On the lead single from her first album in seven years, Whitney Houston
is both vulnerable and in control. The singer re-enters the spotlight with a stoic ballad about rising again after a fall from grace, with all the literal resonance that brings. "As I lay me down/Heaven hear me now," Houston sings, punctuating each syllable with strong-willed aplomb. "After all that I've been through/ Who can I turn to?" The lyrics are penned by R. Kelly
, himself no stranger to career downturns and revivals. And the minimalist production, which features a lone, sullen piano and soft synths, exists purely to cushion Houston's moving vocal performance. "I Look to You" stands firmly in the tradition of her most emotive hits ("Greatest Love of All," "I Will Always Love You") and signals the long-awaited return of a true diva.
"So Fine," the first single from Sean Paul
's upcoming "Imperial Blaze," is a litmus test for both the artist and dancehall music itself. Paul has been the Jamaican genre's ambassador for a decade. But with four years separating the singer from his last album, "Trinity," does reggae's Mr. Reliable still have the power? Over a jittery yet danceable rhythm produced by dancehall boy wonder Stephen "Di Genius" McGregor, "So Fine" offers the sort of digestible, ambiguous lyrics that have always made Paul's music so easy to embrace. Yet it hardly brings heat the way past No. 1s "Get Busy" or "Temperature" did. He hasn't lost his touch when it comes to crafting catchy club-fillers, but Paul will have to show us what else is in his "Imperial" bag before he can reclaim his throne as dancehall's ruler.
Many of Sara Evans
' biggest hits are uptempo, life-affirming tunes ("Born to Fly," "Suds in the Bucket," "A Real Fine Place to Start"), and the Missourian's new single fits perfectly into the hit parade. Produced by Nathan Chapman, who has become a hot commodity in the wake of his record-breaking work with Taylor Swift
, this is the feel-good country-pop song of the season. The lyrics celebrate the minutiae that come with building a life with that special someone. "It's always been inside my head/ Sunlit hardwood floors and feather beds/And children laughing running up and down the stairs," she sings. The melody is buoyant, and Evans' performance is playful, sultry and vibrant. In her hands (and throat), happiness sounds like a big ol' hit.