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Pop reviews — Week of Feb. 23

Music Speaks

Candice Glover

Candice Glover originally planned to release her debut two months after she won American Idol last May. She postponed it — twice.

Time is definitely on her side, though: Music Speaks is one of the better Idol debuts.

Glover is a vocal powerhouse on the 12-track set, which full of pop ballads and R&B numbers that fit together nicely. Most post-Idol albums, and those from other TV talent contestants, lack personality and a sense of cohesiveness. But Glover paints an intriguing portrait of a woman lost in love, with all the emotional highs and lows.

She kicks off with the top-notch Cried, co-written by one of her contemporary influences, Jazmine Sullivan. Die Without You echoes Brandy — but with stronger vocals — while Same Kind of Man and the powerful Forever That Man mirror Fantasia.

The 24-year-old hasn’t found her voice entirely, and all of the songs aren’t complete winners (like the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced Passenger), but Glover demonstrates promise as she shows she’s more than a balladeer: She coos beautifully on Kiss Me, which sounds like a future radio hit; she shines on the beat-driven, Southern hip-hop-flavored Coulda Been Me, co-written by Ester Dean; and In the Middle surprisingly interpolates Shabba Ranks’ Ting-A-Ling in a good way.

On the piano tune Damn, she nails the song when she sings of falling in love with another woman’s lover in a calm tone.

Glover stole the show on Idol when she adapted her voice to a wide range of songs, from Paula Abdul’s Straight Up to the Cure’s Lovesong, which she includes on the new album. Her debut is similar — it proves just how much potential she has.

— Mesfin Fekadu

Associated Press


Joyce Carol Oates

When a book begins by telling readers that a 19-year-old woman has vanished into the deep woods, the expected outcome is rarely happy.

But in Joyce Carol Oates’ newest book, Carthage, perhaps the outcome is not quite so bleak. For the first half of the book, readers make their own assumptions about what has happened to Cressida Mayfield, the younger of Zeno Mayfield’s two daughters, and whether she indeed met a gruesome fate at the hands of her sister’s former fiance.

Oates’ book delves into a far more layered portrayal than merely a young woman’s fate — the relationship between Cressida and her family and why the engagement of her sister, Juliet, and a soldier, Brett, fell apart. Even when he comes home injured, including disfiguring facial scars, Juliet stands by him.

Brett may be the most compelling and mysterious figure for much of the tale. But once Oates takes us into his memories of what he endured during the war in Iraq, we understand a great deal more about his actions that help tear the Mayfield family apart.

Readers in search of a happy ending won’t find it here, but they will find a well-told tale of family, grief and faith.

— Amanda St. Amand

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Pat Metheny Unity Group

With his wild mane intact, it’s difficult to believe 38 years have passed since jazz guitarist Pat Metheny’s debut as a leader — harder still, considering that his annual release schedule finds him restlessly crafting one-man bands (Orchestrion) and bugged-out small ensembles (with the likes of pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Christian McBride) and covering modern avant-garde’s most notorious composer, John Zorn. Couldn’t Metheny do with a chill?

At first blush, his Unity Band’s sophomore recording, Kin, seems like that thing, a relaxed-fit vibe co-conjured by reeds man Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams and multi-instrumentalist/ vocalist Giulio Carmassi. Touched by the influence of maximal minimalist Steve Reich, waltzing gospel-ish ballads (Born) and scintillating roomy sambas (Sign of the Season) bristle with nervous calm.

At times, the interplay of Metheny’s cool blues and Potter’s muscular reserve make for a tone that’s gently intoxicating. There’s constant energy between Metheny and his band — wild thought bubbles filled with frizzy rugged polyrhythms (On Day One) and curtly angular electro-blips (We Go On) driving the guitarist’s most rigorously complex, yet contagious melodies in some time.

With effusion and electricity, Kin proves that Metheny’s sound is as mature as it is teasingly young.

— A.D. Amorosi

Philadelphia Inquirer


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