Here are a handful of female artists who have released some of the strongest albums to come out over the past several months.
Soldier of Love
On her first studio album in ten years, Sade continues to create her own smooth and silky blend of pop, rock, jazz and r&b. Her remarkable voice, the razor-sharp production and her underrated band make music that is never too smooth, though, and on this release the sound is more rhythmically adventurous than ever before.
Corinne Bailey Rae
Rae’s sophomore effort is both a sad rumination on the tragic loss of her husband and a deep reconfiguring of her musical style. The breezy, folk-inflected r&b pop of her debut is mostly submerged amidst a terse, yet subtle grit that makes this album very much a singer-songwriter album. Oddly enough, Rae does not overplay the sweet vulnerability in her voice and instead sounds stronger and more assured than ever.
The daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin is also dealing with some life issues on her Elektra debut. Produced by Beck at his studio in Los Angeles, the album sees Gainsbourg eschewing the more sensuous and playful side of her music. Again working with an electronic-oriented producer (she worked with Nigel Godrich on her previous album), Gainsbourg has come up with an electronic sound that is cool almost to the point of being cold. It’s surprising that Gainsbourg hasn’t yet played up the dreamy, romantic side of her breathy vocals.
The Element of Freedom
Few artists write songs, sing and perform with more heart and joy than Alicia Keys. Here she somehow reaches even further into herself to deliver an album of modern r&b that doesn’t become bombastic, yet isn’t retro. It’s particularly rewarding to hear her own version of “Empire State of Mind.”
Norah Jones has made a real welcome departure on this, her fourth album. She has for the most part moved away from the country-tinged jazz formula that has been so successful for her and added successful rhythmic ideas to create a jaunty break-up album. A special edition of the album comes with a six-song bonus disc entitled Live at the Living Room.