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The Listening Room: Pharrell Williams, Sara Evans and more...
"G I R L"
(I Am Other/Columbia)
There's no question Pharrell Williams went into his second solo album, and first in eight years -- with an enviable head of steam. The pop and R&B auteur from the Neptunes production team and N.E.R.D. was part of two of 2013's biggest hits, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," while "G I R L's" first single, "Happy," had plenty of push from "Despicable Me 2." Williams takes advantage of the momentum with a buoyant collection of old school style but timeless jams whose airy arrangements and punchy kinetics are a decidedly contemporary fit. "G I R L" is loosely themed as Williams' salute to female empowerment and sexuality, though the lusty booty calls of "Gush" and the slinky, Prince-ly "Come Get It Bae" (with Miley Cyrus on guest backing vocals, prove that he's still a M A N. Justin Timberlake duets on the bouncy "Brand New" while Alicia Keys brings a silky counterpoint to the smooth "Know Who You Are," and Daft Punk's robots lend some cyber vocalics to the loping "Gust of Wind." "G I R L's" only miscue is the nearly eight-minute "Lost Queen," a kind of messy three-part suite that moves from hollow-sounding polyrhythms to the sound of waves crashing in the ocean and then a slower, string-laden third section. It speaks of big creative ambition but in actuality misses the energetic, inspired and concise bite that makes "G I R L" such an early-year standout.
Sara Evans, "Slow Me Down" (RCA Nashville) ***
Sara Evan's "Stronger," a country chart-topping comeback in 2011, was no fluke. On its follow-up, and Evans' seventh album overall, she's in fine voice and solid country-pop crossover form, especially as she goes tonsil to tonsil on duets with The Fray's Isaac Slade on "Can't Stop Loving You" and Gavin DeGraw on the Ryan Tedder co-write "Not Over You," as well as "Put My Heart Down" and the whistling "Sweet Spot." But Evans shows her full-on country heart on "Better Off" (with Vince Gill) and "Good Love is Hard to Find," and the high-velocity "Revival" shows that Evans isn't about to be slowed down any time soon.
New & Noteworthy:
Aloe Blacc, "Lift Your Spirit" (XL/Interscope): The Panamanian-American soul/pop singer's third album is a career highpoint that's making waves with the Elton John-assisted single "The Man."
Architects UK, "Lost Forever//Lost Together" (Epitaph): The British headbangers' latest was recorded in Sweden and features a guest appearance by Murray Macleod of the Xcerts.
Paul Carrack, "Rain or Shine" (Proper Music): The former Ace, Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics member covers Ray Charles and Luther Ingram on his new solo set.
Cowboy Troy, "King of Clubs" (Warner Bros. Nashville): The original country rapper is still kicking on his fourth solo album outside of Big & Rich.
Elbow, "The Take Off and Landing of Everything" (Fiction/Concord): The British alt.rock group's sixth album has gone through three titles, finally taking its name from the set's penultimate track.
Juanes, "Loco de Amor" (Universal Music Latino): The Colombian singer and songwriter teams with hitmaking rock producer Steve Lillywhite on his sixth solo album.
kxm, "kxm" (Rat Pak): The debut outing by the hard rock supergroup featuring members of Korn, King's X, Dokken and Lynch Mob.
Ledisi, "The Truth" (Verve): The sharp New Orleans R&B singer`s seventh album was preceded by the single "I Blame You."
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Ranchers featuring Edie Brickell, "Live" (Rounder): The bluegrass-and-beyond troupe is captured in concert, on CD and DVD, with four songs not included on last year's "Love Has Come For You" album.
Metronomy, "Love Letters" (Atlantic): the fourth studio album from the British group that's gained notice with its remixes for U2, Gorillaz, Franz Ferdinand and others.
Lea Michele, "Louder" (Columbia): the Glee star`s first solo album includes an emotional tribute to late co-star and boyfriend, Corey Monteith.
nine inch nails and Coil, "Recoiled" (Cold Spring): A four-song EP sporting rare remixes of nin songs by Coil before two of its original members passed away in recent years.
Ozomatli, "Place in the Sun" (Vanguard): the multi-cultural rabble rousers are back, bringing friends such as Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and WAX Ltd.'s Xandy Barry with them.
David Pack, "David Pack's Napa Crossroads" (Concord): The former Ambrosia frontman's guest list on this winery-inspired outing include Todd Rundgren, Alan Parsons, Bela Fleck and the Doors' late Ray Manzarek.
Sabina, "Toujours" (Bar/None): The Brazilian Girls co-founder dives into 60s European ye-ye styles on her solo debut.
The Shrine, "Bless Off" (Tee Pee): Another set of blistering, hardcore rock from the underground southern Californians.
Seeming, "Madness & Extinction" (ArtOfFact): The debut album from the new electronic duo hailing from Pittsburgh's acclaimed industrial group ThouShaltNot.
311, "Stereolithic" (311): The rock/rap/reggae/ group returns to the independent label ranks for the first time since 1998.
Various Artists, "Divergent: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (Interscope): Head into battle with new material from Ellie Goulding, Zedd, Snow Patrol, Tame Impala with Kendrick Lamar and more.
Various Artists, "Young Money: Rise of an Empire" (Young Money/Ca$h Money/Universal Republic): the rap label's latest compilation features tracks from Drake, Nicki Minaj, Kil Wayne and many more.
Dean Wareham, "Dean Wareham" (Double Feature): The first-ever solo album by the Galaxie 500 founder was produced by My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
Don Williams, "Reflections" (Sugar Hill): The Country Music Hall of Famer has cut songs by Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Jesse Winchester and others on his latest release.
From The Vaults: Chicago, "Live in Japan" (Rhino)
Soundtracks: Michael Picton, "Flash Gordon Vol. 1: Original Television Score" (Perseverance); Various Artists, "Veronica Mars: Original Motion Picture soundtrack" (Water Tower)
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