Alanis Morissette, "Havoc and Brights Lights" (Columbia)
It's been four years since Morissette's last album and judging by the sound here, it was a bountiful hiatus. Marriage and motherhood are strong muses and she sounds refreshed, curious and open. As ever, Morissette remains in list mode.
On the ultra-catchy first single, "Guardian," a burbly slice of shiny radio pop, she takes on the titles of guardian, angel, warrior, watchwoman and keeper of life. The narrator of the grungy and hypnotic guitar rocker "Numb" feels smothered, encumbered, defeated, disappointed and overextended, among other things. (This sense of "over-caring" resurfaces in the self-soothing "Receive" in which Morissette sings of the need to learn to accept help.) There is also a recitation of the various women tolerating indignities and abuses in the electronica-tinged anthem "Woman Down" and the many blessings to be thankful for in the bright piano ballad "Empathy."
There are a couple of clunkers, including the finger-wagger "Celebrity," directed at those who seek fame as its own reward, and the droning "Win Win." But for the most part Morissette and producers Guy Sigsworth and Joe Chiccarelli keep the proceedings crisp, tuneful, warm and sincere. While that last element occasionally leads Morissette to flirt with flakiness, it's refreshing that the artist who burst onto the scene in the mid-'90s is plumbing the depths to figure out what she oughta know.
Morissette performs Oct. 12 at the State Theatre.
SARAH RODMAN, Boston Globe
Lionel Loueke, "Heritage" (Blue Note)
Up to this point, Loueke's recordings have suggested a disarming marriage of the expansive and the insular. A guitarist/vocalist from Benin, he came into his own by absorbing multiple strains of West African and Brazilian music, along with decades of modern jazz. So openness and curiosity have nourished him, but his history as an artist suggests a firm, unaffected identity.
His potent new album underscores that impression even as it changes the context around him. Unlike Loueke's first three albums as a leader, this one revels in the heavy influence of funk and Afrobeat. It has a punchy drum sound, woozy electric bass and guitar work that toggles between sharp and slithery.
What sharpens the picture is the writing, which skews refreshingly songlike, girded with sophisticated but intuitive harmony. The first three tracks offer a familiar but engaging tour through Loueke's Wayne Shorter-esque jazz ideal. Hardier approaches to rhythm arrive with "Freedom Dance," an airtight Afrobeat jam; "Farafina," a tangle of stuttering funk; and "Goree," a breakbeat showcase.
It's a variable feast, light-handed about its cultural implications but invested in emotional connection. Loueke has never had a problem conveying warmth, but his expressive gifts have rarely been marshaled as smartly as they are here.
NATE CHINEN, NEW YORK TIMES