Kelly Clarkson, "Piece by Piece" (RCA)
Clarkson has been on a roll in her personal life. She married manager Brandon Blackstock in 2013 and became a mom to his two kids. She gave birth to a daughter last year. And she recently told People magazine that she now finds herself at peace. She even shared her happiness in "Heartbeat Song," the upbeat first single. However, Clarkson's happy home life seems to have quenched much of the fire that fueled her previous successes. We get a much calmer, less excited Clarkson on her first pop album in four years. The closest we get to any of her previously brassy attitude is on the gorgeous "Someone." She offers more stately, assured ballads such as "Invincible," which sounds elegant but also isolated. Sometimes, Clarkson's warm vocals bridge the gap here, especially in the very personal title track. If that's the new plateau she is reaching for, it will be well worth it. She often comes up a little short here, offering good but not great.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Arcade Fire's Will Butler is eclectic, arty and energetic on his solo debut, "Policy," due Tuesday. tinyurl.com/q5e96o2