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story.lead_photo.caption Album cover for Justin Timberlake's "Man of the Woods"

C+ Justin Timberlake

Man of the Woods

RCA

It's not difficult to like Justin Timberlake as a personality, a talent, as one of those pop culture figures whose brand matters far more than his largely forgettable work. In a way, he's a prisoner of his times. Pop music seems to matter less these days than it has since, at least, before the advent of the Beatles. Timberlake seems to understand, if not embrace the evanescent nature of the medium. In a way, he seems a little like the post-Sun Records Elvis Presley, willing to put out half-formed and sometimes silly love songs while attempting to negotiate his way to fully adult stardom. Elvis thought movies were the way; JT has the multiverse.

Anyway, the new album Man of the Woods isn't what a lot of us think it ought to be -- a mature and serious statement by an artist coming into his own. Instead, it's kind of a tease, an emotionally vacant feint toward Americana-style "authenticity" where Timberlake at least begins to wrestle with domestic themes (marriage, fatherhood) while falling back on the same sort of sonic assault -- shimmering harmonies, twisty a cappella breaks, lots of Ableton Live-type sequencing -- of his previous work. While the songs are markedly shorter and more song-like than The 20/20 Experience, they mostly bluster and fret before evaporating painlessly. While there are traces of Memphis soul and some real rubbery funk ("Filthy") here, a lot of the record feels like filler. The Chris Stapleton collaboration "Say Something" is a nothingburger that (especially in its expensive video version) feels as contrived as a comics crossover where DC's Batman and Marvel's Deadpool exchange quips. ("The Hard Stuff" feels like an attempt at bad bro country; the less said about "Flannel" the better. )

What it's lacking, honestly, is songs -- there are sweet sentiments here, some impressive performances and remarkable sound design. But songs? There's nothing here -- aside from perhaps the loping ballad "Morning Light" (co-written by Stapleton), a duet with Alicia Keys that features a tight bass line -- that feels the least bit durable. Man of the Woods feels like, at best, a holding pattern for an entertainer who seems to want to be an artist but, despite having a deep reservoir of talent, remains essentially unformed.

Hot tracks: "Filthy," "Morning Light"

-- PHILIP MARTIN

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A Bonnie Montgomery

Forever

Self-released

Searcy native Bonnie Montgomery has been spending a fair amount of time in Texas lately, and the influence of the Lone Star State seeps nicely into this new recording, which will be released Friday. Her second full-length finds the singer musing about relationships and the road in her unique, classically trained voice over 11 self-penned tracks.

This is thoughtful, hardcore country, from the honky-tonk to the highway, where Montgomery has been logging miles with her band -- which for this album includes Geoffrey Robson of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. It's also a conceptual nod to Phases & Stages, Willie Nelson's 1972 album about a divorce.

"No More" has Montgomery strutting proudly away from an unappreciative man; "Alleyways and Castles" is a blisteringly paced, foot-tapping ode to travel and playing with her band that will undoubtedly be a concert staple. On "Goin' Out Tonight," Montgomery is joined by her pal and Texas roots-music legend Dale Watson for a Bonnie and Clyde (or is it Bonnie and Dale?) tale of love and crime.

The album's title track shows up in three versions -- an intro, an instrumental and as the penultimate song -- and is a sweet testament to lasting love. A relationship is also at the heart of the heartfelt ballad, "Thunder."

"Comets," with its classical strings and gauzy atmosphere, is an outlier of a song that sounds like it could easily be placed in a film soundtrack or a musical, but somehow still is of a piece with the rest of Forever and is a haunting showcase for Montgomery's fabulous voice.

Hot tracks: "Forever," "Fairy Tales," "Comets," "Thunder"

-- SEAN CLANCY

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

B Migos

Culture II

Motown/Capitol

Even huge fans of Migos' breakthrough smash Culture last year have to admit they didn't want a nearly two-hour follow-up. They don't call these double albums anymore, but even these innovators of the current standard signature flow in hip-hop can't quite do what they do as successfully without judicious editing. Loaded with catchphrases and ad libs galore ("you're a dork" is a fave), lush but rarely irresistible production, and endless hooks that do grow interchangeable and wearing after a while, Culture II botches its own chance at being a strong follow-up by never once justifying its length.

It does have peaks: the lovely opening "Higher We Go," the humorously effacing "Too Much Jewelry," the surprisingly saxophone-driven "Too Playa." But sometimes the song-after-song effect is so homogeneous you can't tell those from the valleys.

Hot tracks: "Higher We Go," "Too Much Jewelry"

-- DAN WEISS

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

Album cover for Bonnie Montgomery's "Forever"

Style on 02/13/2018

Print Headline: Timberlake's latest unformed, largely forgettable

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