Boyz II Men, II (1994)
I believe this was the first CD that I bought with my own allowance at Duncan’s local music store. It’s another really fun, soulful album — vocally, harmonically, musically outstanding. I remember lying on my bedroom floor and studying the lyrics, mesmerized for hours. I loved the singles, but my favorites were the opening track, “Thank You,” and the last track, their gorgeous, soul-grabbing rendition of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” I was just learning about harmony at the time, and loved listening to their rich, thick, beautiful sound.
OneRepublic, Dreaming Out Loud (2007)
Ryan Tedder is one of the most talented vocalists, songwriters, producers and musicians alive. Aside from his own tracks, he’s aided with production and background vocals on countless others’ hits. My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Trent, was interning on the final season of MTV’s TRL when he met them and gave me this record. I was absolutely blown away. The first track is my favorite, “Say (All I Need).” Its opening ethereal, chopped-up, almost chant-like vocals; Ryan’s prominent, hip-hop-influenced clap drum loops; and his amazing vocal lines convict my heart more than almost any Christian album ever did. Amazing.
Mariah Carey, Greatest Hits (2001)
Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox (2012)
Bruno Mars is making some of today’s best music. I was living in L.A. when a lot of what you heard on pop radio was all the same: hip-hop, often-generic club hits — great to dance to, but not what I always want to hear in my car. When Bruno hit the airwaves, it was the perfect mix of the piano pop I had been writing, and I said, “I could make music like this!” I loved his debut album, but this new one is even better. I’m a sucker for pretty harmonies, and he’s got ’em. “Locked Out of Heaven” has such a catchy throwback beat; “When I Was Your Man” is one of the most soulful, stripped-down piano ballads to make it on the radio since Billy Joel, and “Treasure” brings back the joy of the Donna Summer disco days. He’s inspired me to not suppress great music for the sake of what sells, but instead to package great music in a way that’s appealing to the masses.