Alanis Morissette, “Flavors of Entanglement”No one ever envisioned Alanis Morissette penning the comfort guide to a harsh breakup, yet for electro-influenced “Flavors of Entanglement,” her clear-eyed look back, inward and forward is with a poise borne of time’s passing. She no longer prowls in search of vengeful hookups. After the finger-pointing “Straightjacket,” the singer declares “a respite from the toils of liaison” on transcendent ambient trip “Moratorium.” Chill-out track “Giggling Again for No Reason” gurgles with delicate happiness, and there’s room for throbbing masterstroke “Versions of Violence,” whose vibe compares to Delerium’s “Silence.” Every wall is torn down for vulnerable piano prayer “Not As We,” but plenty of hope is left for the uplifting “Incomplete.” Full of gratitude for being “ever unfolding, ever expanding, ever adventurous,” Morissette’s superb lyrics leave you cheering for her — and assured that she’s going to be just fine.
My Morning Jacket, “Evil Urges”Evil has a new name, and it’s Jim James. The My Morning Jacket frontman cackles, croons, wails, wallops and stomps through the band’s fifth album. On this occasionally oddball stroll through the band’s twisted psycho-Southern backcountry, “Highly Suspicious,” an eyelinered, WTF ’80s rocker that would greatly please Adam Ant, backs up against “I’m Amazed,” a soul-drenched singalong that sounds like it was conceived, after a few degrees of separation, in Big Pink. James’ simultaneous obsessions with Crazy Horse, Prince and folk create strong, oft-memorable foundations beneath each of the record’s flights of fancy.
Solomon Burke, “Like a Fire”Despite great talent, few original soul artists have been able to remain busy and vital through the decades, be it from lack of interest, bad management or declining self-esteem. Solomon Burke has proved one of the few exceptions, issuing albums packed with potent performances and several discs with a twist, like the 2006 country and roots collection “Nashville.” Here, he tackles songs by the likes of Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Jesse Harris and Keb’ Mo’, several of whom guest on their respective tracks. Burke’s voice remains mountainous, of course, and Harper’s presence seems to nudge him to roar even louder — with hair-raising effect — on his “A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray.” But Burke does his legend just as much justice just on the talk-sung, Clapton-penned “Thank You” and Harris’ summery, midtempo, Wurlitzer-soaked “You and Me.”
Lalah Hathaway, “Self Portrait”Instead of standing behind dad Donny’s formidable shadow, Lalah Hathaway has resolutely sculpted her own soulful identity. That’s never been more apparent than on her fourth solo album, her most personal — and stunning — project to date. She colorfully evokes her childhood on “Little Girl,” paying homage to her dad with a heart-tugging excerpt from one of his earlier interviews. Elsewhere, she brings her natural talent for phrasing and pouring a well of emotion into telling lyrics on such tracks as “Breathe,” “On Your Own,” “Let Go” and “That Was Then.” Like top-shelf cognac, Hathaway’s passionate vocals go down smooth and spread head-to-toe warmth — a fitting symbol for the next generation of Stax soul.
Montgomery Gentry, “Back When I Knew It All”Nine years after first debuting on the country charts, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry are still practicing their own brand of country rock and doing a first-rate job of it. Their new set reflects hard-earned maturity balanced with the desire (and ability) to get into a little trouble on occasion. That mix is perhaps best represented by “I Pick My Parties,” which features summer tour mate Toby Keith. All three singers, it seems, are a little more selective than they were in their wilder days. While the nostalgic title cut is currently top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, the album’s best song may be the melodic and mature “Roll With Me,” which features Gentry on lead vocal.
Sergio Mendes, “Encanto”As on 2006’s “Timeless,” the Brazilian bossa nova master teams with Will.i.am on a collection of summery updates of the classics, as well as some new tracks. Updating such well-known songs as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March” (talk-sung here by Ledisi) is a great proposition for exposing the music to new audiences. Though it’s hard to imagine the updates will endure as long as the originals, guest artists including Natalie Cole gamely tackle the task. Standouts include Juanes’ bright, infectious chorus on “Y Vamos Ya”; tight bossa jam “Odo-Ya” featuring Carlinhos Brown; and Brasil ’66 alum Lani Hall’s wistful vocal accompanied by Herb Alpert’s trumpet on “Dreamer.” Eminently synchable, it’s the kind of music you could imagine playing at a store or in a commercial.
The Fratellis, “Here We Stand”Although the Fratellis saw major chart success in the United Kingdom with 2006’s “Costello Music,” the Glasgow, Scotland, band is best-known in the United States for its song “Flathead” being featured in an iTunes commercial. Sophomore album “Here We Stand” doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table, but does carry on in the same fun, brash rock tradition of the debut. There’s no denying the high-energy infection of songs like “My Friend John,” “Shameless” and “Mistress Mabel” or the big, hooky choruses of “Lupe Brown” and jaunty piano rocker “A Heady Tale.” There’s a glam-rock swagger to “Acid Jazz Singer,” and the twangy “Baby Doll” offers a nice change in pace. Formerly, the Fratellis’ music was always good for a few drunken whoops and hollers, and with “Here We Stand,” it remains little more.