* * * 1/2
At 23, singer Duffy brings a wizened depth to the songs on her debut album that belies her youth and roots in a small town in Wales. On "Rockferry," the former waitress deals in wistful, cloudy-day soul -- the title track characteristically frames her razor-thin but warm voice in the widescreen rolling lushness of strings. It's a very early-'60s retro sound, and Duffy's languid vocal precision and economic use of "soul" inflections easily cut through the vast sonic dimensions.
Summoning reference to '60s singers like Ronnie Spector and Dusty Springfield, Duffy makes the airily dramatic "Warwick Avenue" and the slow, funky steam of "Serious" showcases for her low-key vocal tricks. Her techniques get a bit predictable, somewhat like Amy Winehouse's, though overall Duffy is much more straightforward. She's passionate but down to earth and somehow that much cooler for it, though the peppy go-go-style dance hit "Mercy" allows her to display a considerably tougher persona.
Duffy's not a belter, but she boasts a cool power that is immensely aided by the cleverness of "Rockferry's" instrumental settings, which employ mostly acoustic instruments for a warmer sound that, in combination with Duffy's vocal prowess, stays sweet, soulful and satisfying.
-- John Payne
Catchy but refreshing
* * 1/2
Bryan Adams chose "11" as the title of his new studio disc, which he's selling exclusively through Wal-Mart and Sam's Club outlets, because it's his 11th collection of original material. But no one's ever faulted the Canadian hitmaker for taking a literal approach to his music.
In fact, if Adams has learned anything in his career, it's that songs without indelible pop-rock hooks have no business being on a Bryan Adams record: The 11 tracks here -- several co-written with and produced by Mutt Lange, who helmed Adams' 1991 megahit "Waking Up the Neighbours" -- waste no time revealing their catchy bits. With their sleek guitars and lyrics about burning desires and sweet temptations, cuts such as "Oxygen" and "Tonight We Have the Stars" sound as if they were concocted by scientists determined to prove some theorem about radio-readiness.
That open-armed accessibility doesn't define the rock mainstream like it did back in Adams' heyday, so there's something unexpectedly refreshing about "11" -- something decent and sincere that rarely crops up in late-career efforts by acts whose brightest moments are behind them.
-- Mikael Wood
Seven years with little movement
Brooklyn's Don Diva
(Black Roses Entertainment/ Koch)
On "Star Cry," the most introspective cut on Foxy Brown's fourth solo album, the rapper declares that she's the only "black [girl] to get press like Paris and Nicky." It's a strange boast but a logical one considering that like the Hilton sisters, Brown has garnered far more press from her looks and extracurricular activities than from anything she's created.
In the seven-year drought since 2001's "Broken Silence," Brown saw herself dropped from her label, go deaf, regain her hearing and serve seven months at Rikers for violating probation by smacking her neighbor with a BlackBerry. Since her release last month, the Park Slope-raised rapper has attempted to resurrect her career.
But an almost Norma Desmond-like pall hangs over her new album, with Brown seeming desperate to reclaim her place as one of the top female emcees. In terms of her flow, she hasn't lost a step, still spitting bars with authority, but her reluctance to expand beyond her love of luxury goods and sex ensures a stagnancy to her music. She hasn't evolved since stepping on the scene with bravura performances on LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya (Remix)."
To compound her thematic stasis, "Brooklyn's Don Diva" lacks the big-name guest appearances and million-dollar production that helped her first three jaunts move more than 5 million copies. Foxy might be ready for another close-up, but judging from this album, her comeback odds are best fitted for a long-shot.
-- Jeff Weiss
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.