Just Like YouKeyshia Cole - Just Like You
Keyshia Cole's ascent was prepared with an appearance on the Barbershop 2 soundtrack and a mixtape presented by DJ Green Lantern, yet 2005's The Way It Is wasn't exactly hotly anticipated. On the strength of two Top Ten R&B singles, the album eventually went platinum, several months after release, slowly transforming her into one of R&B's biggest stars -- one often mentioned on a first-name basis, and one with several comparisons to Mary J. Blige. Cole's second album will only prompt more of those comparisons, nearly to the extent that it might seem like its purpose. In addition to becoming Blige's labelmate at Geffen, Cole prefaced the album's release with performances that included her takes on "I'm Going Down" and "Sweet Thing" -- two songs memorably updated by a young Blige -- which could be construed as insolence, reverence, or a combination of the two. Read more >>

The Daily NewsDonnie - The Daily News
It's just as well that Donnie's connections with Motown were short-lived. If the label didn't know what to do with The Colored Section, how would they handle an album that is more modern gospel than it is throwback soul -- one with a complete lack of songs for the bedroom and club? They might've refused to release it anyway, what with song titles like "Suicide" and "Atlanta Child Murders." Listening to the whole thing reveals a marketing nightmare: songs about the war on drugs and the pharmaceutical industry, Hurricane Katrina, unemployment, slavery, pedophilia, and the weariness that comes with the inevitable daily bombardment of bad news. You really can't spin that into something resembling a good time, or something to passively enjoy while waiting for the bus. A frustrated, mad, and at times flat-out pissed-off album, The Daily News nonetheless has the ability to make you glad you are alive. Read more >>

100 Days, 100 NightsSharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights
Sharon Jones, the big-voiced lead singer of the Dap-Kings -- a band that recently began making its name known outside those enthusiasts of the Daptone label and the reaches of the soul community thanks to appearances with Amy Winehouse and work for Mark Ronson, including a version of Dylan's "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" -- is no music-world neophyte. 100 Days, 100 Nights is just her third full-length with the Dap-Kings, but Jones has been singing on and off since the 1970s, without much of a break until she began working with her current label. Meaning, she's certainly paid her dues, and she has enough life experience behind her voice to make the words she sings sound that much truer. Because soul music -- and this isn't neo-soul, or contemporary R&B, but straight-up Stax and Motown brassy soul -- is so much more than the actual lyrics themselves; it's about the inflection and emotion that the vocalist is able to exude, and Jones proves herself to be master of that, moving from coy to romantic to defiant easily and believably. Read more >>

The Scene of the CrimeBettye LaVette - The Scene of the Crime
On the surface, it may seem that pairing soul survivor Bettye LaVette with Southern rockers the Drive-By Truckers is a match made in hell, and no one could be blamed for that assumption. Since LaVette singed to Anti for 2005's I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, an album produced by Joe Henry that brought her back into the public eye after more than 30 years (she did record and continued to sing, and was in no way retired), the stakes were higher for her return effort. Label president Andy Kaulkin is a cagey guy who understands that milking a successful formula isn't the way to make records, nor is it any way for an artist of LaVette's stature to be treated -- especially when she's in the prime of her recording life. He suggested the collaboration to the Truckers' Patterson Hood. Hood is from Alabama, the home of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and his father was co-owner and a session bassist. LaVette recorded what was supposed to be her breakthrough album at Muscle Shoals' Fame Studios for Atlantic (Hood's father David, along with Spooner Oldham, played on the sessions for that disc). Read more >>

LuvanmusiqMusiq Soulchild - Luvanmusiq
Musiq Soulchild's fourth straight strong showing, Luvanmusiq does not veer from the steadiness of its predecessors. Even though he was involved in a label trade (!) with Fabolous, which transplanted him from Def Jam's Def Soul wing to Atlantic, there's no audible evidence of change. (He remains, in fact, under the watch of Kevin Liles, the ex-Def Jam executive who initially signed him.) The only measurable difference between this and the past albums is its significantly shorter length, which only allows each song to get the attention it deserves. This really benefits Musiq. The customary consistency of his material has been, and will likely continue to be, mistaken for lazy sameness, as if he really needs to spice things up with insincere trend-hopping or ill-fitting collaborations with hot MCs. Indeed, Luvanmusiq is just another one of his durable albums that straddles throwback soul and contemporary R&B. Read more >>

Because of YouNe-Yo - Because of You
In My Own Words, released in early 2006, was a major success for Ne-Yo. It was a number one album supported by two Top Ten singles and a third that peaked in the Top 20. As it kept gathering steam, the singer/songwriter/producer shrewdly continued to write for others: Rihanna's Top Ten "Unfaithful" and Beyoncé's number one "Irreplaceable" kept his profile on the rise through the end of the year. Indicating that he still has quality material to spare, Because of You comes just a little after a year after his debut, and it is just as solid. Though some of the accomplices remain, such as the Norwegian StarGate team (his partners on "So Sick," "Sexy Love," "Unfaithful," and "Irreplaceable") and Ron Feemster, the key to the album's potency and freshness is its differences from In My Own Words. None of the debut's singles were as upbeat as this album's lead single, "Because of You," a sophisticated yet youthful song for the dancefloor, one of many instances where it's evident that Ne-Yo has thoroughly absorbed Michael Jackson and Rod Temperton's rich vocal arrangements on Off the Wall. Read more >>

The Killion FloorOrgone - The Killion Floor
After the redo of "Funky Nassau" went global with DJs, and scorching a bit in an Adidas commercial, Orgone could have gone the route of successive 12"s, remixes, and compilation cuts, but they take the plunge on this full-length. With 17 tracks totaling over 76 minutes, The Killion Floor is literally packed. Upon initial listening, the various mannerisms Orgone employ on the Memphis soul and grimy Southern funk cuts might seem a tad too reverent; repeated listening will allow the many subtleties to shine through, offering a new hearing of roots material as it swaggers via the grooves here into the 21st century. There also elements of Afro-beat, stretched out Lagos funk, blues, and insane takes on New Orleans second line that would make the Meters proud. Fanny Franklin, who knocked everyone out with her performance on the group's read of "Funky Nassau" (yes, it's included on the album) appears on five cuts here including that one. Her reading of the Casey and Finch soul funk banger "I Get Lifted" is as tough and deep as George McCrae's from 1974. Read more >>

Good Girl Gone BadRihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad
When you've released a pair of albums containing a few monster singles and a considerable amount of unsteady, unassured material, why mess around the third time out? From beginning to end, Good Girl Gone Bad is as pop as pop gets in 2007, each one of its 12 songs a potential hit in some territory. Unlike Music of the Sun or A Girl Like Me, neither Caribbean flavorings nor ballad ODs are part of the script, and there isn't an attempt to make something as theatrical as "Unfaithful." There is, however, another '80s hit involved: just as "SOS" appropriated Soft Cell's version of "Tainted Love," "Shut Up and Drive" turns New Order's "Blue Monday" into a sleek, forthcoming proposition, one that is as undeniable and rocking as Sugababes' 2002 U.K. smash "Freak Like Me" (a cover of Adina Howard's 1995 hit that swiped from another '80s single, Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?"). Read more >>

The Hollywood RecordingsSa-Ra - The Hollywood Recordings
Everything Sa-Ra releases might be held up to "Glorious." Originally released in 2004, it's Digital Underground's "Kiss Me Back" turned X-rated, wading in Venusian lava -- slow-motion AfroFuturist psychedelia combining doped-out falsetto, waddling bass throb, lancing synthesizer, and clamping percussion. Prior to its release, Sa-Ra's three members had been connected with Dr. Dre, Ice-T, and Jam Master Jay, and as a group, they had produced tracks by Pharoahe Monch ("Agent Orange") and Jurassic 5 ("Contribution," "Hey"). "Glorious" set off a slew of low-key singles, compilation appearances, remixes, and collaborative production work, and three years later the song appeared as the prime standout of the first Sa-Ra full-length. Dubbed a prequel to their first major-label album, The Hollywood Recordings is neither a proper album nor a straightforward compilation. Read more >>

Back to BlackAmy Winehouse - Back to Black
The story of Back to Black is one in which celebrity and the potential of commercial success threaten to ruin Amy Winehouse, since the same insouciance and playfulness that made her sound so special when she debuted could easily have been whitewashed right out of existence for this breakout record. (That fact may help to explain why fans were so scared by press allegations that Winehouse had deliberately lost weight in order to present a slimmer appearance.) Although Back to Black does see her deserting jazz and wholly embracing contemporary R&B, all the best parts of her musical character emerge intact, and actually, are all the better for the transformation from jazz vocalist to soul siren. With producer Salaam Remi returning from Frank, plus the welcome addition of Mark Ronson (fresh off successes producing for Christina Aguilera and Robbie Williams), Back to Black has a similar sound to Frank but much more flair and spark to it. Read more >>