McIntyre is a long way from New Kids on the Block. The youngest member of that group, he has matured into an accomplished singer who's as comfortable with pulsing tracks such as the disc-opening "Dance Like That," as he is with ballads, including "Love Me That Way."
He co-wrote all 10 songs with Emanuel Kiriakou, and he displays both confidence and a sure melodic and lyrical touch. And with the disc titled after the date of his marriage last year, there's a distinct romantic center to many of the tracks. Plus there's sufficient variety in the arrangements - from the acoustic element in the ballad "I'd Never Get Over You" to the funky riff in "California"- to keep things interesting.
With a burgeoning career as an actor on stage, television, and in movies, McIntyre is obviously broadening his performance horizons. But when he returns to music, he does so with style. Though it breaks no new ground, or offers any great surprises, this is pop music with a stronger melodic and musical focus - and more style - than many of his peers.
- RICHARD PATON
It's easy to see why A-list producer Don Gehman chose to work with South Carolina roots rockers Blue Dogs. The band has a sunny sound centered on a solid rhythm section; tight, economical arrangements, and heartland lyrics just like two of the most well-known artists he's worked with: John Mellencamp and Hootie and the Blowfish. Unfortunately, Blue Dogs also are pleasantly bland, something Gehman doesn't help with his squeaky-clean production. The band's songs are somewhere between modern country and rock, but never rocking too hard, and loaded with catchy melodies and swift turns of phrase. Mellencamp gave up this kind of music more than a decade ago and it seems tired in the wake of so many bands like Wilco, the Bottle Rockets, and Son Volt, who gave the marriage of country and southern rock a real edge.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Every bit as good as the Grammy-winning "Shrek" soundtrack, "Shrek 2" is a crisp and cool, upbeat collection of pop rock. Beginning with a new, anthem-like love song by Counting Crows, the disc's pace and eclectic nature are as intriguing as the original. There are songs from up-and-coming British musicians, one of the most notable being Butterfly Boucher's duet with David Bowie on a bold remake of Bowie's "Changes." Even the obligatory Eddie Murphy song at the end of the album - a remake of "Livin La Vida Loca" - sounds great in all its goofiness.
- TOM HENRY
Legendary blues artist Etta James pays homage to blues pioneers as she puts her own stamp on some classic tracks. She growls, moans, and rocks her way through a dozen numbers first done by Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and others. She says she wanted to present their male takes on life from a woman's point of view, and dusts off these gems about life and death, joy and sorrow, and polishes them to a high gloss. Her versions of "I Got My Mojo Working," "Hush Hush," "Lil' Red Rooster," "Crawlin' King Snake," and "Dust My Broom" are pure excitement.
- KEN ROSENBAUM
Somewhere between smooth jazz and straight-ahead jazz lies Pieces of A Dream, which bills itself as smooth but delivers instrumental punch and vocal power that should make its new recording palatable to all jazz fans. This is the kind of music that got its start on the dance floors of the late 1970s in Philadelphia and creates a kind of pop-soul-jazz mix with horns that constantly strain to break free and soar. Only one of the 11 tracks isn't an original - "Devotion," which was laid down in 1974 by Earth, Wind and Fire. As rendered by Pieces it is hot, with a heavy beat and rich soulful lead vocals by Tracy Hamlin. It is breathtaking.
- LARRY ROBERTS
CHILLOUT 05/THE ULTIMATE CHILLOUT, Various Artists (Nettwerk America) The variety of musical styles from jazz and alternative influences to ambient, combined with a prevalence of vocal tracks, make this chilled compilation both relaxing and rewarding listening.
IT'S ABOUT TIME, Kelly Lang (Destiny Row) The opening track, 'Goodbye Darlin',' is a tribute to the late Conway Twitty, but Lang clearly doesn't need to rely on anybody else's work on this outstanding debut album. She wrote most of the songs, and melds her rich, warm country vocals to some fine lyrics and melodies.