A Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert got heavy on The Weight of These Wings, the 2016 double album all about heartache and rebuilding her life, written after the breakup of her marriage to The Voice star Blake Shelton. On Wildcard — which follows the satisfying diversion of last year's superb Interstate Gospel by Pistol Annies, Lambert's supergroup with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley — she lightens up.
Or at least, the Texas-raised country singer doesn't dwell on unhappy endings. (That might have something to do with her marriage to New York City policeman Brendan McLoughlin.)
Wildcard is a uniformly strong, 14-song collection, with Lambert co-writing every track. She takes care to have her fun. "White Trash" makes light of her inability to get above her raising. "Pretty Bitchin'" takes a good long look in the mirror and can't see any reason to complain. And on "Way Too Pretty For Prison," a duet with Maren Morris, the vocal partners decide it would be unseemly to risk murdering a cheating man — better to hire a contract killer.
But while Wildcard doesn't flaunt its seriousness, Lambert isn't coasting as a songwriter. She imbues drinking songs such as "Tequila Does," "Dark Bars," and the blues-gospel "Holy Water" with substance. And even when singing about "Settling Down," she refuses to settle, avoiding comforting country cliches about the sanctity of home and instead exploring the tension between the instinct to put down roots and the urge to get away.
Hot tracks: all
— DAN DELUCA
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
B+ Van Morrison
Three Chords and the Truth
Don't judge an album by its title.
Arriving on the heels of a successful series of records combining some of his own composition with plenty of R&B, blues and jazz numbers, you could expect a name like Three Chords and the Truth and the stylized lines of the cover art to point you toward a collection of country classics.
Instead, Morrison's sixth album in four years gathers more than 67 minutes of Morrison originals, its 14 tracks among the most easygoing-in-a-good-way he has released in ages.
Morrison can be a wonderfully loose improviser and there are plenty of moments, some ephemeral, like the strums at the end of opening track "March Winds in February," when the spontaneity of the poetic champion and his band survives intact.
Morrison, who also produced the album, brings Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner back into the fold on six tracks to add some very fine acoustic guitar leads. On the soulful title track, as well as on the rollicking "Early Days" which features Morrison's honking sax, he revisits career beginnings, a theme he has tackled before which evidently continues to inspire him. "Bags Under My Eyes," sounding like a Willie Nelson homage, has tongue softly in cheek as it mourns the consequences of life on the road again.
The unfortunate character in the R&B workout of "You Don't Understand" is either suffering from a persecution complex or has really had it rough, a sentiment that also drifts over to "Read Between the Lines."
"In Search of Grace" recounts a woman's mysterious disappearance 50-odd years ago to a tune reminiscent of the Impressions' "People Get Ready," while closer "Days Gone By" is nearly eight minutes of earthbound mysticism built on folk foundations similar to those which elevated many of Morrison's best albums in decades past.
After a couple of quiet periods earlier this century, Morrison's studio hot streak continues unabated.
Hot tracks: "Days Gone By," "Early Days," "Read Between the Lines," "In Search of Grace"
— PABLO GORONDI
The Associated Press
A that dog.
That dog. is near the top of any reasonable person's list of bands that should've been huge, especially by the standards of the '90s noise-pop continuum. They weren't just biz babies who could really sing and play. They had their own sound: chamber-pop grunge that piled on the three-part harmonies and Petra Haden's not-always-sweet violin, while still managing to be louder than Weezer (who once gave frontwoman Anna Waronker a lead vocal, as if to illustrate what could've been).
This crowdfunded fourth album arrives 22 years after the third and pulls off another balancing act. It doesn't sound like it could have been made by anyone else, yet it doesn't sound like any of its predecessors, and it's as great as anything they've ever done. They challenge themselves like no reunion band. You won't hear a more frenetic rocker in 2019 than "Just the Way," or a sweeter orchestration than the title tune, a tribute to Rachel Haden's late jazz-legend dad Charlie. Everything else nestles arrestingly in between, maturing melodically while exploding harder than anyone working their increasingly rarefied circuit. We'll take a fifth.
Hot tracks: "Just the Way," "Old LP"
— DAN WEISS
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
B Neil Young with Crazy Horse
Neil Young is back with his old band Crazy Horse in all their ragged glory with Colorado, a beautiful, rambling, chaotic howl against climate change, division and hate.
It's one of Young's best records in years, reminiscent of 1989's Ragged Glory, and his first with Crazy Horse since 2012.
Young, showing no signs of slowing down at 73, cranks up his rage and tenderness with the latest incarnation of Crazy Horse. The band members have spent 50 years recording on and off with Young. The latest version features longtime Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren, who replaces retired 70-year-old Frank "Poncho" Sampedro.
But like Young, Crazy Horse seems to defy the passing of time with the energy and emotion they bring to Colorado.
The sweetly melodic three-minute opening track "Think of Me" could easily fit on Young's 1992 Harvest Moon. But in a sharp left turn, Young follows it up with a shambolic 13-minute jam — "She Showed Me Love" — with echoes of earlier Crazy Horse adventures like 1969's "Down by the River."
As he has for much of the past decade, Young focuses his rage on climate change, railing about "old white guys trying to kill Mother Nature."
On the standout "Rainbow of Colors," Young offers some hope amid the despair. "There's a rainbow of colors/In the old USA," Young croons. "No one's gonna whitewash those colors away."
Hot tracks: "Rainbow of Colors," "Think of Me," "She Showed Me"
— SCOTT BAUER
The Associated Press
Weekend on 11/07/2019
Print Headline: Lambert draws a Wildcard; Van Morrison goes for the Truth