruggish are back–minus a member or two but with plenty of guestsówith what shakes out as a solid effort from a group that many have written off multiple times since their 1995 Grammy-winning smash E 1999 Eternal. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s latest, Strength and Loyalty, sees the brothers at three: Krayzie, Layzie and Wish, without the services of Bizzy (who left the group to pursue solo efforts and battle substance abuse) and Flesh-n-Bone, who went down after breaking his parole in 2000.

Whether or not loyal fans cotton to the chart-climbing lead single, “I Tried” with Akon, or the popular-talent-stacked “Lil L.O.V.E.” produced by Jermaine Dupri and featuring Mariah Carey and Bow Wow, Bone’s soul shines through, strong as ever, in the rest of the album. “Wind Blows” continues in the group’s tradition of choice sampling and collaboration (remember “Home” with Phil Collins on Thug World Order?), plucking liberally from Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” from the intro guitar riff to the thumping chorus and breakdown bassline. Twista guests on “C Town,” a pan-Midwestern paean titled after the group’s native Cleveland. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams stretches out on “Order My Steps” and the brothers wax spiritual, while The Game and lead the gun-clapping rhetoric on “Streets.”

Along with the next two, “9mm” and “Gun Blast,” the meaty middle of the album is the closest the group comes to the dusty hustling that’s classic Bone. From there on, it’s gravy. Swizz Beatz, co-executive producer and Full Circle labelhead, produces the car jam with an acid racing stripe, “Candy Paint,” while “So Good So Right” makes way for a family reunion on a sunny Saturday vibe. The stronger of the two Akon tracks, “Never Forget Me,” closes with its straining chorus. Though it’s far from perfect, Strength and Loyalty leaves us confident that if, as rumored, Bizzy rejoins the group when Flesh is paroled in 2008, the gaps the two would fill could produce a very special album.

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