The Robert Glasper Experiment, "Black Radio 2" (Blue Note)
Following 2012's "Black Radio," which mashed up jazz and hip-hop into a distinct, Grammy-winning mix, Glasper aims for bigger and better. There are fewer covers, the vocoder is mostly sidelined and Glasper's twisty piano filigrees — a magnetic underpinning of the first album — are scarce. Make no mistake: This is an R&B record, and a solid one. The hooks are stronger too, as heard on "Calls," led by a near-hypnotic Jill Scott, and "I Stand Alone," which soars atop Glasper's cascading piano and a stadium-sized chorus by Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump. Anthony Hamilton adds a gospel surge to "Yet to Find," and the crackling drum and bass behind Glasper's restless piano deftly counterbalances a breathy Norah Jones on "Let It Ride." In the lone cover track, Lalah Hathaway takes on Stevie Wonder's "Jesus Children," which features an affecting spoken-word interlude by Malcolm Jamal Warner. The appearance draws a dotted line to Wonder's appearance on "The Cosby Show," which exposed a generation to the building blocks of hip-hop. Those echoes shaped Glasper, and they carry a weight equal to those from Miles and Herbie as he moves his experiments forward.
CHRIS BARTON, Los Angeles Times
Linda Thompson, "Won't Be Long Now"
Thompson's first solo album in six years (and only her third since 1985) finds guitarist Richard Thompson's former better half again having her exquisitely soulful way with dark and deathly British Isles balladry. This is very much a family affair: Her ex shows up on the opening "Love's for Babies and Fools," son Teddy plays guitar and contributes songs throughout, and daughter Cami takes a lead vocal turn on "Fast As My Feet." A rare vocal disorder has kept Thompson out of action, but here she sounds divine as she navigates troubled love songs of betrayal, loss and despair that are right in her wheelhouse. And just to let you know her voice is in great shape, she includes a commanding, live a cappella version of the brutally co-dependent drinking song "Blue Breezin' Blind Drunk."
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Kelly Clarkson, "Wrapped in Red" (RCA)
Is there a style of music Clarkson can't sing? On her first Christmas album she tackles songs by everyone from Irving Berlin to Imogen Heap, as well as four she co-wrote, including "Winter Dreams," an ode to new husband Brandon Blackstock. She handles it all expertly — hitting remarkably high notes on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and swinging jazzily on "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Ronnie Dunn. The new songs make "Wrapped in Red" a real gift, as the title track and "Underneath the Tree" channel the Phil Spector Christmas albums and "4 Carats" somehow blends "Stronger" and "Santa Baby."
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday