John Legend, “Love in the Future” (Columbia)
Don’t be fooled by the title of Legend’s fourth solo record, as the music actually looks backward to sweeping romanticism and pop formalism. All of Legend’s strengths are present: keen melodies, smooth vocal understatement and artful arrangements. Essentially, the disc plays like a love letter to his fiancée, supermodel Chrissy Teigen, yet it resonates. Each song either extols the graces of a woman or endorses the endurance of relationships.
On “All of Me,” Legend earnestly sings, “love your curves and all your edges/ all your perfect imperfections.” “You & I” is an ode to such single-minded devotion it would soften the most jaded heart. The rare misses include “Asylum,” which speaks of being crazy in love, but is too genteel to convince. The singer-songwriter is an anomaly in today’s R&B because he’s not trying to rattle every bedpost and out-swag his peers. There are no blurred lines here — Legend wants to bring romance back to pop.
Legend performs Nov. 19 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.
Ken Capobianco, Boston Globe
Gloria Estefan, “The Standards” (Sony Masterworks)
Usually when veteran pop stars advance into middle age and attempt to record something more sophisticated, it comes off as stiff or otherwise awkward. But Estefan has never sounded more natural than she does gliding along the exhilarating arrangements of “The Standards,” comfortably covering some of the world’s best-known songs.
Indeed, from her gentle piano-based version of the Billie Holiday classic “Good Morning Heartache” to her stately rendition of the Frank Sinatra standard “Young at Heart,” Estefan displays the necessary confidence and conviction to pull it off.
It’s not as though Estefan’s voice is particularly amazing, and some might find her range and intonations too limited for such grand material. Yet she could hardly do better with what she’s got, a voice that has picked up some emotional weight with time, and she is typically both refined and refrained as she resists belting or demanding all the focus.
Estefan sidles up to the brushed rhythm of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face,” for example, and politely withdraws to make room for a sweet acoustic guitar solo. She’s also graciously subdued in the alluring “Embraceable You” and gingerly insistent in the gradual build of “What a Wonderful World.” Meanwhile, she has no problem segueing into the swing of more up-tempo cuts such as “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”
This kind of aural intoxication may cause periodic drowsiness, but the bliss is consistent.
Chuck Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service