By Gregg Shapiro
For a while there, with each new album, P!nk seemed to be moving farther away from the artist she was on Can’t Take Me Home and M!ssundaztood. The Eminem duet on “Revenge” from her latest album Beautiful Trauma (RCA), maneuvers her back to her rapping/singing roots. Regardless, P!nk has definitely found another niche for herself in the arena-sized power ballad, represented here by “But We Lost It”, “What About Us”, “Wild Heart Can’t Be Broken”, “For Now” and the title tune. P!nk hasn’t turned her back on the dance-floor as she demonstrates on “Secrets” and “Where We Go”.
Does anyone else think it’s strange that Kelly Clarkson, the winner of a TV talent show (American Idol), is earning her keep by sitting in judgment of others on a TV talent show (The Voice) on another network? Especially since, after a far-too-short retirement, the tacky AI recently returned to network television. It feels like a step backwards, especially after releasing the vibrant Meaning of Life (Atlantic). Steeped in soul with an ear cocked towards retro sounds, Meaning of Life effortlessly expands Clarkson’s considerable palate on songs such as “Medicine”, “Heat”, “Cruel” and “I Don’t Think About You”. Clarkson even goes for some Beyoncé-style bombast on “Whole Lotta Woman”.
Like the abovementioned Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry has found a place for herself at the judges’ table on a TV talent show. That’s probably for the best. Derided and dismissed when it was first released, Katy Perry’s 2017 disc Witness (Capitol) was an uneven electro experiment. The best tracks, including “Déjà vu”, “Swish Swish” featuring Nicki Minaj, “Bigger Than Me”, “Bon Appetit” featuring Migos and “Chained to The Rhythm” featuring Skip Marley, were respectful of the dance-floor. The other songs needed more consistent beats and less stripper-pole sleaze.
Demi Lovato’s song “Sorry Not Sorry”, from her Tell Me You Love Me (Island/Hollywood) was one of the inescapable anthems of the last half of 2017. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the disc lacks the punch of “Sorry…”, putting Lovato in the unenviable position of being indistinguishable from her contemporaries. Exceptions such as “Hitchhiker”, the distracting “Concentrate” (Coldplay mention aside) and the dance-oriented “Sexy Dirty Love”, illustrate that there’s more to Lovato than meets the ear.
Neo-soul diva SZA (aka Solana Rowe) doesn’t mince words on her major-label debut Ctrl (RCA/TDE). When they are her words, as in the raw and honest opener “Supermodel”, the frustration of the man-sharing “The Weekend”, the self-doubting “Drew Barrymore” or the daylight burning in “Broken Clocks”, she has a gift for getting to the heart of the matter, laying herself and her emotions bare. She also finds a way to balance graphic sexuality with female empowerment on “Doves in the Wind”. When they are the words of her elders, shared in spoken snippets throughout, they are more pearls of wisdom to complement SZA’s.
It’s hard to believe, but next year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Lisa Stansfield’s 1989 debut album Affection. In addition to introducing us to her powerful vocals and way with a dance track, the album earned Stansfield a couple of Grammy Award nominations. Deeper (earMusic), Stansfield’s first new album in five years, finds her working in the same blue-eyed British soul vein, with highlights “Twisted”, “Everything”, “Hercules”, “Never Ever” and a reverent cover of The Family Stand’s “Ghetto Heaven”.
No matter your age, an encouraging word from Dolly Parton can make anyone’s day better. Described as her “first children’s CD”, I Believe in You (Dolly/RCA), featuring a new arrangement of her autobiographical tune “Coat of Many Colors”, as well as uplifting songs about friendship (“Together Forever” and “A Friend Like You”), parents (“I’m Here”), determination (“You Can Do It”) and fortitude (“Brave Little Soldier” and “Chemo Hero”). The anti-bullying number “Makin’ Fun Ain’t Funny” is a standout and the colorful “I Am A Rainbow” will no doubt have a special place in the hearts of LGBTQ listeners of all ages. Sales of the CD “go to putting more books into the hands of more children.”
P!nk performs on April 21 at Philips Arena, and SZA performs on May 25 at Lakewood Amphitheatre.