RHYE, Blood (Loma Vista/Concord): 3½ STARS

Rhye’s “Woman” was one of 2013’s most pleasing surprises, a seductive blend of soul, electronic grooves and understatement. Venturing forth solo without producer Robin Hannibal, Mike Milosh has retained his beautiful, Sade-meets-Tracey Thorn countertenor while bringing onboard cello, clarinet, guitar, flute, violins and trombone to expand beyond the sonic range of the synths grounding his moody sound. The midtempo R&B of “Count to Five” and “Phoenix” are reminiscent of vintage Soul II Soul, while Milosh continually intones themes of connection (“Taste,” “Sinful,” “Stay Safe”) like hypnotic mantras (“You wanna lay low/ You wanna stay safe/ Let’s make a home”). rhyemusic.com

THE JAMES HUNTER SIX, Whatever It Takes (Daptone): 3½ STARS

Raspy and persuasive as ever, the rugged British soul singer and his tough, road-seasoned band evoke the grit of ’60s R&B even while delivering a more smoothly romantic, less rhythmically urgent set than fans have come to expect. Tracks like “I Got My Eyes,” the greasy instrumental “Blisters” and “Don’t Let Pride Take You for a Ride” kick up the tempo but most of this handsomely produced (by Daptone bassist/co-founder Gabriel Roth) set is devoted to more slow-groove celebrations of love about or inspired by Hunter’s wife. Lucky lady. jameshuntermusic.com


Inspired by the movement and ambiance of the ocean near his studio, the German pianist and composer skillfully constructs emotional landscapes that are alternately pensive and refreshing with little more than piano, bass drum and atmospheric effects. Following the gorgeous “Sand Whirling,” “Anew” builds anticipation with repetitive patterns and gradually enhanced samples; it’s simple, yet achieves cathartic moments. Similarly, the late-night cinematic feel of “Fragmentation” yields to the more contemplative “Abeyance,” which mists into the title track’s wandering angst before the crescendoing “Magnetic Perturbation” gracefully extends the musical ebb and flow. RIYL Olafur Arnalds. facebook.com/niklas.paschburg

JAMES ARMSTRONG, Blues Been Good to Me (Catfood): 2½ STARS

A near-fatal knife attack 20 years ago almost destroyed the soul-blues veteran and native Angeleno’s playing ability, but he picked up slide guitar and exchanged fiery solos for a more tasteful, slow-burn approach. That remains his MO here, mixed with wry humor (“Old Man in the Morning [Young Man at Night]”) and an easygoing touch that revives Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.” (It’s less successful with a rushed take on Dozier & Holland’s “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You.”) Highlights: Armstrong’s “Early Grave” and “Shotgun Wedding.” At Big Mama’s in Pasadena Saturday, Feb. 10. jarmblues.com