Maroon 5
It Won't Be Soon Before Long | [3 stars]
POP-ROCK

After they won the Best New Artist Grammy on the strength of 2002's Songs About Jane, the challenge for Maroon 5 was to avoid the curse that has befallen other award recipients such as Paula Cole, Marc Cohn and Christopher Cross. And they've done that with this satisfying if slightly lesser follow-up, which has already spawned the No. 1 hit "Makes Me Wonder." Although there is nothing here quite as irresistible as "This Love" or "She Will Be Loved," there are still plenty of songs that will sound great blasting from your car stereo. Highlights include the funky-strutting opener "If I Never See Your Face Again," which features '80s Prince synths and falsetto vocals by frontman Adam Levine that echo vintage Michael Jackson. They keep the sexy, soul-kissed grooves coming on rhythmically driven tracks like "Kiwi." Best, though, is the swoonworthy ballad "Better That We Break," which could be the breakup song of the summer.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Better That We Break"

John Anderson
Easy Money | [4 stars]
REVIEWED BY RALPH NOVAK
CRITIC'S CHOICE
COUNTRY

Having recorded for 30 years, Anderson has a keen sense of his own strengths, so the 11 songs on this exemplary album couldn't suit him better, showcasing his warm, hearty baritone and easy, unaffected masculinity. From the energetic title tune to the empathetic "A Woman Knows" and the wistful "Willie's Guitar" ("The hole in Willie Nelson's guitar is like the one you've worn through my heart"), he rocks, croons and altogether charms his way along.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Willie's Guitar"

The Bravery
The Sun and the Moon | [3 stars]
ALT-ROCK

Rather than rehash their self-titled debut, which found them ably joining the ranks of the neo-new wave movement, The Bravery summons the courage to change things up on The Sun and the Moon. Less immediate and more downtempo, the new disc may initially frustrate fans hoping for more of "An Honest Mistake." Instead, they have injected their '80s revivalism with a fresh dose of '60s psychedelic pop on tracks such as "Fistful of Sand" and the first single, "Time Won't Let Me Go." Think the Cure meets the Beach Boys. Elsewhere, the Bravery dips into string-laden balladry on "The Ocean" and "Tragedy Bound." But on songs like the cutting "Every Word Is a Knife in My Ear," they can still rock the party like it was 1984.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Time Won't Let Me Go"

Jon McLaughlin
Indiana | [2.5 stars]
POP

On the scale of today's piano-pop men, Jon McLaughlin falls somewhere between Daniel Powter and Gavin DeGraw. Proudly repping Middle America on his major-label debut, this Anderson, Ind., native sometimes comes across as too middle-of-the-road. But he's got charm and chops, as evident on tunes like the title cut, on which this boy earnestly confesses that he's not so ready to meet the big bad world.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Indiana"

Tori Amos
American Doll Posse | [3 stars]
ALT-POP

Chaka and Whitney sang it, but on her new disc Tori Amos really is every woman. On this ambitious concept album, the piano-playing singer-songwriter delivers her tunes from the perspective of five characters representing different female archetypes: Isabel, Clyde, Pip, Santa and, of course, Tori. (Color-coded lyrics in the CD booklet help you figure out which doll is featured on each track.) The highlight comes from Clyde on "Bouncing Off Clouds," a heavenly slice of atmospheric pop set to a bouncy beat. Through it all, though, American Doll Posse is uniquely Tori.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Bouncing Off Clouds"

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