4 Beyonce (Parkwood/Columbia)
Beyonce is by now well established as a brand. She has the one name (Cher, Madonna, etc), the acting (Dreamgirls and upcoming A Star Is Born, for example), the business savvy (a sachet of her perfume is included with the CD), the model-like poses (check the inner sleeve), the multimillion-selling musical resume.
But on "4," Beyonce wants to expand the brand, as it were; to move on from the beat-packed, club-filling music of her earlier career to what she sees as something bolder and with more substance.
Well, the disc certainly is no invitation to boogie, and if that's what Beyonce had in mind, job done. For the most part it gets up no head of steam, languishing instead in ballads and mid-tempo songs. Which means that while it has its moments -- Beyonce has talent aplenty, after all -- it becomes rather one-note, too same-y.
The disc doesn't get off to a good start with "1+1" on which she displays all manner of vocal thrills and trills to no particular avail. All style and no soul, really.
Other tracks are better. "I Care" and "I Miss You" have an electronic ambience in the arrangement and nice harmonies on the chorus. "Party" breaks things up a bit with a '90s synth sound, there's a touch of Motown to "Rather Die Young," and "Love On Top" has an old-school feel about it.
The closing mash-up of staccato electronic club beats and a girl-power message is a bit of a head-scratcher, rounding out a disc that has its moments, but overall is disappointing and unadventurous.
That doesn't mean anything at the cash registers, however, given that "4" debuted atop the Billboard album charts.
-- RICHARD PATON
LARRY CORYELL WITH THE WIDE HIVE PLAYERS Larry Coryell. Wide Hive Records.
Larry Coryell has a soft spot in my heart: As a teenager and a budding fan of all things jazz in the late 1970s, from traditional roots to the more modern experimental sounds, I craved just about anything that went beyond mainstream bubblegum Top 40 pop.
Texas-born Coryell, once described by Downbeat magazine as the "Godfather of Fusion," fit the bill with his uniquely improvisational guitar work he first brought to the music scene in the 1960s.
Recognizing that not all jazz buffs are enamored by fusion, he nonetheless is someone to fall back on when the mood strikes for instrumental jazz guitar that is a little mind-bending. This disc is almost psychedelic in some respects, with hints of silky-smooth rock, blues, and soul or, as its promoters describe it, "liquid honey."
Coryell, who turns 68 this year, shows he hasn't lost his creativity or knack for a progressive sound, even if he largely faded from sight and appealed to a limited audience to begin with. On this 13-track disc, he plays a variety of guitars both acoustic and electric with this indie San Francisco-based label's top-flight studio band.
It's not wildly free-form and it might be a little too scripted for the genre. But it's good.
-- TOM HENRY
NEON Chris Young, RCA
Since Chris Young won the TV talent show Nashville Star in 2006, a few characteristics have stood out: an expressive baritone voice; a tall, handsome stature, and a friendly, approachable personality.
What he lacked at first was an identifiable sound of his own. But with four consecutive No. 1 hits, including the recent "Tomorrow" from his new album "Neon," the emerging country star is staking out a distinctive style that takes full advantage of his talent and his personality.
At his core, Young is a romantic with a moral code. The Tennessee native has a sensitive way of bringing out what's important about what he cares about and who he is. This style shows not only in love ballads, but also in songs about family and his laid-back yet caring philosophy on life.
Even on a song about nightlife, like the traditional-country title cut, Young sounds like the guy in the bar to turn to when you need a friend. But what makes "Neon" his best album yet are the songs about relationships, from the sweet come-on of "Lost" to the sage "Old Love Feels New." Throughout, Young comes across as a guy whose heart is as strong as his libido.
-- MICHAEL McCALL, Associated Press