Luke Bryan, “Kill the Lights” (Capitol Nashville)
Bryan didn’t have to take any risks on his new album. He sent six songs to No. 1 on the country charts from his double-platinum “Crash My Party” album, and no one would have quibbled if he simply had chosen to stay the course and crank out more sweet, easygoing country cool. But he didn’t.
Not only did he head in a more aggressive direction with some of his new songs, he doubled down. “Kick the Dust Up” sounds like an odd, countrified mix of a Missy Elliott single from the early ’00s; in today’s country radio landscape, it’s practically radical. Yet, Bryan named his new tour after the song and chose it as the album’s lead single; it hit No. 1 on the country charts.
Bryan has even more surprises. “Kill the Lights,” which became the album’s title track, bounces along on a bass line that sounds like it came from an ’N Sync knockoff boy band at the turn of the millennium. Somehow, he makes that work as well.
The ballad “Strip It Down” has a decidedly more sexual bent than usual for Bryan, talking about dirty dancing and feeling “my belt turn loose from these old bluejeans.”
The shift in Bryan’s musical context is important because his warm, likable voice doesn’t change much from song to song. Its power is derived from its surroundings.
Bryan is still far more effective when he seems comfortable. “Fast,” with its more classic country appeal and clever writing from Bryan, Luke Laird and Rodney Clawson, is an easy winner, as is the simple “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” which he calls the “prayer that a country boy prays.”
Experimenting is good, but sometimes sticking to what you know is even better.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Lianne La Havas, “Blood” (Warner Bros.)
La Havas is one of the most beguiling pop stars of our time. With her second record, she confirms this status.
Aesthetically breathtaking, she is a charming and immaculately dressed 25-year-old of Greek and Jamaican origin born in London. Her 2012 debut “Is Your Love Big Enough?” earned well-deserved accolades, partly on the strength of wonderful singles such as the title track and “Forget.” Her much anticipated sophomore effort, “Blood,” might not have singles with such immediate appeal, but it flouts that tired expectation by making a complete, cohesive long-play delightful from beginning to end.
She front-loads the crowd-pleasers: “Unstoppable,” a gauzy introduction that rewards patience with a meaty beat, lush production and a singalong chorus; “Green & Gold,” a delightful, jazzy show of confidence in a mirror, a reflection on her youthfulness and connection to an ancient bloodline, and the video-accompanied “What You Won’t Do,” a riff on early ’60s girl groups with a timeless, sultry edge.
Alice Smith, Jessie Ware, Janelle Monáe and Laura Mvula stand out as contemporaries, but with “Blood,” La Havas solidifies her place in their presence. She’s worthwhile, a force to be reckoned with.
Bill Chenevert, Philadelphia Inquirer