Justin Timberlake, “Man of the Woods”: Don’t be fooled by the title or the latest images with Timberlake looking like he stepped out of a Timberland catalog. Even though there’s a song here called “Flannel,” JT hasn’t gone all Bon Iver.
To be sure, there are nods to Nashville here and there, especially on the title cut and whenever country maverick Chris Stapleton is involved as a songwriter, guitarist or singer. But “Man of the Woods” could easily have been titled “King of Funk Lite Volume 3.”
This 16-track collection isn’t as exciting as the ex-N’ Sync heartthrob’s first two solo albums, “Justified” and “Future Sex/Love Sounds,” and, frankly, it’s about as unspectacular as 2013’s two-volume “20/20 Experience.”
Working mostly with producers Timbaland and the Neptunes, JT shows a love for old-school soul. Too often the record comes across like Bruno Mars without the musical dynamics or contemporary words. “Midnight Summer Jam” and “Wave” are Mars-meets-Stevie Wonder looking for a more sophisticated lyricist. “Breeze Off the Pond” is anonymous breezy ’90s soul, and “Montana” owes more to Earth, Wind & Fire than to Big Sky.
There are tips of the fedora to Prince, long an influence on Timberlake. The greasy funk of “Filthy,” JT’s current single, won’t bring sexyback but it will fill the dance floor. “Sauce” is odd and edgy with a typical old-school Prince couplet: “I love your pink/You like my purple.”
Maybe the sound the Memphis native was looking for was Southern soul, which is best exemplified on “Morning Light,” a sweet love song on which his voice is in full glory. Too often here JT’s voice is almost anonymous.
— Jon Bream, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Rhye, “Blood”: When you have a voice as gorgeously distinctive as Rhye’s Mike Milosh, there’s really no reason to cover it up.
Rhye’s 2013 debut “Woman” put Milosh’s voice front-and-center in the intimate alt-R&B he built with then-partner Robin Hannibal. But on the new follow-up “Blood” (Loma Vista), Rhye is just Milosh, crafting even more stripped-down soul that makes the most of his luxuriant voice that moves beyond cooing falsetto and R&B lover man.
The way Milosh’s breathy voice hangs and cracks slightly in “Softly” only adds to its dizzying appeal. He even asks in the chorus, “Where are we now?” as if he has lost his bearings.
On the single “Count to Five,” there’s a push-and-pull between the public and the private, you can almost hear the transition from the club to the bedroom as the instrumentation goes from funky to spare and back again. “You keep me waiting,” Milosh sings. “I’ll count to five, love.”
“Blood” is so pretty that it is easy to get swept away, but it is also so well constructed that it will stand up to repeated listening. It’s a flirty declaration that Rhye is built to last.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday