Sound advice 

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Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia

Buy if you like: Rihanna, Whitney Houston

On her latest outing, Beyoncé Knowles chooses to reveal her softer side, an interesting move given that feisty uptempo tunes have been her commercial stock-in-trade. The uncharacteristically restrained "I Miss You" and "1+1" are highlights, although "Best Thing I Never Had" also succeeds with a big vocal and full-bodied instrumental backing. Unpredictably, the album's flattest moment is a star-powered song co-written by Kanye West with André 3000 on guest vocals. It's called "Party," but despite the talent involved, sounds more like a draggy morning-after. Another misstep comes on "Run the World (Girls)," a female empowerment anthem that feels like empty sloganeering, its cluttered mix and martial rhythm verging on the annoying. What's missing is a stand-out song that feels like an event — a facet her other albums have possessed. On balance, this is a solid but safe album from an artist capable of more. — Alan Sculley

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Gary Nicholson

Texas Songbook

Bismeaux Records

Buy if you like: Delbert McClinton, Asleep at the Wheel

Gary Nicholson's career highs include producing two Grammy-winning albums for fellow Fort Worth, Texas expat Delbert McClinton and a song on the Grammy-winning Crazy Heart soundtrack. Though he's a Nashvillian now, his Texas roots run deep, as evidenced by the 13 tracks on this Lone Star love letter. Most have been delivered in more wow-worthy versions by others, but it's nice to hear them done by one of their creators. Standouts include "Texas Weather" and "Somedays You Write the Song," his Grammy-nominated collaboration with Guy Clark and Jon Randall Stewart. The song-title-as-lyrics "Listen to Willie" sounds too contrived, but the McCrary sisters give a great harmony boost to "Bless 'Em All." Ray Benson, Randy Rogers, Marcia Ball, Joe Ely all show up, too. Can't get much more Texas than that. — Lynne Margolis

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The Head

Hang On

The Head Music

Buy if you like: The Shoes, the Rembrandts

Power pop albums tend to live and die by the hook. That puts Atlanta trio the Head in a pretty difficult position, since Hang On is one of those albums whose songs tend to gradually sink in with repeated listens. "Fine With It," "Only One" and "Top of the World" may not bowl you over at first, but the guitar riffs all take hold once their layers of melody have become more apparent. There's also a lot to like about the mid-tempo track "Stockwood" and the piano-based tune "Lady Lovely," which shifts surprisingly well between being a ballad and frisky rocker. But scrapping some of the weaker parts and getting to the best hooks more quickly would have elevated songs like "Sneeze" and "Separate Bodies" well above these recorded versions. Hopefully, with more experience, the Head will be able to tighten its songs and deliver the immediacy sometimes lacking here. — Alan Sculley


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