Alesha Dixon - The Entertainer ****
WHEN in 2001 Alesha Dixon - as part of R&B trio Mis-Teeq - released album Lickin' On Both Sides, it would be hard for her to imagine that she'd still be hitting the charts almost 10 years later. This is an almost flawless move from the Mis-Teeq material of yesteryear to the current pop-R&B sound. Take Control featuring Roll Deep is an obvious chart stomper, while title track The Entertainer could well be a Rihanna tune and Tug Of War features Lady Gaga style beats.
Robert Francis - Before Nightfall ***
ROBERT FRANCIS'S first major-label release initially came out in the UK in 2009, but after failing to make an impact first time around, Before Nightfall is being re-released. The LAbased singer-songwriter offers a variety of musical styles, ranging from the sublime - the Phil Spector-inspired Hallways - to the ridiculous album closer Do What I Can. The closing track sees Francis attempt to imitate Bob Dylan - in the process ruining a decent track. In fact, Francis's vocals sound different on almost every song: The Chris Isaak-esque Nightfall being followed by falsetto-laden Climb A Mountain is a prime example. However, there are plenty of strong tunes on the album, with Junebug and Mescaline standing out.
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday *****
IT'S been a while since rap found a new female to play the guys at their game, and Nicki may well be that act. Female rappers don't have a good rep - ..... see Lady Sovereign, Lil Kim and MIA - and while Lil Wayne's protege may embrace her girliness with her pink wig with Barbie doll-like features, there is spice in her sugar. The Trinidadian songstress has collaborated with some of the hottest names around on her debut album, including Eminem, Will.i.am, Kanye West and Rihanna, and the results are worth a listen.
Sara Mitra - April Song *****
NOW the leaves have a brownish hue and dangle from the branches, spring feels long ago. So it's as well that Sara Mitra's April Song is here to remind us that in five months the seasons will snap back and everything will be just fine. This is a balmy album full of joy and spirit. Standouts include the up-tempo waltz of Bobby Cole cover Life On A Look; the playful samba of Baby And Me; funereal Irish folk song Black Is The Colour and the pop appeal of Let Me Love You. April Song is an autumnal discovery that will see you through the winter.