Music reviews

Gregg Shapiro

Marsha Ambrosius

Marsha Ambrosius, the other half of Floetry, is out with her own solo disc – “Late Nights & Early Mornings” (J). While she risks getting mired in the same monotony as her former duo-mate The Floacist, there are enough curves on the road she’s travelling to avoid highway hypnosis. Take “Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player),” which is more than just a little bitter and even mildly amusing. “Far Away,” and its accompanying must-see video address, which speaks to the issue of bullying and suicide in the LGBT community, is another high point.

Ambrosius’ respectful cover of Portishead’s “Sour Times” is an unexpected delight, and the retro soul number “Tears” will have listeners crying out for more like it. “Chasing Clouds” is a high-flying pop tune, while she reveals her inner drama queen on “The Break Up Song.”

Bruno Mars

Songwriter-turned-solo artist Bruno Mars is at the forefront of a new breed of soul singers. He sets the tone for “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” (Elektra) with the subtly explosive number “Grenade.” He then flips another switch on the timeless “Just The Way You Are” (not the Billy Joel song).

“The Lazy Song” lives up to its name in a good way, and “Marry You” is destined to be a hit at weddings, straight and gay (where allowed by law). Mars demonstrates his way with a ballad on “Talking To The Moon,” and he’s perfectly comfortable sharing the spotlight with Cee Lo Green and B.O.B. on “The Other Side.”

Cee Lo Green

Speaking of Cee Lo Green, Mars co-wrote the breakthrough hit song “Fuck You” on Green’s “The Lady Killer” (Elektra) disc. Whether you adore Cee Lo from his time in the Goodie Mob or as one half of Gnarls Barkley, chances are this soul celebration will have you falling more deeply in love with him. Green is soul’s reigning god, but he also has a sense of humor that’s worth its weight in bling.

Ultimately it’s the combination of Green’s roof-raising vocals and a set of fantastic songs, including “Bright Lights Bigger City,” “Wildflower,” “Love Gun,” “Satisfied,” “Cry Baby,” “It’s OK” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” that make this disc such a, you guessed it, killer.

Corinne Bailey Rae

As EPs go, Corinne Bailey Rae’s five-song “The Love EP” (Capitol) is easy to, well, love. Rae kicks things off with an affectionate reading of Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Then she unveils an unexpected side of herself on a grungy cover of Belly’s “Low Red Moon” before gliding into one of the steamiest readings of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” ever recorded.

Rae wraps it up with an acoustic rendition of McCartney’s “My Love,” then slides into a languorous live version of “Que Sera Sera,” which recalls Holly Cole’s interpretation.

Nicki Minaj

She’s no Janelle Monae, but Nicki Minaj is still a force to be reckoned with on “Pink Friday” (Cash Money/Universal Motown). Foul-mouthed as predecessors Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott, Minaj isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with (the still homophobic) Eminem on the vicious “Roman’s Revenge” or spew rough rhymes on “Did It On ’Em.”

Slightly schizo, Minaj wants to play the pink pop princess on “Save Me,” “Blazin” (featuring Kanye West and a Simple Minds sample), “Check It Out” (featuring will.i.am and a Buggles sample) and “Your Love” (featuring a The Lover Speaks sample).

Kandi

Songwriter and Real Atlanta housewife Kandi (Burruss) serves up the musical confection “Kandi Koated” (Kandi Koated Entertainment/Asylum/WB). Essentially it’s a case of how many ways she can say that she “wants you,” has “special feelings” for you and is either being cheated on or cheating with someone else’s man. Kandi’s voice is pleasant enough, but considering that she wrote “No Scrubs” for TLC, it’s not unreasonable to have expected more — and to be disappointed.

Keri Hilson

Keri Hilson, who recently made a splash on “Fashion Police,” stumbles with her sophomore release “No Boys Allowed” (Mosley/Zone 4/Interscope). It’s not as redundant as the Kandi disc, largely because the energy level is considerably higher. But, as is often the case with modern soul discs, too many cooks spoil this pot.

Hilson, a capable singer and songwriter, should have taken the title of her disc seriously and kicked the dudes – who add nothing to the product – to the curb.