Published Mar 21, 2014 at 12:11AM

Sara Evans

“SLOW ME DOWN”

RCA Records Nashville

The cover of Sara Evans’ new album depicts her in front of a giant clock above the title “Slow Me Down” — an ironic statement for a country star releasing only her second album in nine years.

But taking her time benefits Evans in one way: “Slow Me Down” ranks with such past gems as 2005’s “Real Fine Place” and 2000’s “Born To Fly,” two of Evans’ best, and most successful, albums. She also profits from working with one producer, Mark Bright, who also co-produced “Real Fine Place” with Evans, a move away from the multiple producers found on Evans’ disappointing 2011 release, “Restless.”

Bright adds particularly inventive and engaging arrangements to such standout cuts as “Sweet Spot” and especially “You Never Know,” with its clever use of strings as a rhythmic element set against drums, bass and guitars. Evans’ maturity also informs her new songs, especially the title cut, the equally compelling “Better Off” (a duet with Vince Gill) and “A Little Revival.”

Judging from the strength of her new work, Evans should ignore her own advice and speed up recording efforts on the next round.

— Michael McCall,

The Associated Press

Ledisi

“THE TRUTH”

Verve Records

Naming one’s album after the ultimate philosophical concept, the virtue supposedly most cherished by all, is a lot to wrap your head around. If you had to pick one vocalist who would do a great job with the truth, Ledisi would be a great choice. She may not hold the keys to the Scriptures, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer or Springsteen, but she sounds as if she’s got them in her pocket. This jazzy adult-contempo soul singer, with the warmest tones since Sarah Vaughan, has approached sexual abuse, yearning, and raw topicality with passion, honesty and guile, with harder- and harder-edged music with each release.

“The Truth” is sprightlier and faster-paced overall than her previous albums. “I Blame You,” a bold-faced bit of good, old-fashioned romanticism, is the type of blowsy retro-R&B that Sharon Jones’ Dap Kings would kill for. So is “That Good Good” and the super-sensual “Lose Control.”

The truth is, Ledisi’s every breath has conviction and earnestness. That’s a rare truth worth celebrating.

— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Aloe Blacc

“LIFT YOUR SPIRIT”

Interscope Records

Aloe Blacc is no overnight sensation.

The co-writer and voice behind Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” now the most-played song in Spotify history with more than 200 million streams since its release last year, is a 35-year-old former business consultant from California with two other albums to his name.

So why on Earth is his new album, “Lift Your Spirit,” so stunningly uneven?

Obviously Blacc can write a hit, following the success of “Wake Me Up” with his own smash, “The Man,” which twists a bit of Elton John’s “Your Song” into something soulful and grand. He is clever enough to craft a sleek slice of ’60s soul in the lush throwback “Red Velvet Seat,” which positions him as a possible heir to Bruno Mars’ throne.

Unfortunately, “Lift Your Spirit” also features clunkers that are so bad they’re actually shocking. “Here Today” is so lazy it’s hard to believe he ever played it in public, much less included it on an album, with its chorus of “We’re here today (hey!) gone tomorrow! Lead the way, never follow!” sung blandly over a vague pop backdrop. “Chasing” squanders an interesting mix of glitchy dance beats and ’50s bubblegum pop on a chorus of “Girls, girls, girls chasing the boys, boys, boys chasing the money. … Don’t chase the money.” Even his personal thanksgiving song, “Owe It All,” sounds cobbled together and unbelievable, opening with the immortal question, “Where would I be without the pillow on my bed?”

Blacc has plenty of potential, but he maddeningly wastes a lot of it on “Lift Your Spirit.”

—Glenn Gamboa,

Newsday

Jason Eady

“DAYLIGHT AND DARK”

Thirty Tigers

On the best country album of the year so far, the alcohol begins flowing right away, and, fittingly, it’s the hard stuff. Jason Eady starts off “Daylight and Dark” with the terrific barroom honky-tonker “OK Whiskey” (it “treats me better than that old 3.2”). That’s followed shortly by “Temptation” and then a really killer drinking song, “One, Two … Many.”

That concludes the portion of the track listing headed “Causes.” What follows are “Consequences,” and Eady’s take on them is as unsparing as the music is uncompromising, hard-core country. In other words, this isn’t a Luke Bryan record. “Now I’m left with the damage I’ve done,” Eady, a Mississippi native, laments on “Liars and Fools.” The title song points up the existential struggle of these characters as they try to find their way in a world that is not always black and white: “It’s a worn-out situation when you don’t know where you are.”

The “Recovery” portion of the program doesn’t sound much cheerier. “Late Night Diner” is colored by mournful steel guitar as the singer ponders more of the heavy costs of his behavior. The bonus track, “A Memory Now,” concludes things on a brighter note, musically at least, framing the biting kiss-off of the lyrics in a jaunty two-step with guest vocalists Hayes Carll and Evan Felker.

— Nick Cristiano,

The Philadelphia Inquirer