So much has been said about the big British music boom, but Duffy’s drab sophomore album was D.O.A. and Amy Winehouse drank herself into oblivion. But Adele Adkins, with the wowing voice and girl-everyone-likes appeal, sings like she’s here to stay on her post-_19_ release. Taking off two years after delivering her debut (the title represents the age at which she wrote it), 21 reflects a tumultuous split that left her with a broken heart and 11 songs, all done-up by a slick team of Top-40 producers. The blitzing first, “Rolling in the Deep,” has thunderous bite as its acoustic guitar bursts into a surging old-school soul song with some mad vocals ripping into her ex-lover: “Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare.” Tell us how you really feel, Adele. And, well, she does, either trying to shake love’s memories on “Set Fire to the Rain” or, with “Turning Tables,” walking away from a wrecking relationship. Wronged-woman balladry is the album’s primary pursuit, with numbers like “Take It All,” featuring a stunning bridge and choir; an intimate bossa nova cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong”; and showstopper “Someone Like You,” a wrenching, repeat-worthy torch song with enough conviction penetrating her colossal wail to crush you into itty-bitty pieces. It’s the voice of a classic in the making.Grade: A-
Lucinda Williams, Blessed
Three decades in and Lucinda Williams still isn’t letting you down easy. 2007’s self-reflective West grieved her mother’s death, and though its aggressive follow-up, Little Honey, served as a nice breather, she’s back to ripping into you with her 10th album. Suicide is the subject of “Seeing Black,” but it doesn’t sound as sad as it should. It’s confused and inquisitive, asking why and how over Elvis Costello’s driving guitar licks. Hauntingly portraying the familial horrors of war, “Soldier’s Song,” however, shoots right through you. Both are among her best work, up there with tracks off her career benchmark “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.” “Kiss Like Your Kiss” is too with the transcendent beauty of its romantic evocation, one rich with imagery and a sweetly restrained Williams singing as if she’s not drunk. That husky slur, however, is still one of the Americana legend’s finest assets, and it works well when she snarls on “Buttercup,” a blistering bluesy rocker, and while piping over a grungy guitar rollick on “Convince Me.” She doesn’t have to convince us; the songs, from “Don’t Know How You’re Livin’” to the powerful “Copenhagen,” do so on their own, as Williams sounds wiser, like she’s finally ready to look out instead of in. Years of heartbreak will do that to you.
Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes
“Dance while you can” is the lyrical creed off one of the best cuts, “Love Out of Lust,” from the Swedish chanteuse’s follow-up to 2008’s Youth Novels. But these aren’t foot-shuffling songs. Even if they are electro-retro, they’re chilly as ice – achy, wallowing and absolutely mesmerizing, much like her haunting, career-powering “Possibility” from the Twilight soundtrack. “Unrequited Love” is a girl-group song in slo-mo whose sadness mounts because of her little-girl singing; it’s a brilliant bummer. On Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li makes a breakup sound beautiful, especially with the ditty Duffy would kill for, “Sadness is a Blessing” – something you’d believe if you heard this album.
Teddy Thompson, Bella
It’s a voice you’ve heard before. On the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. In Rufus Wainwright’s band. But the offspring of legends Linda and Richard Thompson is still flying under the radar despite his genius, which is potent on his fifth album – one that employs delicate strings that push out into his rock-country-folk underbelly. His songwriting, about being in and out of love, is spot-on, but the real sell is his billowy pipes. They blow in rich caresses, showering over heartbreakers like the goodbye-lover lament “Take Care of Yourself” and the ode-to-hopeless-romantics “Gotta Have Someone.” That someone is Teddy Thompson.