Author

Jonathan Bernstein

Should we be concerned that Boyz II Men — one of the best-selling R&B groups of all time — may be going the way of older, standards-lovin’ non-peers like Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow? After their vaguely successful ‘04 covers album, Throwback, the Boyz return with another throwback, Motown, this time sleepwalking through classics from the Four Tops, the Temptations, and the Commodores — then reserving the doziest treatment for their own hit, 1992’s ”End of the Road.” Which this might be. C-

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Bo Bice

Breathe easy, Alabama! After being forced to embrace confectionary fare on American Idol, the beloved 2005 runner-up continues to give pop stardom the slip by returning to his rock roots on this second CD. At least that’s how Bice summarizes his current situation in ”Take the Country Outta Me,” in which he pledges allegiance to Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and Johnny Cash. Yet had he inherited any of his heroes’ songwriting aptitude, he wouldn’t have escaped from a TV talent show only to wind up in a Southern-rock tribute band. C

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If you’re a preteen already entranced by the Naked Bros.’ Nickelodeon sitcommentary about the lives of the Wolff brothers (Nat, 12, and Alex, 9), then The Naked Brothers Band is cuter than anything ever. If you’re the parent of a preteen, you’ll assume the Nakeds are this century’s Hanson. Yet after perpetual exposure, you’ll appreciate the difference — the Nakeds have more psychedelic leanings, and Nat has a McCartneyesque way with a melody — and ultimately agree that they’re cuter than anything ever. B

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Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez’s recent Spanish-language disc, Como Ama Una Mujer, got little critical love but provided evidence that she could manipulate that undernourished voice and produce something approximating passion. Shame she didn’t put those new skills to use on Brave, her back-to-the-dance-floor album. Expensive beats and uplifting material are offset by listless vocals. Even on ”Mile in These Shoes,” a song that thrusts a middle finger at the haters, she sounds like she’d rather be shopping for scented candles. C

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By mid-‘08, the bubblepunk threesome will have completed their transformation into Disney’s next tween-targeted stealth weapon. But before the upcoming movie musical (Camp Rock) and spy sitcom (J.O.N.A.S.) propel them into pole position, this collection of songs (Jonas Brothers) makes a strong case for the New Jersey sibs’ proficiency by way of gleaming power pop (”S.O.S.”), heartfelt balladry (”When You Look Me in the Eyes”), and sneaky Kim Wilde rewrites (”Kids of the Future”).

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This sextet will probably spend every moment of their professional lives denying that they sound like Maroon 5. Of course, they sound exactly like Maroon 5 — minus singer Adam Levine’s infatuation with himself, which is actually what makes his group unique. On a brighter note, the lack of originality that The Last Goodnight bring to Poison Kiss‘armory of soulful, if artificially emotional, pop suggests a lucrative future as behind-the-scenes song doctors pounding out radio staples for the Top 40 stars of tomorrow. B-

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With her rigorous deployment of belly button and booty, Dominican spark plug Kat DeLuna, 19, seems to have been created to fill the gap between Rihanna and Shakira. But her surprisingly solid debut (9 Lives), which makes room for both dance-floor exhortations (the summer’s inescapable ”Whine Up”) and bubblegum confections (”Am I Dreaming?”), singles out DeLuna as a more vocally gifted descendant of the Latin freestyle divas of the late ’80s. Rest easy, Cynthia, Safire, and Lisette Melendez, your legacy is in safe hands. B

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The good and bad news about MySpace phenom Colbie Caillat’s warm-weather hit ”Bubbly” (the one that goes ”…It starts in my toes/Makes me crinkle my nose…”)? It’s destined to supplant Natasha Bedingfield’s ”Unwritten” as the go-to song for estrogen-fueled movie montages. The good and bad news about Coco? It’s so consistent in its snoozy, midtempo acoustic affability that Caillat imbues her drinking-to-forget lament (”Midnight Bottle”) with all the raw emotion of a kitten tussling with a ball of a wool. B-

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Consider the fate of American Idol’s R&B contenders. After raising the roof on TV with showstopping standards, many end up crooning gibberish over hip-hop beats for their CDs. Plus-size powerhouse Mandisa may have exited season 5 amid accusations of her homophobia, but at least she realizes her considerable pipes and self-righteousness are best suited to Christian pop. True Beauty sets its no-fun agenda in the catchy yet disapproving title track, which preaches, ”Enough sex and the city, what about purity?” B-

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By the time you’ve made it through Time on Earth, Crowded House’s first full-length in 14 years, and reached the tune ”A Sigh,” your reaction will be, ”A sigh? Haven’t I just sat through something like 20 sighs?” Beatlesque melancholia permeates the record, with singer Neil Finn’s reflection on ”English Trees” (”Nothing’s sadder, I know, than the passing of time”) a typically lugubrious contribution. His melodic strengths haven’t deserted him since he last recorded with House, but now he’s writing songs to haunt you rather than win you over.

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