Vanessa Carlton 

Heroes & Thieves (The Inc.)

On her third album, the piano-pounding Carlton hooks up with hip-hop mogul Irv Gotti's record company, enlists various producers, and makes a CD about N.Y.C. No, she's not snatching Jay-Z's crown. Heroes & Thieves is still pretty much guided by the 26-year-old singer-songwriter's ivories-based melodies and adult-alternative beats. But she does throw down occasionally. Opener "Nolita Fairytale" details the not-so-amicable split from her previous label, and "My Best" probes the end of a rocky relationship. A stable of songwriters — including female-for-hire Linda Perry and former boyfriend/Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins — brings a smattering of variety to the mostly same-sounding tracks, many of which employ Carlton's breakthrough hit "A Thousand Miles" as a launching point. Still, the heroine-driven song cycle (think Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly, recast as Stevie Nicks' BFF), coupled with Carlton's sinuous piano fills, reveals a slightly broken heart beating beneath the surface.

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