January 5, 2010 / 3:57 AM / 8 years ago

Billboard CD reviews: Susan Boyle, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen

ARTIST: SUSAN BOYLE

ALBUM: I DREAMED A DREAM

NEW YORK (Billboard) - For someone who got her big break through reality TV, Susan Boyle’s career has been the stuff of fantasy. A middle-aged woman from Scotland securing worldwide fame via YouTube was unlikely enough, but now that Boyle’s debut album, “I Dreamed a Dream,” has broken sales records on both sides of the Atlantic, it would be prudent to start taking her more seriously. That shouldn’t be too difficult, since the set is a classy affair. Nothing here can match the sheer, jaw-dropping impact of her first “Britain’s Got Talent” audition. But sticking to a safe formula of covering standards with only a piano and the odd sweeping string arrangement accompanying that still-shocking voice, the album certainly won’t disappoint her fans. A restrained reworking of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and a dramatic rendition of Madonna’s “You’ll See” work best, although the soporifically slow attempt at the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” is perhaps a step too far, even for her.

ARTIST: ADAM LAMBERT

ALBUM: FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT (19/RCA Records)

It doesn’t rewrite (in hot-pink glitter ink) the entire rule book on what a pop record can be. But Adam Lambert’s debut album, “For Your Entertainment,” is still the most audacious, confident debut yet from a former “American Idol” contestant. And that’s not even the best thing about the release, which includes writing and production contributions from a sizable portion of the top 40 A-list. Lambert’s vocals were a thing of scenery-chewing wonder on “Idol,” and here he successfully showcases the full range of his remarkable instrument, from skyscraping glam-rock sneer (“Music Again”) to lush future-soul croon (“Broken Open”). Even when the material doesn’t rise to the occasion -- as in the aptly titled “Sleepwalker,” penned by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic -- Lambert’s singing gives the music a tactile sensuality. Not surprisingly, considering the expectations surrounding the album and its hasty mode of manufacture, “For Your Entertainment” can feel scattered and shallower than it should. Even so, it practically vibrates with pleasure.

ARTIST: KRIS ALLEN

ALBUM: KRIS ALLEN (19/Jive Records)

In a way, the media buzz surrounding Adam Lambert could be a blessing for Kris Allen. Unlike most “American Idol” winners, he’s a perpetual underdog who mustn’t live up to hype so much as defy reserved expectations. Allen does this with ease on his self-titled debut, continuing in the guitar-driven pop direction he established in the spring while sounding supremely confident. It’s a wonder why the song “The Truth” wasn’t chosen as the Arkansas singer-songwriter’s first single, since it has the kind of anthemic thrust he’ll need to please fans while recruiting new ones. The track “Before We Come Undone” boasts one of the album’s catchiest hooks, while a Salaam Remi-produced version of his much-praised cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” throbs with a hip-hop backbeat. Allen doesn’t straddle genres and octaves like “AI” runner-up Lambert, but he did co-write the majority of his album -- a rarity for an “Idol” -- and he overdelivers on the promise he showed on TV.

ARTIST: PAUL MCCARTNEY

ALBUM: GOOD EVENING NEW YORK CITY (Hear Music/Concord Music Group)

Even though Paul McCartney’s newest release, “Good Evening New York City,” is a live recording of his July 2009 concert at New York’s Citi Field, aside from the crowd roars, you’d never know it. The album is as polished and professional as a studio effort, and while it’s technically excellent, it lacks some of the energy of the show. Still, “Good Evening New York City” demonstrates that after all these decades, McCartney is still at the top of his game. The set gives an excellent overview of his body of work, with plenty of Beatles classics, including an upbeat and rollicking “Drive My Car,” a mournful “The Long and Winding Road” and a moving “Hey Jude.” McCartney’s solo work is also well represented on such tracks as “Dance Tonight” and “Flaming Pie.” If listeners weren’t fortunate enough to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, “Good Evening New York City” is a worthwhile, if imperfect, substitute.

ARTIST: KATHARINE MCPHEE

ALBUM: UNBROKEN (Verve Forecast)

Searching, one presumes, for a bit of the post-pop respectability that fellow singer/actor Mandy Moore has found of late, former “American Idol” contestant Katharine McPhee tapped John Alagia (who oversaw Moore’s 2007 album, “Wild Hope”) to produce the bulk of her sophomore release, “Unbroken.” It’s a good match. McPhee sounds much more comfortable amid Alagia’s rootsy settings than she did surrounded by the shiny R&B beats of her self-titled debut, much of which was helmed by former Timbaland protege Danja. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the success she had on “Idol,” where she sang material like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” McPhee takes co-writing credit on about half of the set’s 13 tracks, but plenty of pros crop up as well. Among them are “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi, who helped pen jangly lead single “Had It All,” and Paula Cole’s cerebral soulfulness informs the title cut.

ARTIST: JUVENILE

ALBUM: COCKY AND CONFIDENT (UTP/Atlantic Records/E1)

Veteran New Orleans rapper Juvenile’s last album, 2006’s “Reality Check,” scored some topical traction thanks to the pointed music video for “Get Ya Hustle On,” in which a group of children wearing masks depicting George Bush, Dick Cheney and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin explored the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged ruins of the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. There’s nothing as reflective as that on Juvenile’s latest release, “Cocky and Confident.” Mostly, the rapper is in the mood to brag about his wealth (“My Money Don’t Fold”) and his women (“Top of the Line”). Still, as he demonstrates in “Gotta Get It” and “Back Back,” no other MC rides the South’s once-fashionable bounce beats with more assurance. And the album isn’t without its share of hard-won wisdom. “People say I got a swagger like an old man,” Juvenile raps in “It’s All Hood.” “That’s only because I‘m-a live to be an old man.”

ARTIST: THE BRAVERY

ALBUM: STIR THE BLOOD (Island Records)

On the Bravery’s third album, “Stir the Blood,” the band returns to its dance-punk roots as frontman Sam Endicott’s angry lyrics add a welcome grit to the infectious beats found throughout the set. The darkness seems to suit the Bravery, infusing its overall sound with a newfound sex appeal. The loopy synths on the single “Slow Poison” contrast with Endicott’s grim vocal delivery. “Song for Jacob” expertly juxtaposes Endicott’s emotional wail with upbeat electro pulses, while the ghostly background vocals and swirling synth on “The Spectator” may draw some fans to the dance floor. The gloom never overshadows the bouncy beats on “Stir the Blood,” which gives the album a feeling of blissful musical despair.

ARTIST: CARLOS BAUTE

ALBUM: DE MI PUNO Y LETRA (WEA Argentina)

Carlos Baute could easily try to get by on his Ken-doll looks. But fortunately for his many fans in Spain and Latin America, the singer-songwriter has a knack for feel-good anthems that demand attention. Whether it’s the intricate layering of acoustic guitar, strings, Latin percussion and electronic effects, or the tropicalized fusion of a track like “Mariana No Quiere Ser Mojigata,” his well-crafted album “De Mi Puno y Letra” is more than just a guilty pleasure. Other highlights include the hit duet with Marta Sanchez, “Colgando en Tus Manos,” a carefree summer jam that broke records for paid single downloads in Spain; the ranchera-infused “Tu No Sabes Que Tanto”; and the ‘80s pop of “Donde Esta el Amor Que No Duele.”

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