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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Night Train |


After revving up the pace on 2008’s Perfect Symmetry, Keane stays in high gear on Night Train. But while the Brit trio’s fourth album revisits the ’80s synth-pop bounce of its predecessor, there are a couple of new curves along the way. The chief twist? Enlisting Somalian-born hip-hop artist K’Naan for two tracks. He drops his rhymes on the first single, “Stop for a Minute,” adding funky flavor to Keane’s piano-driven pop. Even better is “Looking Back,” a “live it forward” anthem that, in addition to K’Naan’s chill guest rap, features a thumping beat and a horn part lifted from the Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now.” Elsewhere Japan’s Tigarah turns up on a bubbling cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Ishin Denshin (You’ve Got to Help Yourself)” that shows just how far Keane has come from gloomy to giddy.

Melissa Etheridge

Fearless Love |


Melissa Etheridge’s 10th studio album reunites her with John Shanks, who played guitar with her before going on to become a Grammy-winning producer for everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Miley Cyrus. With Shanks behind the boards, Etheridge sounds energized on Fearless Love (although the disc loses steam toward the end). She comes out strong with the first four tracks, starting with the bracing title tune, which Etheridge attacks courageously. Then there’s “The Wanting of You,” a Springsteen-esque rocker, the aching power ballad “Company” and “Miss California,” on which she takes fierce aim at Prop 8.

Nikki Yanofsky

Nikki |


On “First Lady,” one of six songs she cowrote on her debut, 16-year-old Nikki Yanofsky gives props to “dear Ella” for her inspiration. Indeed, this Canadian jazz-pop prodigy-who performed during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the Vancouver Games-seems to be possessed by the swinging spirit of Miss Fitzgerald. Just check out her dynamic delivery, complete with nimble scat attack, on the Ella fave “You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini).” On another one of the standards, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” her robust vocal brings to mind a young Christina Aguilera. Too bad most of the originals don’t measure up to Yanofsky’s big voice. Still, she’s a major new talent.