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>Easily the biggest surprise I’ve had in the music world this year is how great Shakira‘s new album “She Wolf(which actually won’t be released in the US until November 23rd). The albums title track was cute and catchy, and the video was sexy as usual for her. However it wasn’t strong enough for me to really want to hear the whole album. Than I saw the video for the second International single “Did It Again”.
I instantly fell in love with the song, and when I looked up information about the album I noticed that The Neptunes (or Pharrell Williams) had produced a good number of tracks on the album. As you might have seen, I think very highly of Pharrell and I was very interested to see how they would work together. Williams is responsible for the aforementioned single and a host of the more infectious dance floor ready cuts like “Why Wait” and “Good Stuff”, but surprisingly the best cuts come from the producer of the title track, John Hill. “Men in this Town” is a new wave/disco ode to Los Angeles that works great with Shakira’s unique voice. The same can be said for the more rocked out “Mon Amour”. The biggest surprise though, is that the whole album is solid with different collaborations with Wyclef and Amanda Ghost.
This is only Shakira’s third all English album, but it seems like her confidence with the language is peaking. And she is able to deliver something totally relate able, current, and completely undeniable. It at times reminds me of Madonna’s last effort “Hard Candy” (she does use the two primary producers on that album, Timbaland contributes what will be the second US single “Give it Up to Me”) except that Shakira’s vocal delivery is more fun and alive, and the lyrical content more witty and creative. Shakira’s performances have always amazed me, and now it seems her recordings are finally going to match that greatness. This album has flaws, but I think her future in English recordings will get better and better in time.

All I had to do was listen to Leona Lewis‘ rendition of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to know that Leona had a bright future in front of her. She’s the U.K. phenomenon who won the “American Idol” styled show “X-Factor”, released a massively successful first single in “Bleeding Love” and delivered a solid (if boring and a little dated towards the end) debut album. Her follow up “Echo” (released November 17th in the US) is a step toward that bright future with a few stunning ballads, a little more current sounding than her debut “Spirit”. The album is just solid, there’s not a tremendous display of growth or personality for that matter. It just shows that her voice is consistent, and that it is able to transcend different genres. The problem is, there’s really not enough diversity on the album. They throw her only one uptempo, which actually is a very well done Electronic sounding “Outta My Head”, and the rest is a variation of different ballad types. She owns the Poppier type ballads, the first single “Happy” and “I Got You” and my favorite track “Can’t Breathe“. There are two other standouts in the minimally produced “My Hands” and the Justin Timberlake featured “Don’t Let Me Down”. The rest of the ballads go from terribly boring to just not very well produced.
However, if you are a fan of albums that are heavy on the ballads this will probably be right up your alley.

As Shakira was my biggest surprise, Mario‘s new “D.N.A.” might be my biggest dissapointment. To be fair, I only skimmed through the songs on iTunes and download about half of the songs based on that. Which isn’t a good thing to begin with. When I listened to those few songs, almost none of them showed any personality and sounded terribly stale and uninspired. Both vocally and production wise. I enjoyed his last effort “Go” as it did give him a great showcase for a great voice, while that album was based in R&B, this album is a little all over the place. There’s a few pop ballads, there’s a few Hip Hop/R&B hits, there’s a few dance cuts. And unfortunatley it just sounds like a bad radio station and doesn’t showcase the artist at all. The albums first single, production wise, is hot (they should have taken Sean Garrett’s voice off the song and given his verse to Mario so it’s clear that it’s HIS song) and the albums second single “Thinkin’ About You” isn’t bad, but the real highlight of the whole album is “Soundtrack to my Broken Heart” which should get some serious consideration as a cross-over Pop single.