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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Leona Lewis

Echo |

REVIEWED BY IVORY JEFF CLINTON

POP

Leona Lewis clearly hasn’t heard of the sophomore slump. In fact, Echo is a more resounding success than Spirit, the British singer’s platinum 2007 debut. From soul-stirring ballads to pulsating techno jams, the new CD is more varied musically and more vibrant lyrically (with Lewis cowriting 10 tunes). It all gives the diva a chance to show off her formidable vocal range. She hits the right emotional notes on cuts like the hidden track “Stone Hearts & Hand Grenades,” a poetic declaration of commitment. The haunting highlight, though, is “Don’t Let Me Down,” which comes with a bonus assist from Justin Timberlake.

Kris Allen

Kris Allen |

REVIEWED BY JESSICA HERNDON

POP-ROCK

On the self-titled debut from reigning American Idol Kris Allen, the pop-rock hooks can be as engaging as his heartthrob looks. Indeed, he makes you melt effortlessly crooning those sweet mid and high notes on the sweeping “Before We Come Undone.” But there’s something calculated about it all. When he sings about “trying to be perfect, trying not to let you down” on “The Truth,” he falls short of displaying real emotion. Still, Allen shows promise as a songwriter and his cover of Kanye West‘s “Heartless” is R&B pop turned delicious soft-rock.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Is It Over,” a wistful, slow-winding ballad

Carrie Underwood

Play On |

REVIEWED BY RANDY VEST

COUNTRY-POP

Underwood’s third CD–the follow-up to 2007’s Carnival Ride–is, like much of today’s Nashville, a mash-up of musical genres. “Cowboy Casanova” is a hook-heavy arena rocker, while the laid-back “Look at Me” features a more traditional country sound and the angelic-voiced Vince Gill on harmony. A few stripped-down sides showcase Underwood’s pitch-perfect pipes, including the ballad “Temporary Home” (which she cowrote) and “Someday When I Stop Loving You,” the CD’s standout track, in which she conveys the pain and regret of love lost. It serves as a stellar example that, more often than not, less is indeed more.

Norah Jones

The Fall |

CRITIC’S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

POP

Breakups are never easy, but Norah Jones’s split with longtime boyfriend Lee Alexander–a key player in her first three albums as a bassist, writer and producer–must have been truly complicated. But on The Fall, Jones gracefully picks herself back up. She makes a smooth shift in tone by playing electric and acoustic guitar as well as her signature piano. Like everything Jones does, it’s subtle, but it adds a bite to these tunes, breakup songs included. And her voice, always sultry, finds new layers of sexiness. Listening to the twangy torcher “I Wouldn’t Need You” should be enough to make any Jones ex have regrets.

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