Richard Ashcroft, "United Nations of Sound"

We can lament that the Verve's 2008 reunion didn't take, or we can remember that Richard Ashcroft solo has been a pretty good thing since "Alone With Everybody" arrived in 2000. But his first solo album in four years, "United Nations of Sound," treads a path markedly different from its three predecessors, the happiest and most American that British-born Ashcroft has ever sounded. And it's a bold change of course that gave overseas ears pause when it was first released in July under the group name RPA & the United Nations of Sound. Recorded in New York with hip-hop stalwart No I.D., the set finds Ashcroft declaring, "I'm born again, yeah!" It hits more than it misses as he explores an array of soul and early rock styles, including the somewhat thin blues "How Deep Is Your Man?" and the far more convincing lower-Manhattan '60s rocker "Royal Highness." The songs "Are You Ready?" "Born Again" and "Life Can Be So Beautiful" are anthemic affirmations, while "She Brings Me the Music" is a soul ballad that's all sweet and no bitter.