Lea MicheleLouder/Columbia Records
On some of the songs from her debut album, Lea Michele is convincing. On others, it's like she is acting.
The "Glee" star, known for her big voice, provides the pipes on "Louder," but some songs sound empty and don't show much emotion or personality from the 27-year-old talent.
The dance-flavored title track is typical and forgettable, as is "Don't Let Go." "Empty Handed," co-written by singer Christina Perri, comes off like an unimpressive Coldplay cover, while other songs echo Kelly Clarkson, but lack the energy that Clarkson's learned to build on her songs.
Michele, who has appeared on Broadway in "Spring Awakening" and other shows, gets it right on the piercing "Burn With You," where she sings: "I don't wanna go to heaven if you're going to hell/I will burn with you." She also shines on the slow piano tune "Battlefield," one of four tracks co-written by the exceptional Sia Furler (Rihanna's "Diamonds," Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts"). Instead of yelling, she works her voice nicely on "Thousand Needles," building it up when needed, but hitting softer notes to provide balance.
But, all in all, "Louder" is jagged. The songs don't play well together, and the collection sounds more like a demo instead of a Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated singer-actress' debut album. That may be due partially to the group of producers and songwriters, which include Stargate, Benny Blanco, John Shanks, The Messengers, Anne Preven, Christopher Braide and more. While they've produced hits for others, from Clarkson to Rihanna, Michele might have been better off with a tighter and smaller group of collaborators.
Michele closes the album with the ballad "If You Say So," which was inspired by one of the last conversations she had with her "Glee" co-star and boyfriend, Cory Monteith, who died after overdosing on heroin and alcohol last year.
The track is somewhat chilling and worth a listen, but while the rest of "Louder" features a big voice, most of the time Michele isn't saying much.
By Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press
Sara EvansSlow Me Down/RCA Nashville
The cover of Sara Evans' new album depicts her in front of a giant clock above the title "Slow Me Down," an ironic statement for a country star releasing only her second album in nine years.
But taking her time benefits Evans in one way: "Slow Me Down" ranks with such past gems as 2005's "Real Fine Place" and 2000's "Born To Fly," two of Evans's best, and most successful, albums. She also profits from working with one producer, Mark Bright, who also co-produced "Real Fine Place" with Evans, a move away from the multiple producers found on Evans' disappointing 2011 release, "Restless."
Bright adds particularly inventive and engaging arrangements to such standout cuts as "Sweet Spot" and especially "You Never Know," with its clever use of strings as a rhythmic element set against drums, bass and guitars. Evans' maturity also informs her new songs, especially the title cut, the equally compelling "Better Off" (a duet with Vince Gill) and "A Little Revival."
Judging from the strength of her new work, Evans should ignore her own advice and speed up recording efforts on the next round.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press
Kylie MinogueKiss Me Once/Warner Bros.
The latest offering from pop goddess Kylie Minogue is like a narcotic disco dream, slightly confused about the time-space continuum, yet very delightful. With her 12th studio album, her first after signing with Jay Z's Roc Nation management, Minogue attempts to keep her crown in the dance kingdom - and succeeds - when she's not trying too hard to upgrade to today's trends.
Australian wunderkind Sia, who has written for Rihanna, Beyonce and Britney Spears, co-executive produced this tiny gem of dance floor anthems and sex-crazed tunes. When three out of 11 tracks have the word "sex" in their titles, you know what the album is going for: the antechamber to the bedroom of music.
Minogue excels on songs that are pure bubble gum fun. The Pharrell-penned spring-in-one's-step "I Was Gonna Cancel," the vaguely familiar "Sexy Love," the casually dance-inducing "Feels So Good" and the beguilingly '80s throwback title track bring back a rash of dance memories from Minogue's golden days circa 2001 with the addictive hits "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and "Love at First Sight."
Sia's writing contribution to the fun is the aggressively erotic "Sexercize," a bass-heavy song that slithers all over your ears and proves that Minogue can deftly rap. Another laidback come-on is the enjoyable "Les Sex."
The bug in this sextra intoxicating party cocktail is the misguided attempt at a ballad: an irritating duet with Enrique Iglesias' computer-flavored vocals on "Beautiful." Just stick to what you do best, kids, separately. You can't force love on a player of an album.
By Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press