John Mayer’s latest album “Heavier Things” and Seal’s first album in five years are among the new CDs that will be released this week.
“Heavier Things,” John Mayer
If there was any doubt about the staying power of young John Mayer, his latest album, “Heavier Things,” should put the question to rest. Mayer has talent and hit-making material to spare. The album is brimming with memorable, heartfelt songs that give us a little further insight into his gorgeous musical mind.
On his highly anticipated follow-up to “Room for Squares,” we hear the same craftsmanlike guitar-work that polished his previous songs, though it’s tempered a bit by lots of unnecessary horns.
The upbeat song “Clarity” sets the tone early for Mayer’s growth. He’s growing into his persona and talent, and he sings of his newfound comfort with accepting magical moments in life and not fearing them.
“New Deep” is another plucky highlight, a song about introspection that Mayer repeatedly explores throughout the album. Dealing with soaring success requires a holistic approach that Mayer has no qualms explaining. “So I’ve got a plan, I’m going to find out just how boring I am and have a good time,” he sings in lush tones.
Mayer also gives us the make-out song of the year with “Come Back to Bed.” There’s been an argument and Mayer begs in blues tones for his paramour to return to bed. He croons: “You can be mad in the morning, I’ll take back what I said.”
Perhaps the only misstep is that Mayer sounds a bit reined in by the arrangements. As good as the album is, he’s got twice as much energy to offer and the producers should have given him room to release more of his musical prowess. Just back up and give John some room. (Columbia, $18.98)
— Ron Harris
Seal’s first album in five years divides its time between swirly dance tunes and contemplative ballads, all characterized by lush orchestration and his soothing voice.
That sameness can turn “Seal” into a drowsy blur. Luckily, there are enough surprises to keep the album from becoming a cure for insomnia.
The disco-esque “Get it Together” combines ’70s sounds with a “save the world” lyrical mantra. Although the message is a little shopworn, the song still feels fresh. The speeding-down-the-highway urgency of “My Vision” also manages to wake up the album.
Seal is at his best on “Love’s Divine,” a spare, sweet ballad about forgiveness and the singer’s realization that love “is what I need to help me know my name.” Equally impressive is “Touch,” which finds Seal missing parts of a past relationship.
The album drags a little at the end, as “Where There’s Gold” and “Loneliest Star” retread what’s already been presented. But Seal’s return is a mostly welcome comeback. (Warner Bros. Records, $21.98)
— Rachel Kipp
“Dark Chords on a Big Guitar,” Joan Baez
Joan Baez’s signature soprano may not go quite as far as it used to. But on “Dark Chords on a Big Guitar,” her first release in nearly six years, Baez uses her still-vibrant voice as an integral instrument in the overall sound provided by the backing band.
As the title suggests, the disc is mostly somber, serious and meditative, tackling subjects including war, love, family and loss.
Baez culls the disc’s 10 songs from contemporary songwriters, including Natalie Merchant, Steve Earle and Ryan Adams.
Her take on Adams’ “In My Time of Need” is a highlight, with her emotional lyrics melding perfectly with the loping backing instruments. (Koch, $17.98)
— Scott Bauer
“2:35PM,” Calvin Richardson
Many R&B fans may have overlooked Calvin Richardson’s first release, “Country Boy,” in 1999. Even a guest spot by K-Ci of R&B duo K-Ci & JoJo couldn’t push that album out of obscurity.
Here’s hoping his new release doesn’t suffer the same fate. In “2:35PM” (the time his son, Souljah, was born), Richardson reveals a musical versatility, with songs reminiscent of classic soul, head-nodding jams and silky ballads.
The first two tracks, “Keep on Pushin”’ and “Falling Out,” put you in the mind of Sam Cooke’s 1964 classic song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Both songs about relationships gone bad showcase Richardson’s vocal range as he belts out high notes and then dips into lower tones.
“More Than a Woman,” which Richardson first recorded as a duet with Angie Stone in 2001, reflects the neo-soul influence with poetic lyrics and a funky beat.
“She’s Got the Love,” co-written and produced by Raphael Saadiq, and “You Got Me High,” featuring rap trio Slum Village, continue that neo-soul flavor with Richardson’s falsetto hooks and catchy beats. (Hollywood Records, $18.98)
— Damita Chambers
“It Still Moves,” My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket’s music has been compared to everything from Neil Young to the Allman Brothers to the Muppets’ house band, The Electric Mayhem.
To be sure, the Kentucky band offers a conglomeration of styles, as witnessed by its third full-length release, “It Still Moves.” Lead singer Jim James does sound a little like Young, and the band can get into a groove reminiscent of the Allman Brothers.
My Morning Jacket’s strengths lie in its melodies and ability to conjure up an otherworldly feel to its own Southern style of music.
With 12 tracks clocking in at over 70 minutes, “It Still Moves” could have benefited from some judicious editing. It can get a bit tiresome to digest in one sitting, especially the overused echo effect on the lead vocals.
But taken in small chunks, when the band is running on all cylinders, “It Still Moves” projects a controlled mayhem that’s contagious. (RCA, $13.98)
— Scott Bauer
The romantically dark album “Yoko” from San Francisco-based lo-fi band Beulah demands a listen. From guitars to banjos to violins, Beulah succeeds nicely in creating a sonic patchwork you won’t hear from many others.
Mysterious melodies abound. “Wipe Those Prints and Run” takes an almost death march pace as Miles Kurosky advises us to take the small successes and don’t look back.
“Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore” is part ’60s pop, part prairie jangle-rock and a lot of fun to hear. So many styles are deftly packed into one song as Kurosky sings about the treadmill of uncertainties in life.
The best of the best on “Yoko” (possibly short for “You’re Only King Once,” says Beulah) is “Fooled Around With the Wrong Guy,” a nose-thumbing at a lost love. Beautiful reverb guitar is sprinkled with kitschy banjo bridges. They’ve done Earl Scruggs proud. (Velocette, $13.98)
— Ron Harris