ARIANAAriana Grande, My Everything.  Ariana Grande doesn’t wanna be your “next Mariah Carey.” Shattering the classic-Carey image, she somehow became known for (aside from a honeyed coo here and there, I still don’t get the comparison), Grande’s likable-if-weightless sophomore album, My Everything, signals her transition from buzz-worthy Disney wonder to major mainstream mainstay.

A sizable entourage of radio fixtures riding shotgun doesn’t hurt. With Iggy Azalea, Big Sean and, on the deluxe edition, Nicki Minaj (who, alongside Jessie J, works “Bang Bang” into a bad-girl vocal orgy) helping to turn Grande into a bona fide pop princess, the singer sheds her vanilla wholesomeness – though she knows you love the way she grooves a slowie. The Ryan Tedder-produced power-ballad “Why Try,” the piano-led “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” and the tender title track fill that quota, but the slick bounce bait on My Everything aims for mass appeal. Paying tribute to the divas who came before her, a sample of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” on “Break Your Heart Back” is as fun as it is unnecessary. It’s an issue Grande contends with herself.

Having written very little of My Everything, what exactly does the 21-year-old bring to music besides runs? Not that there’s anything wrong with the fluttery “Love Me Harder” or the sprightly “One Last Time” — and the R&B-influenced “Be My Baby” serves ‘90s Brandy-esque awesomeness — but I still don’t know Ariana beyond her better-than-average pipes. She’s a product without any character. A ponytail with a voice.

Counting Crows, Somewhere Under Wonderland.  The casual drawl of Adam Duritz, dreadlocked Counting Crows frontman, is so distinct that it’s more than a voice — it’s the sound of an era. More specifically, the ’90s, when the Crows were perched atop the pop-rock zeitgeist. One of the band’s strongest outings since their heyday, the nostalgic Somewhere Under Wonderland is a Southern-influenced doozy that bursts at the seams of its heart. As the poetically wistful “Possibility Days” closes out Wonderland, all those emotions you felt the first time you heard “A Long December” resurface like they never even left.

Also out recently: Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams (no wonder the album is eponymous — it’s as if his whole solo career was leading up to this disc) … Maroon 5, V (empty-calorie ear candy … although fortunately it comes with a few inspired moments).

— Chris Azzopardi

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.