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New Kids on the Block – “The Block”

(Interscope) ***

The reunited pop group performs at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday, Oct. 30. 8 p.m. $35-$75. www.ticket master.com.

When VH1's “Bands Reunited” attempted an NKTOB reunion in 2004, Donnie Wahlberg wouldn't even appear on camera. This time around, the 39-year-old Wahlberg co-executive-produced “The Block” and helped write nine of 13 tracks.

Despite a weak and cheesy opener (“Click Click Click”), he and his cohorts do a reasonable job updating their sound and adding adult themes to their lyrics, while employing hip guests like Akon, Lady Gaga, and Ne-Yo. These contributors – along with squeaky-bedspring synthesizers (think Usher's “Yeah”), programmed beats, slick, “Auto-Tuned” vocals, and lightning-tongued raps – give the disc a current R&B spin.

Maybe Wahlberg – who co-produced '90s hits for brother Mark (aka Marky Mark) – should've been allowed to pilot this ship years ago.

Chris Knight –

“Heart of Stone”

(Drifter's Church Productions) ***1/2

The Kentucky native plays at 8 p.m. Saturday at Evening Muse ($12-$14). 704-376-3737.

Country-roots songwriter Chris Knight's rural upbringing in the coal mining town of Slaughters, Ky., undoubtedly influenced his seventh disc.

His gritty tracks are populated by broken characters who are trying to keep a family together after losing a son in the coal mines; breaking up after a miscarriage; running away from an old love; or selling the family land – real tough stuff.

Knight sings like a rougher John Mellencamp. In fact, it's easy to imagine Mellencamp sounding like Knight had he gone country instead of making it in pop and rock. Knight also writes and plays twangy rock guitar like a younger, less confrontational Steve Earle.

Like Earle, he can also churn out rocking declarations or straight-shooting love songs, but he's at his best when spinning hard-times tales.

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