Neneh Cherry & the Thing, "The Cherry Thing" (Smalltown Supersound)

A lot of people will remember Cherry shifting with weird ease between New York and London accents on her biggest hit, "Buffalo Stance," in 1989, but she has more multiplicity than that. She has the blurry charm of an artist who doesn't root herself in a style or a tradition, with friends at the next stop on the line.

Cherry, now 48 and living in Stockholm, is a mix: Swedish, English, somewhat American. Much of her music lies in in-between states: not fixed styles but suggestions or passing experiments. And much of it has been fundamentally good-natured, enthusiastic and fresh, like her voice.

With "The Cherry Thing," her first solo album in 16 years, she's taking part in a sound that's rougher, grimmer, older and strangely for her, a lot more macho. The album includes one song each by Cherry and Thing saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, but basically it's a covers album of tunes by jazz man Ornette Coleman, rapper MF Doom and rockers the Stooges. It's a repertory about the crossroads between tenderness and ruckus, and that's their natural combined sound. From a distance this project might look like a piece of rigorous critical thinking; up close it's a lot more casual, based on sentimentality and comfort.

What's intended to be raw can sound smug. In "Dirt," the Thing pushes past the tenderness that lives in that song to get to aggressive, stylized and finally anonymous squalling. But "Dream Baby Dream" does some redeeming. Suicide's original was a sweet idea rendered with monstrous intensity; here, Cherry embodies the sweet idea, repeating the words in the title and variations on it, and the band brings the intensity.


Bobby Womack, "The Bravest Man

in the Universe" (XL)

As a singer, songwriter and guitarist, Womack was integral to some of the greatest achievements of Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone and Janis Joplin, and in the '70s and '80s, he had R&B hits of his own such as "Across 110th Street." Now 68, he's been quiet for mostly two decades, but Damon Albarn coaxed him into appearing on Gorillaz' 2010 album "Plastic Beach" and its subsequent tour, and Albarn is partly behind Womack's first album of new material since 1994.

"Bravest Man" isn't an attempt to recapture glory days; it's a modern re-creation, akin to the recent work that co-producer Richard Russell did with the late Gil Scott-Heron. Womack's peerless, gritty voice mingles with loping Gorillaz-like beats and electronics on coolly soulful ballads ("Dayglo Reflection," a duet with Lana Del Rey) or thumping celebrations ("Jubilee," one of two gospel numbers). Womack may not be the bravest man in the universe, but he's hands-down one of the most soulful.