Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

It feels like just the other day that we became hooked on Love.Angel.Music.Baby and its unique blend of cutting edge hip-hop beats and melodic pop vocals. The album put Gwen Stefani firmly on the map as a global superstar and to a large extent erased her extensive history as part of No Doubt. Late 2007 saw the fabulous Gwen return to the world of music with her sophomore solo album, The Sweet Escape. Married to the hunky Gavin Rossdale (of Bush-fame) and mother to an adorable boy, there’s a tangible softer edge to Gwen’s new album. The hip-hop beats and rap-like vocals are still there in all their glory, but the sampling has improved and the slower songs definitely show growth and maturity. Fuelled by the addictive Wind It Up – complete with yodeling and Sound Of Music sampling – the new album is already a favourite of many across the globe. Wind It Up is not the best song; the retro feel of The Sweet Escape (that features Akon), the emotional undertones of Early Winter and 4 In The Morning, the Hollaback Girl-esque Now That You’ve Got It and the complete insanity of Don’t Get It Twisted all vie for the honour of best song on the album. Gwen Stefani is a music and fashion icon for good reason. Love.Angel.Music.Baby crated a certain expectation, as happens with many phenomenal debut albums. The Sweet Escape lives up to the expectation, if not exceeding it.


Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

She’s been around for over a decade, is widely considered to be the queen of hip-hop/soul and has won six Grammy Awards (three scooped this year alone). Her last acclaimed album, The Breakthrough, seemed to be just that for Mary; even MTN realized this, using the remix of Be Without You for its extensive summer advertising campaign. Reflections, however, is a greatest hits compilation that effectively summarises her career to-date – and there have been many highlights in that career. Vocally she is incredibly gifted and on stage she is a performer of note, attributes that have ensured that Mary J. Blige is in a league of her own. The collection has everything from Be Without You to the brilliant King & Queen (with John Legend), Family Affair, No More Drama, I’m Going Down, Not Gon’ Cry as well as her Grammy winning I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By. Even her phenomenal duets are included: 911 with Wyclef Jean, As with George Michael, the phenomenal One with U2 and MJB Da MVP with 50 Cent. If you like soaring, soulful, emotion-tinged vocals over funky hip-hop and R&B melodies, odds are that you already know Mary J. Blige. If you don’t, Reflections (A Retrospective) offers a must-have get-to-know-her solution.


Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

The ‘90s super group returned to the international music scene late in 2006 with Beautiful World, a thoroughly up-to-date pop album that is not only instantly recognizable as Take That, but also one of the best pop albums that I’ve come across of late. I’ve always considered Gary Barlow to be one of pop’s better songwriters, so I’m happy to report that all songs on Beautiful World were written by him and his band-mates, albeit with the help of John Shanks, Billy Mann, Anders Bagge, Eg White and Steve Robson. Of the 11 tracks on the album, I won’t call a single one ‘bad’ as such – in fact, I found myself skipping only two songs. Second single, Shine, is more upbeat than the first (Patience) and should secure the group’s current comeback success, although my personal favourites are Like I Never Loved You At All, Ain’t No Sense In Love and the beautifully melancholic Wooden Boat. Take That weren’t a phenomenon in the ‘90s without good reason and Beautiful World is testimony that even an extended absence from the industry cannot stop real talent. They might not have been able to convince Robbie to return, but perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise – some might say that Robbie Williams has outgrown Take That; but the opposite also rings true.


Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG Music Entertainment

Currently Jessica Simpson’s new man, John Mayer’s name might not be familiar to many in South Africa; he’s one of those artists who released a successful debut single in South Africa without much initial follow-up. But that’s all set to change. Personally I found his hit Your Body Is A Wonderland to be a rather irritating song, which is why I didn’t rush to listen to his latest offering titled Continuum. In the USA however, the first successes didn’t stop and John Mayer was recently honoured with two Grammy awards. Thankfully I’m big enough to admit that I made a mistake by simply dismissing him. While John Mayer’s voice isn’t that special, his real talent lies in songwriting; both lyrics and music. Continuum is actually a very pleasant surprise: More soul and blues than rock, it’s easy on the ear without being dull. Songs like Waiting On The World To Change, I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You), Gravity and the beautiful Dreaming With A Broken Heart make Continuum an album well worth taking notice of. I’m not easily impressed by most male vocalists, but John Mayer comes surprisingly close to doing just that.


Marketed and distributed by Gallo Record Company

Every now and then an artist comes along that simply blows the world away with his debut single and album. Having To Where You Are featured in Ally McBeal obviously helped tremendously in launching Josh Groban’s career, but I’m certain that his self-titled debut album from 2001 would’ve won many hearts anyway. His second album (from 2003), Closer, further cemented his voice into the world of international superstardom and today, Josh Groban is one of the world’s best loved male vocalists. Considered a classical crossover artist, Josh Groban’s trademark is his soaring, operatic voice that is put to equally good use on classical standards and new, classically inspired pop. His new album, Awake, continues with this formula but in my opinion manages to better his previous work. The first single, You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up) is a truly mind-blowing piece of vocal mastery that falls in the pop genre, whilst dramatic songs like Mai and more traditional, classical songs like Un Dia Llegara brings the entire album into balance. Also highly enjoyable is February Song and Now Or Never, which was co-written by Imogen Heap – a Grammy nominee for Best New Artist in 2007. One of my favourites is his cover of Bright Blue’s Weeping that features our very own Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Josh Groban’s talent is undeniable, but seems to improve with time. Awake is his best album yet.

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