Amerie first caught our ear in 2002 with the sugary “Why Don’t We Fall In Love,” an uptempo love ditty that had just enough of a groove to keep our attention – but just barely.

Now Amerie has developed into an artist who can certainly keep our ears open and our eyes peeled. She’s dropped the girl-next-door look for a sleek, glamorous image a la that other one-named sensation, Beyonce.

But more than enhancing her sex appeal, Amerie has smartly revved up her groove appeal, making her more than just a pretty starlet with a semblance of a voice.

Her sophomore effort, “Touch,” has just the right musical one: at its core are solid rump-shakers that perfectly complement Amerie’s sweet but occasionally thin voice.

The album’s first single, the smash “1 Thing,” has an infectious funky hook that almost forces you on the dance floor – and Amerie could have easily been an afterthought on her own song. But it perfectly meshes with Amerie’s layered “ooohs” and soaring vocal climaxes to allow both the beat and her voice to shine.

The entire album, on which Amerie co-wrote several songs and serves as executive producer, is a solid, seamless party – until Amerie unwisely decides to slow things down, like on the so-so “Can We Go” with Carl Thomas and the unremarkable “Falling.”

But just when we start to lose our interest, she brings us back to the fold with another version of “1 Thing,” a remix with Eve. And we are again reminded why we started listening – and why we’ll keep on doing so.

– Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Music Writer
Ben Folds
“Songs for Silverman”

Remember Ben Folds’ hit “Brick” when he was fronting the mathematically challenged trio, Ben Folds Five? Their 1997 album “Whatever and Ever Amen” sounded like fun, bouncy ’90s nostalgia, even then.

“Songs for Silverman” is now Folds’ third solo disc, and while he still enjoys a strong fanbase of diehards, it’s easy to wonder how someone who so consistently churns out pop gems (plus produces offbeat projects like William Shatner’s “Has Been”) could ever be labeled a one-hit wonder.

Why did we ever stop listening? Maybe because Folds (and groups like They Might Be Giants) get pushed under the rug for simply being so predictably solid.

“Silverman” begins with “Bastard,” the album’s best tune. After a typical opening of staccato piano chords, Folds sings in his high, nasal voice, “The whiz man’ll never fit you like the whiz kid did / So why you gotta act like you know when you don’t know?”

On “Jesusland,” Folds’ lulls you with a gentle gallop, almost hiding his dig at religious suburbia: “town to town / broadcast to each house, they drop your name / but no one knows your face.”

The disc’s first single, “Landed,” could be a new “Brick” – a soft, swooning ballad about a lover’s return to earth after a misguided flight away.

Overall, “Silverman” is full of Folds’ pitch-wavering, buoyant ditties, though he seems to have made a natural evolution away from rockers like “The Battle of Who Could Care Less.” Those bursts of stomp are missed, leaving “Silverman” a little too even.

The disc’s most touching tune, however, is “Late,” a dedication to the singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, who died in October 2003. Folds and Smith toured together in 1998, and on “Late,” he sings of regret of not earlier voicing his admiration:

“When desperate static beats the silence up / a quiet truth to calm you down / the songs you wrote / Got me through a lot / Just wanna tell you that.”

It’s a fitting reminder to appreciate the few unique voices we have.

– Jake Coyle, AP Writer

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