One DirectionMidnight Memories/Columbia
What’s the mother of the average American ’tween to do as the holidays approach? Miley has twerked her way out of the stocking, for sure. Justin Bieber invites too many questions. And most of the women of pop are exploring very adult themes that are rated at least PG-13.
One Direction steps into that giant void, providing nervous mothers with the perfect gift: “Midnight Memories.” The album is full of positive choruses and playful, not pornographic, takes on love and life. Smartly promoted around release, the third album from the British boy band is definitely mom bait.
It’s a pretty good record, too. The quintet has released a lot of music in a short period of time, usually a challenge for young acts.
Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson take baby steps forward from their two platinum-selling 2012 releases, “Up All Night” and “Take Me Home,” adding some musical edge and variety, mostly through the use of turned-up guitars and hit surfing through the mom-friendly 1980s.
“Diana,” for instance, is all Sting and The Police as the boys hop on that burgeoning bandwagon. The title track references Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in a way that’s oddly pleasing. And “Does He Know?” covers the same ground musically and thematically as Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”
While the quintet is flirtatious, they never move beyond the casual come-on, and their paramours are painted as sassy and smart, usually turning down that invitation to go home with one of the boys. The rockin’ “Little Black Dress” is about as spicy as it gets with its chorus of, “I wanna see the way you move for me, baby.” Unlike most of their pop-music colleagues, bad girls are definitely not cool here, as they note on “Little White Lies.”
The music is inclusive, too, as the group often paints itself as a refuge of sorts. “If you ever feel alone, don’t/ You were never on your own/ And the proof is in this song,” they sing on “Don’t Forget Where You Belong.”
And that’s the kind of message every mom can get behind.
By Chris Talbott, Associated Press
Kellie PicklerThe Woman I Am/Black River Entertainment
Kellie Pickler, on her new album “The Woman I Am,” merges the tradition-minded sound of her previous album with contemporary country touches in a manner that proves how well the two can blend and still speak to the modern world.
Continuing to mature into a top-class country singer, the former “American Idol” competitor has grown from a competent interpreter of others’ songs into an artist with her own vision and style.
As a songwriter and vocalist, she’s held onto the charm of her back-country personality while growing into a confident stylist who can adapt to the glossy entertainment world that sometimes has tried to push her aside.
The title song references Patsy Cline as a salve for difficult nights, then cites all the personal weaknesses, quirks and strengths that make her who she is. She leans on current themes in country music in “Closer To Nowhere,” about drinking with a friend and disappearing into a rural hideout, but makes it believable.
She’s at her best on sensitive ballads (“Tough All Over,” “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” “I Forgive You”) yet nicely handles roots-rich stompers like “Selma Drye” (about her grandmother), “Buzzin’ ” and “Ring For Sale.”
Add Pickler’s name to the list of women making outstanding albums in a year where men dominate country radio and the media.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press
Scotty McCreerySee You Tonight/19/Mercury Nashville
The first “American Idol” victor born in the 1990s, Scotty McCreery turned 20 the week before releasing “See You Tonight,” his follow-up to 2011’s platinum debut, “Clear As Day.” The former church choir boy quickly establishes how much he has matured, opening his album with a rocking party tune, “Now,” and an urgent late-night booty call to his girlfriend on the title cut.
McCreery co-wrote those two songs and three others, his first cuts as a songwriter, another sign of his artistic maturation. His growth also comes across in the subtle inflections he brings to “Feel Good Summer Song,” a heartbreaker that requires some complexity in its vocal delivery and in the blend of pain and desire that the lyrics require.
At this point, the North Carolina native’s baritone no longer sounds like a novelty, and he doesn’t push the low tones as persistently.
Sounding more relaxed, McCreery combines the traditional aspects of heroes Josh Turner and Randy Travis with contemporary touches brought in by producer Frank Rogers (Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker). The result shows McCreery moving into a style of his own that should win him fans beyond the “Idol” fan base.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press
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