Leona Lewis

Echo |

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



REVIEWED BY IVORY JEFF CLINTON

POP

Leona Lewis clearly hasn't heard of the sophomore slump. In fact, Echo is a more resounding success than Spirit, the British singer's platinum 2007 debut. From soul-stirring ballads to pulsating techno jams, the new CD is more varied musically and more vibrant lyrically (with Lewis cowriting 10 tunes). It all gives the diva a chance to show off her formidable vocal range. She hits the right emotional notes on cuts like the hidden track "Stone Hearts & Hand Grenades," a poetic declaration of commitment. The haunting highlight, though, is "Don't Let Me Down," which comes with a bonus assist from Justin Timberlake.

Kris Allen

Kris Allen |

bgwhite bgwhite   



REVIEWED BY JESSICA HERNDON

POP-ROCK

On the self-titled debut from reigning American Idol Kris Allen, the pop-rock hooks can be as engaging as his heartthrob looks. Indeed, he makes you melt effortlessly crooning those sweet mid and high notes on the sweeping "Before We Come Undone." But there's something calculated about it all. When he sings about "trying to be perfect, trying not to let you down" on "The Truth," he falls short of displaying real emotion. Still, Allen shows promise as a songwriter and his cover of Kanye West's "Heartless" is R&B pop turned delicious soft-rock.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Is It Over," a wistful, slow-winding ballad

Carrie Underwood

Play On |

bgwhite bgwhite   



REVIEWED BY RANDY VEST

COUNTRY-POP

Underwood's third CD--the follow-up to 2007's Carnival Ride--is, like much of today's Nashville, a mash-up of musical genres. "Cowboy Casanova" is a hook-heavy arena rocker, while the laid-back "Look at Me" features a more traditional country sound and the angelic-voiced Vince Gill on harmony. A few stripped-down sides showcase Underwood's pitch-perfect pipes, including the ballad "Temporary Home" (which she cowrote) and "Someday When I Stop Loving You," the CD's standout track, in which she conveys the pain and regret of love lost. It serves as a stellar example that, more often than not, less is indeed more.

Norah Jones

The Fall |

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

POP

Breakups are never easy, but Norah Jones's split with longtime boyfriend Lee Alexander--a key player in her first three albums as a bassist, writer and producer--must have been truly complicated. But on The Fall, Jones gracefully picks herself back up. She makes a smooth shift in tone by playing electric and acoustic guitar as well as her signature piano. Like everything Jones does, it's subtle, but it adds a bite to these tunes, breakup songs included. And her voice, always sultry, finds new layers of sexiness. Listening to the twangy torcher "I Wouldn't Need You" should be enough to make any Jones ex have regrets.

FOR DOWNLOAD PICKS INFO, GO TO PEOPLE.COM/DOWNLOADTHIS

>To cap her big comeback year, Brit releases The Singles Collection, which hits you with one guilty pleasure after another, from "... Baby One More Time" and "I'm a Slave 4 U" to recent No. 1 "3."

>The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Moody and brooding, the No. 1-selling soundtrack to the hotly anticipated film delivers with new tracks by alternative A-listers like Thom Yorke, the Killers and Death Cab for Cutie.

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



JOE NICHOLS

Old Things New

The "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" singer finds more inspiration at the bottom of the bottle on this, one of the year's best country albums.

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



FLORENCE + THE MACHINE

Lungs

Florence Welch, with a powerful set of lungs, alternately conjures up Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde and Sinead O'Connor on her debut album.

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



ROSANNE CASH

The List

Culling her latest from father Johnny's list of "100 Essential Country Songs," Cash makes a loving tribute that honors tradition and gives these tunes her own spin.

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  



>DIDDY, with new group Dirty Money, samples the Notorious B.I.G. on "Angels," a hip-hop ballad. $1.29 at iTunes.com.

ROBIN THICKE sets a lusty mood on "Sex Therapy," the title slow jam from his Dec. 8 release. $1.29 at napster.com.

LADY GAGA gets the dance floor pumping yet again on the synth-heavy "Bad Romance." $1.29 at rhapsody.com.

>• The songwriter-producer, 30—whose band has a new CD, Waking Up–tells us the stories behind his hits.

LEONA LEWIS, "BLEEDING LOVE"

For this I [imagined] writing the theme song to Say Anything. I didn't write it specifically for Leona, but it just connected with her. She's professional, phenomenally gifted and beautiful. The total package.

Beyoncé Knowles, "HALO"

She was a fan of OneRepublic. Her manager called and asked if I could write a song like "Come Home" [off Dreaming Out Loud]. I wanted to do something uplifting. Beyoncé took it to another level vocally. She definitely out-sang my demo!

JORDIN SPARKS, "BATTLEFIELD"

Originally it was for Rihanna. But I handed the song to her camp the day of Clive Davis' [pre-Grammy] party. That night Chris Brown beat her up. The song talks about fighting, so it was inappropriate.

KELLY CLARKSON, "ALREADY GONE"

I recorded her vocals the same way Sinead O'Connor did "Nothing Compares 2 U." I'm always trying to beat that song!

>• To cap her big comeback year, Brit releases The Singles Collection, which hits you with one guilty pleasure after another, from "... Baby One More Time" and "I'm a Slave 4 U" to recent No. 1 "3."

>The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Moody and brooding, the No. 1-selling soundtrack to the hotly anticipated film delivers with new tracks by alternative A-listers like Thom Yorke, the Killers and Death Cab for Cutie. [3½ stars]

JOE NICHOLS

Old Things New

The "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" singer finds more inspiration at the bottom of the bottle on this, one of the year's best country albums. [3½ stars]

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE

Lungs

Florence Welch, with a powerful set of lungs, alternately conjures up Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde and Sinéad O'Connor on her debut album. [3½ stars]

ROSANNE CASH

The List

Culling her latest from father Johnny's list of "100 Essential Country Songs," Cash makes a loving tribute that honors tradition and gives these tunes her own spin. [3½ stars]

>DIDDY, with new group Dirty Money, samples the Notorious B.I.G. on "Angels," a hip-hop ballad. $1.29 at iTunes.com.

ROBIN THICKE sets a lusty mood on "Sex Therapy," the title slow jam from his Dec. 8 release. $1.29 at napster.com.

LADY GAGA gets the dance floor pumping yet again on the synth-heavy "Bad Romance." $1.29 at rhapsody.com.

>• The songwriter-producer, 30—whose band has a new CD, Waking Up—tells us the stories behind his hits.

LEONA LEWIS, "BLEEDING LOVE"

For this I [imagined] writing the theme song to Say Anything. I didn't write it specifically for Leona, but it just connected with her. She's professional, phenomenally gifted and beautiful. The total package.

Beyoncé Knowles, "HALO"

She was a fan of OneRepublic. Her manager called and asked if I could write a song like "Come Home" [off Dreaming Out Loud]. I wanted to do something uplifting. Beyoncé took it to another level vocally. She definitely out-sang my demo!

JORDIN SPARKS, "BATTLEFIELD"

Originally it was for Rihanna. But I handed the song to her camp the day of Clive Davis' [pre-Grammy] party. That night Chris Brown beat her up. The song talks about fighting, so it was inappropriate.

KELLY CLARKSON, "ALREADY GONE"

I recorded her vocals the same way Sinéad O'Connor did "Nothing Compares 2 U." I'm always trying to beat that song!