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Follow the Lights to great music

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Follow the Lights, Lost HighwayIf its possible for Ryan Adams to write a bad song, then Follow the Lights offers no proof to the argument.This seven-track EP is a bite-sized helping of Adams talent, which seems to be endless, even this far into his career. The mood of the album is essentially what Adams does best; weepy songs about heartbreaks and shattered egos, but unlike past albums so packed with this kind of songwriting, Follow the Lights never has time to get heavy handed or too depressing. Adams is that artist who when I talk to friends about him, I am always surprised to hear their response: Who is he?His mainstream success has been limited only because he writes to an audience that wants to understand the artist, and he refuses to limit himself to corny choruses for the sake of radio play. Not to say that he never produces material with mainstream appeal, its just not typical.A live studio version of Dear John is a sad piano ballad that creates the perfect environment to mourn lost love. Adams makes a cover of Alice in Chains classic grunge tune Down in a Hole his own, and it could easily be mistaken for as an original upon first listen. Most full-length albums dont possess this much lyrical or musical depth. Follow the Lights is proof that Adams knows what hes doing, and that hes only getting better at it.Charlie Owen, Arts & Entertainment Writer.

As I Am, JFor all her formidable talents (which include a honey-coated voice and a self-assurance that has kept her firmly in control of her own music and career), the knock on Alicia Keys has always been that her R&B was long on heart and short on hooks.Its a complaint she evidently took seriously, because her third studio album enlists the help of John Mayer and professional song doctor Linda Perry in an obvious quest to make Keys a little more pop friendly.The funny thing is those high-profile collaborators add almost nothing to As I Am. Mayers co-written Lesson Learned is plodding, inoffensive lite-rock, while Perrys trio of tunes aims for Philly soul and settles for Velveeta.The star among the guests turns out to be little-known producer Jack Splash, whose Wreckless Love offers a swinging hip-hop backdrop for Keys breathless (but PG-rated) come-on.However, its the single track written by Keys and her longtime collaborator Kerry Crucial Brothers that is clearly the discs highlight. Like Youll Never See Me Again is a gorgeous, shimmering ballad that mixes melody and melisma to devastating effect. Its a reminder, amid the clutter of many cooks on As I Am, that perhaps Keys was best as she was, after all.Dan Leroy, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.

Intoxication, Big Yard/VPShaggy is like a reggae cicada, emerging at semi-regular intervals to land libidinous hits on the charts and then dropping out of sight for years at a time. It happened in the mid-90s with the singles Oh Carolina and Boombastic and again in the early 00s with It Wasnt Me and Angel. Now the Jamaican-via-Brooklyn singer returns for another crack at the charts with his latest album, Intoxication.Not much has changed since his last go-round. Shaggys sonorous voice is still all about cadence and inflection on monotone vocals that he breaks up with little yelps and a generous ration of guest vocalists, including Akon, Collie Buddz and Sizzla.Shaggy has said he intended to return to his hard-core dance-hall and reggae roots on Intoxication, and, accordingly, the album bops along on straightforward reggae grooves. But theres a creeping sameness to the songs thats not helped by so many of them sharing a theme: sex.There are exceptions: Buddz livens up Mad Mad World, trading socially conscious verses with Shaggy. Akon throws down a smooth hook on Whats Love. And Shaggy calls out faux-pious hypocrites on Church Heathen.Alas, such high points are overshadowed by the abundance of filler on Intoxication.Precedent suggests itll be awhile before his next album though, so enjoy the buzz while it lasts. Eric R. Danton, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service

Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love, Big MachineTrisha Yearwoods 2005 album didnt manufacture hits the way she did in the 90s, when she was among countrys most bankable vocalists, but her first new disc in four years did provide fresh assurance that hers remains one of the genres most versatile voices.The 43-year-old Georgia native sounds equally appealing on her latest, with tunes that emphasize the homespun qualities that are her strength.Earthy presence is a mainstay of her singing, adding color as she powers the punchy drive of They Call It Falling for a Reason and shifts from robust belting to lyrical caresses amid fluttering mandolin on Not a Bad Thing. Her assertive trip through the title track is typical of an approach that is sprightly, assertive and out to have fun on acoustic-framed hybrid songs that keep their characters by leaning closer to country than pop.Detours give the collection agreeable breadth, particularly a duet with Keith Urban on Let the Wind Chase You and the sweetly rendered Cowboys are my Weakness, which stitches together fiddle and pedal-steel guitar into a swinging showcase of old-style acoustic celebration. She radiates enough grounded presence to keep the puffy piano ballad This Is Me Youre Talking To from getting away, and she fills out the percussive romp Nothin About You Is Good for Me with lively flair thats as comfortable as it is enticing. Thomas Kintner, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service


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