Chris Brown might not be your cup of energy drink, but his last two solo albums - 2012's Fortune and 2014's X - were glorious testaments to outré electro R&B and wickedly eccentric hip-hop. He managed to keep these escapades commercial and catchy with his dynamic vocal prowess and bad-boy charm. But 2015 has been lousy, between the awful Fan of a Fan: The Album with Tyga (blame Tyga: He's blandly terrible) and now Royalty.
Named for his year-old daughter (she's on the cover, clinging to Dad's chest), Royalty surprisingly and handsomely strips away most of the Euro-club beats and Auto-Tune of recent recordings, and this works on the memorably hummable soul of "Back to Sleep" and the warm, jittery "Make Love." The overall tone of Royalty is bathed in hot caramel. That was promising - but the tracks just are not equal to the lush sound. They're full of dull melodic flips you've heard on better '80s R&B albums by Alexander O'Neal or Keith Sweat, and full also of predictably misogynistic commentary, tediously laced with forced F-bombs. - A.D. Amorosi
Ork Records: New York, New York
In September 1975, Terry Ork released Television's "Little Johnny Jewel," an amazing seven-minute song divided between two sides of a 45 r.p.m. single. It was the first of what would become a five-year run of 45s on his tiny label, Ork Records. None became a hit, but many became definitive documents of the nascent New York punk scene, and they are all collected, along with some previously unissued tracks, on the two-CD, 49-track Ork Records: New York, New York.
The boxed set includes debuts from artists who became well-known in punk and power-pop circles: Richard Hell ("Blank Generation"), the Feelies ("Fa Ce La"), and Chris Stamey of the dB's ("That Summer Sun") - plus a handful of songs from Big Star's Alex Chilton. Other stalwarts of the CBGBs scene turn up: Richard Lloyd, Lenny Kaye, Cheetah Chrome, and writer Lester Bangs. Some tracks are rough period pieces, but along with the extensive liner notes, this collection functions as a history of the remarkably fertile late-'70s New York punk-rock scene.
- Steve Klinge
In "The Glory Years," Dan May warns against dwelling on past successes: "It's where you go from here," he advises.
Though the Drexel Hill singer-songwriter has not gotten nearly the attention deserved for the five previous albums he released after switching from a career in opera, he remains focused on the moment and as inspired as ever. Heartland is another collection that showcases all his talents: a warm, Gordon Lightfootlike baritone, and folk-pop songs with rootsy embellishments that brim with hooks and heart as well as intelligence and grace.
May works some neat variations on that basic style: "No Business of Mine" opens the set at a bluesy, J.J. Cale-style lope as he dispenses some sage advice with mordant humor, and "Chaussee Liaison" is a jaunty, trumpet-accented paean to his hometown of Sandusky, Ohio.
Perhaps no number, however, better encapsulates May's skills as a writer and performer than "Forever Home." Sung from the point of view of a homeless canine - although that's never explicitly stated - it could have been a saccharine mess. But instead May turns in a deeply moving plea with universal appeal. Any smart animal-rescue organization will adopt this number immediately. - Nick Cristiano