This week, R&B singer Mahalia finds a groove on her new album, while rapper IDK hits the right spot in introspective rap on his major-label debut. Camila Cabello teases her sophomore project and takes a new direction on the bold “Shameless.” The Highwomen make the case for supergroups and bring Sheryl Crow into the fold on “Heaven Is a Honky Tonk” off their powerhouse collaborative album. And Adam Lambert shows that he’s got an infectious style well beyond his work with Queen on “Superpower.”
“What You Did,” Mahalia feat. Ella Mai
Mahalia is a voice to know in the emergent generation of R&B singers: a silky-sounding young British artist whose music has smoky corners and elegant edges. “What You Did,” off her new album out today, Love and Compromise, is a prime example. Sampling Cam’ron and Juelz Santana’s 2002 hit “Oh Boy,” Mahalia makes good use of that track’s lush beat while singing evocatively about mistakes. “Yeah, you know I love you but I can’t forgive it,” she sighs. “You could tell me stay, but I have to go.” Crooner Ella Mai comes in for a beautiful assist, and when they duet it’s a warm, comforting embrace. The song may be about the dissolution of a relationship, but endings sound sweet coming from Mahalia.
“Shameless,” Camila Cabello
Camila Cabello’s first solo outing, the self-titled Camila, was an album of intimate, stripped-down pop that let her play with the expressiveness of her voice and clever writing. “Shameless,” one of two new songs off her upcoming sophomore album Romance and a follow up to late-breaking summer hit “Señorita” with Shawn Mendes, sees Cabello go in a new direction: power pop-punk with a dark edge. Cabello’s voice has always been best matched with slinky lyricism, but on “Shameless” she explores new potential with a sound that’s more in the tradition of the guitar-driven angst of Avril Lavigne and some eras of Pink. “I need you more than I want to,” she keeps repeating, baring a fresh intensity.
“Superpower,” Adam Lambert
Multi-talented singer-songwriter-actor-American-Idol-star Adam Lambert has spent the bulk of his time since 2012 with Queen + Adam Lambert, in a role as a frontman for the legendary band that Lambert has performed admirably. But don’t forget that Lambert is a solo artist as well, one who excels in funk and soul grooves. “Superpower” is the latest single off Velvet: Side A, the first half of his next solo project. It’s got a gritty guitar, juicy bass and lots of funk, with an extra electric guitar riff and gospel choir bridge just to up the ante; it’s born for the dance floor. Turns out, Lambert’s superpower may just be putting on a stylish show across genres.
“Heaven Is a Honky Tonk,” The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires) feat. Sheryl Crow
The Highwomen — the quartet of country-folk star-power that is Carlile, Hemby, Morris and Shires — are kind of a big deal. Not only are they four distinctive voices in the genre coming together for a collaborative album, but also each of these artists is currently at the peak of her game: Hemby was a critical songwriter for the A Star Is Born soundtrack and Nashville hitmaker, Carlile just won a bunch of well-deserved Grammys, Morris is one of the most in-demand young country stars, and Shires is a talented musician, singer and writer with a history of working with impressive acts. So the fact that they carved out the time for this supergroup is a feat in and of itself. Their new album, as encapsulated in “Heaven Is a Honky Tonk,” is a beautifully crafted joint effort filled with specific songwriting, lovely harmonies and aching acoustic twists that takes past classics and country tropes — in this case, Ray LaMontagne’s song of the same name — and reshapes it into something new and all their own. This one also gets a boost from the addition of Sheryl Crow, a veteran of the genre who sounds right at home in this squad.
Unless you’ve been paying very close attention, Maryland-based rapper IDK’s debut major-label release Is He Real? might have come as a surprise this week. The mysteriously-named artist (it stands for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge) tapped a top notch list of contributors; you’ll hear Tyler, The Creator, Pusha T, J.I.D., DMX, Burna Boy and others throughout the album, which focuses on questions of the metaphysical but keeps things relatable. “December,” featuring Nigerian artist-of-the-moment Burna Boy, is a moody love song of a rap; IDK slips between singing and rapping effortlessly. “When I saw you I remembered / The feeling of, the feeling of December,” he muses in an introspective slow-burn towards love.