Leona Lewis, "Echo"

"I breathe, I hear, but I don't believe it," U.K. pop artist Leona Lewis sings on "Alive," a standout track from her second album, "Echo." "My heart, it beats, but inside I'm freezing." Lewis' detractors will find it hard to separate those lyrics from the main criticism often lobbied against her: that she's technically gifted, but there's a soulful quality missing from her performance. While it's true that Lewis has never emoted on the level of her heroine, Whitney Houston (an awfully high bar to match), "Echo" still marks a vast improvement over her post-"X Factor" debut release in 2007. A range of writer/producers-including Ryan Tedder, Kevin Rudolf and Max Martin-help the singer reveal a more expressive side. The result is most apparent on Martin's upbeat electro-pop "Outta My Head," where she's finally allowed to let loose. As haunting as Lewis' ballads are, perhaps fewer of them would do her some good.-Monica Herrera