Boyz II Men, Love. Shawn, Nathan and Wanya sound in better shape than ever on their new Decca Records release, Love. Lead single I Can’t Make You Love Me, originally by Bonnie Raitt, unfortunately tanked on the US charts, but second single Back For Good – yes, the Take That chestnut from the early 90s – should get them back into radio’s good graces. Also noteworthy on this CD: revivals of Iris (Goo Goo Dolls), If You Leave Me Now (Chicago), Time After Time (an a capella rendition of the Cyndi Lauper original), and a particular chills-inducing take on Journey’s Open Arms.
Alicia Keys, The Element of Freedom. Miss Keys stretches her creative wings a little more with each CD, and new collaborative songwriting and production partners on The Element of Freedom (Jeff Bhasker and Kasseem Dean are noteworthy) result in some left-of-center gems that ought to win Miss Keys more fans in the process. Noteworthy tracks on this CD are the carrier single, Doesn’t Mean Anything (which has received a lukewarm reaction from the public, probably owing to its similarities to former #1 hit single No One), Put It In A Love Song, a duet with superstar Beyonce, and the standout track on the CD, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart, which doesn’t sound like anything on radio and may make a very interesting single if J Records is willing to take a chance.
Kris Allen, Kris Allen. The American Idol Season Eight champ doesn’t disappoint on his debut, despite the media adulation given his runner-up, Adam Lambert. Smart songwriting, expert production, and Allen’s reliable pop vocal results in a CD that, while not necessarily cohesive in terms of musical identity, gets more likable with each new listen. Lead single Live Like We’re Dying, while a virtual carbon copy of The Script original, ups the vocal ante, thereby surpassing the debut version. Other noteworthy tracks include The Truth, Red Guitar, and bonus track Heartless, which tweaks Kanye West’s button nose a tad.
Michael Buble, Crazy Love. Michael’s past two CDs have found him trying to stretch his creative boundaries, delving more into AC territory in a calculated effort to win new fans and help his crooner image not become too stale. Crazy Love may be a step backward as it doesn’t really offer anything particularly groundbreaking musically. Which is not to say that the CD disappoints or is worse than any of his previous CDs. I particularly like the album opener, Cry Me a River, which may very well be my favorite Buble revival, as well as first single Haven’t Met You Yet, which is certainly different from anything we’ve heard from Michael before. Other noteworthy tracks are his rollicking take on the Eagles’ Heartache Tonight and Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.
Susan Boyle, I Dreamed A Dream. I had high expectations for Susan’s debut, but was a bit underwhelmed by lackluster production and listless song selection. Boyle’s voice is unarguably beautiful, and she shines on the songs to which I think she has an emotional connection, which are I Dreamed a Dream, the song that won Boyle international stardom on Britain’s Got Talent, as well as religious tracks Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Up to the Mountain, and Silent Night. Her Cry Me a River is also noteworthy (although it pales in comparison to my preferred version, Michael Buble’s). Simon Cowell probably chose to orchestrate and keep percussion and drums to a minimum, to highlight Boyle’s angelic voice, and rightly so. I can’t drive to this CD, though, because it relaxes through and through. Call it a sleeper hit, literally.