Brick & Lace
From Love Is Wicked (Geffen)
Standing by your man—even as he’s being hauled off in handcuffs—isn’t exactly a bold new thematic riff. That said, Jamaican sisters (literally) Nailah and Nyanda Thorbourne (a/k/a Brick & Lace) deserve major dap for elevating the predictable into something much more gripping. Gently guided along by Cool & Dre’s muted, undulating, moody, dancehall-flecked rhythms, the girls articulate the anguish of watching your (presumably innocent) man taken into custody—”Don’t you know you’re cutting off my lifeline?”—with a mini-epic that’s at times heart-wrenching but also pulses with an understated rage.
“Go On Girl”
From Because of You (Def Jam)
Lord knows there’s nothing wrong with being a man with sensitivity, and two albums deep now, Ne-Yo is unquestionably that man. With assistance from this week’s Scandinavian-soul producer savants (Norway’s Stargate), he’s carved out a signature sound that’s gently melodic and nuanced: the closest thing we’ve got to an actual Babyface comeback. Listen to such sweetly sorrowful confessions as “I was inviting her into my heart/She was out riding in some other’s man’s car” and you’ll hear a dude whose heart (and hard-on) has been kicked to the left, to the left.
“The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore”
From Undiscovered (Interscope)
As many a balladeer has discovered, there’s a razor-thin line between an honorably wounded man and a man who’s just a freaking wimp. The latest in a parade of U.K. love lads, James Morrison’s got no issue with wearing his heart on his sleeve, or even coming off just a wee bit pussy-whipped. But he’s also got enough dignity to not advertise his frailties via that universal white-boy indicator: falsetto. Instead, with nods to (a less florid) Jeff Buckley and Willie Mitchell, Morrison uses a hushed, supple tenor, scuffed up with just enough bite to keep things from getting too romantic, to lament the one that got away—again.