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Katy B, ‘On a Mission’
They’re everywhere – British songbirds trying to take over the world with their voices. But Katy B, who’s already made major headway in her native country for her unique, mainstream-friendly blend of dubstep, house and soul, is a name that’s destined to catch on. The 22-year-old’s debut is one of the best in recent years, a near-perfect spin that feels loose, gritty, mature and free from the strategic control of a record label (even though she’s got major-label backing under Sony) – the antithesis of Jessie J’s first effort, released just a few months ago. “Power On Me,” an old-school throwback to the ’80s, sets the stage for a familiar sound that the London-born artist makes all her own, moving into the thumping chainsaw-ripping single “Katy On a Mission,” breezing through the jazzy “Movement” and nagging on the pitiful pool of men during “Easy Please Me,” a devilish rant that’s incredibly addictive. “These days I can’t find a man to please me,” sasses the singer, who adopts the Lily Allen brand of mouth-offs. She does it again on the dubstep groove “Go Away,” but this time drops into some R&B coolness on the chorus. “Broken Record” lurches into a sweetly sung rave, and “Hard to Get” wraps the set – strangely pairing cricket chirps and lounge-y keyboards for a killer chiller. Even the what-could-be-canned thank yous at the end of the track sound like nothing you’ve heard before. Grade: A-
Pistol Annies, ‘Hell on Heels’
Miranda Lambert isn’t someone that likes to be messed with, which the country superstar has made clear on three consistently solid solo CDs. Now she and her two accomplices, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, are “Hell on Heels,” the kitschy and cautionary title of the girl group’s first album that’s reminiscent of what Dolly Parton did with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt for the legendary “Trio” album. But that was 1987. So on their laid-back, traditional-sounding venture, Pistol Annies play with a modern sensibility that allows them to riff on girls-behaving-badly with “Takin’ Pills” and, at their campiest, greedy relatives fighting over their dead mother’s belongings on “Family Feud.” It’s this openness to busting genre limits that makes their debut such a delight, with Lambert getting feisty mad at her ex on “Trailer for Rent” and then all starry-eyed over “Boys from the South.” “Lemon Drop” offers an adorably witty slant to an it-gets-better song, while “Beige” is the group at their most affecting, as they sing about a shotgun wedding. There are only 10 ditties – all of them simple, not-too-produced pieces – that stretch over a skimpy 30 minutes. But that’s certainly enough time for them to give us some hell, and some heaven. Grade: B+
Kristin Chenoweth, ‘Some Lessons Learned’
Just because Kristin Chenoweth is baby-cute doesn’t mean she can get away with anything. And her crossover into country music, from Broadway and Christmas to nearly everything else, is the kind of near-miss that you wish wasn’t. She’s obviously a talented singer, and she nails a reading of Dolly Parton’s “Change” (also great is her ode to the icon, “What Would Dolly Do?”) and does a bang-up job on the clean-cut heartbreaker “Mine to Love” – but there’s too much, to use Chenoweth’s words, to bitch about. There’s the way-too-wordy lead single “I Want Somebody (Bitch About)” and an overload of schmaltzy songs (blame Diane Warren). Just consider this another lesson learned.
Jon McLaughlin, ‘Forever If Ever’
We loved him as the hot ballroom balladeer who stole hearts during “Enchanted.” But don’t stop swooning; his fourth album features “I’ll Follow You,” another solid slowie in the vein of “So Close.” Much of the rest, though, is grounded in the John Mayer genre: “Promising Promises,” opening with organ, is a falsetto showcase; “Summer is Over” is his best chance at a hit (even if it’s not the best track), and “You are What I’m Here For” is a lovely song of desperation. The ’80s influences of his last album no longer exist, instead gleaning inspiration from grunge-rock for “I Brought this on Myself” and neo-Hanson on “Without You Now.” Outside of that, it’s still McLaughlin – sweet and safe.