Dazzlers and downers from Rihanna, Susan Boyle

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FROM LEFT: Boyle shines in her most accessible—and enjoyable—collection to date; Rihanna draws inspiration from dysfunctional relationship, and Bennett and Thalia collaborate on “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Rihanna seems to have waxed her No. 1 album, “Unapologetic,” for the people who don’t approve of her dysfunctional relationship with Chris Brown, who infamously assaulted her in 2009.

As the piano-and-strings-backed single, “Stay” (featuring Mikky Ekko), suggests, she’s still in love with her attacker: “The reason I hold on (is) ‘cause I need this hole gone/Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving.”

The R&B diva’s defiance is even more pronounced in the hook-heavy “Nobody’s Business,” in which she and Brown find comfort in each other: “You’ll always be the one I want to come home to/ Me and you, get it?/ Ain’t nobody’s business!”

In the provocative “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary,” she references Marilyn Monroe and James Dean as she asks, “What is love without tragedy?” But, as the cautionary saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for….”

True, everybody deserves a second chance, but it’s a stubborn and dismissive attitude like this that helps perpetuate violence and abusive practices committed against women—and twangs a sour note to the chartbusting album’s otherwise satisfying fusion of hip-hop, soul, electronica and dubstep!

You’ll be drawn to the uncommon optimism of the midtempo ballad, “Diamonds,” last week’s No. 1 tune on the Hot 100 chart, as well as the catchy melodic segues of “What Now?,” the reggae-pumped “No Love Allowed,” and the scrumptious harmonies of “Get It Over With.”

And, if you want to dance, you can shimmy to the glossy and gritty grooves of “Jump,” “Loveeeeeee Song” (with Future), and the songstress’ collaborations with David Guetta (“Right Now,” “Fresh Off The Runway”).

Even more appealing are Rihanna’s duets with hip-hop “royalty”: The irrepressible Eminem and Egyptian flutes boost the psychedelic Middle Eastern vibe of the controversial “Numb,” which describes the soporific effect of habit-forming drugs, while Kanye West is incorporated into one of the booming mixes of “Diamonds.”

‘Standing Ovation’

Susan Boyle also takes more risks in her fourth album, “Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage,” her most accessible—and enjoyable—collection to date. This time, the 51-year-old singing spinster isn’t compromised by dour ballads.

Show tunes require more than just a beautiful, booming voice, because they’re mostly sung in the context of specific stories and heightened emotions—and Boyle seizes the opportunity to stretch herself, vocally and emotionally, as she does in her soaring covers of “The Winner Takes It All,” “Out Here On My Own,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Bring Him Home,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the ethereal “Memory,” and the show-stopping “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

Her collaborations with her guests are even more sensational: Boyle makes beautiful music with Donny Osmond in “All I Ask of You” and “This Is The Moment.” And, in “The Music of the Night,” the stirring Michael Crawford takes listeners’ breath away as he coaxes an emotion-packed performance from the usually staid Boyle—a Christine Daaé for the mature set!

The former talent-search runnerup is drawing renewed vigor from her recent foray into musical theater: In March this year, “I Dreamed A Dream,” the stage musical inspired by her life (starring Elaine C. Smith), earned rave reviews for its “faultless production values” and “gutsy good humor”—with Boyle appearing in a cameo!

‘Viva Duets’

If you like the enduring standards of Tony Bennett and the emotive romanticism of Spanish sonatas, you’re in for a treat: In his latest album, the 15-track “Viva Duets,” the 86-year-old singing legend puts a Latin spin on his well-loved classics (he renders them in English as his collaborators sing mostly in Spanish)—and delivers another winning collection!

After teaming up with Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Celine Dion and James Taylor in 2006’s “Duets,” and with Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban, Michael Bublé and Lady Gaga in last year’s “Duets II,” Bennett expands his collaborative reach further by boldly taking on some of the biggest names in Latin music.

The impressive names in the lineup guarantee the album’s mainstream appeal: Ecuadorian-Irish Christina Aguilera (“Steppin’ Out With My Baby”), Cuban-born queen of Latin pop Gloria Estefan (“Who Can I Turn To?”), Mexican superstar Thalia (“The Way You Look Tonight”), king of ranchera music Vicente Fernandez (“Return To Me”), and Puerto Rican Marc Anthony (“For Once In My Life”)—the top-selling salsa artist of all time!

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  • http://twitter.com/MrSuboFan John Smith

    Very impressively done reviews by Rito P. Asilo on 3 very different albums – thoughtful and intelligent.

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