(AWAL): 4

Opening with the upbeat, samba-flavored “Magic,” the Republic of Congo-born Londoner proves himself adept at synthesizing influences as he glides through smartly crafted balladry (the acoustic-textured “Tight,” gospel-kissed “Care for Your Mother”), slow-building rockers (“Warning Signs”), feel-good groovers (“Under”), and personalized social commentary (the title track) that gives this set heft. “I dream of a day/ When the walls come down,” he confides with velvety warmth over a bed of guitars, horns, piano and strings during “What Am I,” the album’s unifying centerpiece. “I hope for a time/ When the lost are found.”

Jordan Mackampa, “Magic” —


KANDACE SPRINGS, The Women Who Raised Me (Blue Note): 3½

The soul-jazz stylist fashions a story about herself while reinterpreting gems from the songbooks of iconic inspirations such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Reteamed with producer Larry Klein, Springs’ elastic tones smolder during spare, intimate readings of Sade’s “Pearls,” the Bonnie Raitt-popularized “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and a smoky duet of pop standard “Angel Eyes” with Norah Jones (another influence). An embrace of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” faces down its singular state of being (with eloquent backing from saxophonist Chris Potter) and almost — almost — makes peace with it.

Kandace Springs, “Solitude” —

BRIAN FALLON, Local Honey (Lesser Known/Thirty Tigers): 4

The Gaslight Anthem frontman pares down to essentials for eight introspective songs as intense in their way as anything he recorded with the full band. Melancholy is juxtaposed with gratitude; the resigned despair of murder ballad “Vincent” is followed by the sweetly melodic “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You)” and hopeful dreams of “Horses” (“In our love we find forgiveness/ And in our fear we learn to see”) as Fallon celebrates moments of connection, love, and endurance. An album that stays with you like a true friend. RIYL Jason Isbell, Michael McDermott, Bruce Springsteen.

Brian Fallon, “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You)” —

JOSÉ JAMES, No Beginning No End 2 (Rainbow Blonde): 3

The eclectic baritone’s hungry, restless creativity has manifested itself through jazz, R&B, hip-hop, soul, and well-received tributes to Billie Holiday and Bill Withers. His first album for his own label finds him collaborating with Aloe Blacc (the funky “Turn Me Up”), Ledisi (“I Need Your Love”), guitarist Marcus Machado (a treacle-free cover of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”), Laura Mvula and Kris Bowers (“Nobody Knows My Name”), among others, and focusing on comfort and connection. The highlight’s a duet with Lizz Wright, “Take Me Home,” steamy with blues, gospel, and yearning.

José James, “Take Me Home” —