NEW YORK (Billboard) - In the wake of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, John Mellencamp and all that's come before, T Bone Burnett is on such a producing roll that his presence threatens to eclipse the artist(s) he's working with. But that's hardly the case on B.B. King's first new studio album in three years. Burnett's concept for the 12-track set -- to have the 82-year-old King revisit songs he played at the very beginning of his career -- plays out in an inspired outing that finds King replacing the fire of his youth with a confident authority. King laces lyrical solos and fills into every song, a list that ranges from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," T-Bone Walker's "I Get So Weary," Big Bill Broonzy's "Backwater Blues" and the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sitting on Top of the World." The tricks aren't new, but the old dog still has plenty of bite left.
ALBUM: FORTH (On Your Own/MRI/RED)
It was no big surprise that the Verve got back together last fall after a nine-year hiatus, but what's stunning is the quality of this reunion album. More than any of the recent comeback efforts from like-minded groups, "Forth" not only equals the Verve's best work, but in many cases exceeds it. "Judas" is the most beautiful song the band has ever written, its burbling guitar lines conjuring a gloriously bleary New York sunrise. "Valium Skies" is the kind of ready-made anthem that turned the Verve into a superstar in the first place, while "Appalachian Springs" and "I See Houses" are hard-hitting hybrids of emotion and virtuosity. Even more enticing are "Sit and Wonder" and the eight-minute "Noise Epic," which reignite the psychedelic passions of the Verve's earliest releases.
ALBUM: SOL-ANGEL AND THE HADLEY ST. DREAMS (Geffen Records)
On her sophomore set, Solange not only takes on a sound that differs from her pop-driven 2002 debut, but she demonstrates that, unlike her sister Beyonce -- who she vehemently refutes comparisons to on "God Given Name" -- she has no reservations about sharing personal experiences. The breakup song "Valentine's Day," on which she gloomily sings, "I sure wish we made it till Valentine's Day"; the regretful "T.O.N.Y.," about a one-night stand; and the SoulShock & Karlin-produced "SandCastle Disco," which finds her lightheartedly warning her Casanova not to break her heart, all demonstrate Solange's frank approach. The electronica-inspired "Cosmic Journey" and the '70s-drenched lead single, "I Decided," further support the eclectic sound.
ALBUM: DO YOU BELIEVE ME NOW (Valory Records)
This talented singer-songwriter's self-titled 2003 debut disc spawned four hit singles before DreamWorks Nashville shuttered, stalling his momentum, but this project is the perfect vehicle to reintroduce an amazing young artist. The bulk of the album comprises uptempo fare. Among the highlights are "No Good for Me," a gorgeous duet with Patty Loveless, and "Kerosene Kid," an autobiographical song about his impoverished childhood. That theme of hope triumphing over adversity continues on "Where You're Going," another powerful cut that finds the songwriter drawing on his tumultuous past. Wayne is a compelling songwriter and gifted vocalist, and this album heralds the arrival of the country format's next major star.
ALBUM: THE VOICE (Word Entertainment)
David Phelps possesses a polished, powerful tenor that shines on any style of music, as this eclectic collection of songs proves. He admits to being frustrated in the past when people would comment that it seemed hard to find songs as good as his voice. He remedies that here by tackling such classics as the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" and even Luciano Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma." Another highlight is the love song "Mine," penned by Dennis Matkosky. Phelps also delivers a powerful rendition of the classic hymn "Angel Band" that's sure to delight his Christian fan base, but this beautifully sung collection should expand his audience beyond the faithful core.