On its third album -- and its first studio effort in three years -- this smooth soul duo doesn't tinker with the formula that worked on its biggest hit, the kicky title song of its 2002 debut, ''Floetic." Unfortunately, for singer Marsha Ambrosius and ''floacist" Natalie Stewart, the neo-soul moment that once sparkled has faded, overwhelmed by empty, cookie-cutter contemporary R&B. Fortunately, that hasn't prompted Floetry to alter its style one iota. The pair still favor that black bohemian downtown groove, as sultry and warm as the glow of a candle. Floetry has always been comfortable in the company of a good ballad, and there are some fine examples here such as the sexy ''Lay Down" and the delicate, passionate ''Feelings." (And, no, this isn't a cover of that gloppy 1970s AM-radio staple by one-hit wonder Morris Albert.) For the most part, the byplay between Ambrosius's vocals and Stewart's spoken-word excursions work well, most tellingly on ''SupaStar," featuring a guest rap by Common. With its cool, midtempo bounce, Stewart gets to rap, and she's very effective, twisting rhymes with her native British accent. (Like Ambrosius, she hails from London.) Other times, the spoken word thing doesn't quite jell. On ''Sometimes U Make Me Smile," Ambrosius's versatile voice can more than carry the song; then Stewart joins in -- here she's talking, not rapping -- but she sounds like she's imitating one of those chatty 1970s soul chestnuts like the Floaters' ''Float On." Still, that's a small quibble for an album that shows the duo hasn't lost its potent flow.
MOTION SICKNESS: LIVE RECORDINGS
This year, Conor Oberst may have finally trounced the indie-rock heartthrob/Dylan protégé labels (which have always made him wince) by rallying his musical collective, Bright Eyes, to create a wealth of varied and accomplished music. They released the edgy, electronic-tinged ''Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and the burnished, country-flavored ''I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" last January. Their new live album, ''Motion Sickness," which is only available through independent retailers, was drawn from the 68-show world tour they launched to support the latter album earlier this year. It lacks the self-contained drama of live releases that capture a single concert, but the songs all have a fiery immediacy. Fans will appreciate treats such as drummer Jason Boesel's intimate tour diary, the band's twangy take on Feist's ''Mushaboom," and its meditative cover of Elliott Smith's ''The Biggest Lie." Oberst sings about love and politics with equal conviction, and when the two dovetail during ''Landlocked Blues," his tremulous vocals and the fanfare of trumpet combine to achieve stark beauty. He practically spits out his anti-Bush rant, ''When the President Talks to God." But many of the best musical moments showcase the entire band, including the rollicking joy of ''Method Acting," with its slinky trumpet and riptide of drums, and the manic orchestration of ''Road to Joy." What the album lacks in surprises it more than makes up for in passionate musicianship and conversational charm. Bright Eyes plays the Palladium in Worcester on Tuesday.
The Glass Set
THE GLASS SET
Local alternative-rock diva Leah Callahan has a seemingly boundless passion for reinvention. In the mid-to-late '90s she fronted the art-rock bands Turkish Delight and Betwixt, and she's created several local music theater productions. The Glass Set is her first amalgamation of both, begun when she became reacquainted with producer Richard Marr of Galaxy Park Studios. She initially planned a Nico-esque solo album, but she quickly realized she wanted to record an edgy rock opera instead. Marr recruited members of local indie-rock bands Codetta and Lady of Spain to back her. The opera's story line seems to follow the struggles of an isolated, lovelorn young woman in an unfeeling, superficial world. And while the music tends to serve Callahan's vocals and the plot she unfolds, it is quite textured and emotionally resonant. At moments, it achieves a girl-group sass that evokes mid-'90s Japanese alt-pop bands like Shonen Knife. Album opener ''Everyone's a Thief" establishes the central character's romantic longing and general disillusionment, while ''You Want More" offers a sultry warning to an errant lover. The happy ending of ''Good-bye Troubles" is tender and understated enough to feel well earned. Callahan again captivates by singing her heart out. The Glass Set has a Tuesday residency at the Abbey Lounge this month.
The third album from Algeria's Souad Massi, who counts Emmylou Harris and Stevie Wonder among her idols, brims with the limpid directness of the best singer-songwriters. Her songs convey sincerity whether or not one understands the Arabic lyrics, which deal with classic themes such as love, nostalgia, distance, and regret. Massi, 33, tends to be labeled a folk artist, perhaps because of this emotional quality, but as much, one suspects, for lack of a better moniker. The selections on ''Mesk Elil," which means ''honeysuckle," display a far greater range, from the raucous desert incantations of ''Ilham" to the fado of ''Malou" and the lighter pop of the duet ''Tell Me Why," with its slightly awkward English refrain. Flamenco and morna enter the frame as well, as does a West African contribution from Mauritania's Daby Touré, along with Algeria's homegrown raï and chaâbi rhythms. The danger of overload that turns so many world-music albums into a multicultural dog's breakfast lurks here as well, but Massi has the voice, and the classical training in the Arab-Andalusian sources that all these genres share, to keep it all together. Impeccable accompaniment by a crack team of mainly Paris-based international musicians doesn't hurt either. Still, the most lasting impact comes from stripped-down, deceptively simple songs like the gem ''Dar Dgedi," on which Massi expresses a smoldering lyricism with casual, almost conversational ease.
One of the most underappreciated hip-hop groups has been the Lox, which produced Jadakiss and Styles P as well as Sheek Louch, who drops a penetrating, often punishing second solo effort. Louch covers a lot of familiar rap territory with his ''street music," but there are a lot of witty rhymes amid the blustery bravado and Glock flashing. He gets superb support from producers Rockwilder, Havoc of Mobb Deep (the brittle ''45 Minutes to Broadway"), and Red Spyda, among others, and the beats are as fierce as some of the couplets. There are also sharp guest turns from the likes of Ghostface Killah and Redman, while Sheek's give-and-take with Jadakiss on ''Pain" is taut. Sheek also eviscerates 50 Cent and G-Unit throughout, but there's more here than surface heat. The MC shows a welcome depth and versatility and really takes a step forward with this.