SoMo, "SoMo" (Republic)
R&B stardom used to be so much simpler for guys. Sing a sexy song about a pony or a little red Corvette, and you've got yourself a career if you did it right. But in recent years, that wasn't enough. For Justin Timberlake and Usher, sexy R&B songs weren't enough when there were envelopes to push and artistic standing to consider.
Maybe that's why "SoMo" sounds so refreshing. SoMo, aka Joseph Somers-Morales, isn't caught up in all the other issues of R&B stardom on his debut. He just wants to sing about sex and love — not necessarily in that order. And he does it really well.
"Ride" feels like the new-millennium version of Ginuwine's "Pony" — simple, effective and essentially timeless as a slow jam, destined for a prom near you. A breezy bit of disco-flecked soul, "Hush" is a clever, catchy good time that gives SoMo a chance to deliver some smooth vocals to create one of the best pop songs of 2014.
While "Crash" owes some to The Weeknd's timely icy synthesizer soundscapes, the bulk of "SoMo" could have been released at any point in the past three decades. More important, the bulk of this debut will likely work for the next three decades.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Carlene Carter, "Carter Girl" (Rounder)
Carter says she's been waiting her whole life to make "Carter Girl," which finds the third-generation representative of country's most famous family honoring her lineage through a collection drawn from the Carter Family and from mother June and aunts Helen and Anita, along with a few topical contributions of her own. Carter's pose on the cover evokes her mother, but this isn't meant to be a reproduction of those old songs. Instead, Carter brings them into her musical world — charging June Carter's murder-suicide ballad "Tall Lover Man" with the sort of twangy, poppy, country-rock treatment that has always been the daughter's calling card and giving an update to A.P. Carter's "Lonesome Valley" via the soulful mourn of "Lonesome Valley 2003." This may be the best record this Carter girl has ever made.
Stuart Munro, Boston Globe
Luther Dickinson, "Rock 'n Roll Blues" (New West)
This disc is a slice of good-old-fashioned Americana soaked in spooky backwater harmonies ("Goin' Country") and Kentucky bluegrass openness ("Bar Band"). But like those songs, the rest of Dickinson's latest has its wild variations on familiar, even stark themes (as on "Vandalize"). That's his thing. On acoustic tracks, Dickinson sounds as if he just happened onto a lawn party and stayed to boogie, soft and sweetly ("Mojo, Mojo"), hard (the country swing of "Yard Man"), and harder (his distorted acoustics on "Some Ol' Day"). Most impressive is Dickinson's storytelling: He fills this album with tall tales, silly asides, and seemingly personal moments, forlorn and loving, as on the record's fingerpicked, waltzing closer, "Karmic Debt."
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer