Sade, ‘Soldier of Love’
Sade doesn’t come around very often, so to think she’d completely finagle her first album in a decade around the edgy martial beat of its namesake single was wishful thinking. The song’s that good – twisting the band’s trademark sound into a pulsating survivor tune that’s ominously ablaze with aggressive drums and electric guitar thrashing. It seemed eager to reestablish the calming British-Nigerian songstress as more than a bath-time brand. But nope – she’s still the Smooth Operator, whipping up wind-down rhythms suited for meditation, like on the lulling “Long Hard Road” and the album’s quiet closer. That sophisticated voice of hers still sounds a lot like honeyed tea tastes, taking its sweet ol’ time as it drifts over the sensual “Be That Easy” – and its quasi-country lining (for real!) – and the reggae-feel of “Babyfather,” which could ostensibly be a celebration of fatherhood, or an ode to the other kind of “daddy.” She’s mostly impermeable to new-millennium trends that ruled in her absence (though couldn’t you see M.I.A. doing a bang-up job on the lead single?), quenching antsy ears who’ve waited so long just to have their heartache calmed, their strength restored – or a few new reasons for some sexy time. If music this stellar requires a wait-period of 10 years, then Sade, see ya in another decade. Grade: B+
To compliment its bloated-with-big-names flick, the accompanying soundtrack squeezes in as many genres as the movie does Hollywood elite – indie darlings, neo-soul stars, worldly beats and Taylor Swift. If all of it feels gimmicky, it is. Even Swift, who gets two songs here (because she’s better than everyone else), helps capitalize on her own ueber-success with “Today was a Fairy Tale,” a whimsical pop-country song that sounds like she tossed her latest behemoth of an album in a blender, drank it and then threw it up all over our ears. Among the other universal-pandering inclusions: sex crooner Robin Thicke on Leighton Meester’s dance-y “Somebody to Love,” a crap Amy Winehouse-doing-Sam Cooke cover and a Bollywood-seasoned “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” Maroon 5 parts their sig-pop sound to gracefully record the Fred Astaire standard “The Way You Look Tonight.” The Bird and the Bee contribute an adorable, whistle-happy “I’m into Something Good” in their token folk-pop tone. Even a new Jewel song, as vanilla and sweetly saccharine as it is, strikes a melodic richness in its catchy chorus that the folkie hasn’t in quite some time. Still, the soundtrack is too scattershot, too reliant on quantity over quality. There’s a lot of love, but not much to love. Grade: C
Allison Moorer, ‘Crows’
Country artist, what? Often pigeonholed as such, the contralto crooner almost altogether ditches the traditional twang that gassed her career into gear over a decade ago. Moorer latches onto a far more wandering Americana sound, light-as-a-feather melodies that move with the same intimate elegance of the disc’s artwork. Her sultry voice grips the hell out of the lounge-y “Should I Be Concerned,” sounding weightless as it climbs into a swollen plea. Most of Moorer’s seventh studio album is stocked with heartbreak, memories and loss – like the back-to-back punch of tearjerkers “The Stars and I (Mama’s Song)” and “Easy in the Summertime,” both sparsely executed and lovely. Less is, indeed, Moorer.
The Watson Twins, ‘Talking to You, Talking to Me’
Whatever “talking” goes on during The Watson Twins’ second album, it’s likely to go in one ear and out the other. The duo, Leigh and Chandra – most known for the harmonies they sang on Jenny Lewis’ “Rabbit Fur Coat” – weave vocal baskets that, too often here, are almost empty. The airiness of the lethargic disc needs more than dead weight. Most of it begs for better, more motley production, but the measured sparseness of “Snow Canyons” is endearing. And though there’s some charm to the soulful retro catchiness of “Tell Me Why,” it’s like The Supremes … half-asleep.