Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
A- Margo Price
"That's How Rumors Get Started"
Margo Price made a rowdy entrance in 2016 with "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)," the debut single from "Midwest Farmer's Daughter," an album released on Jack White's label whose title nodded to Loretta Lynn while introducing Price as a honky-tonk rebel.
Two albums down the line, Price has progressed impressively, growing more ambitious with the thematic scope of 2017's "All-American Made" and now comfortably working in 1970s rock mode with the bold "That's How Rumors Get Started."
Recorded in Los Angeles in the same studio as the Beach Boys cut "Pet Sounds," "Rumors" was produced by Price's country music iconoclast buddy Sturgill Simpson.
The album doesn't make a show of its subversiveness like Simpson's 2019 metal-edged "Sound & Fury." Instead, it confidently goes its own way, largely leaving steel guitars and all manner of twang behind as Price settles in to make a top-notch rock record with seasoned studio musicians like bassist Pino Palladino and Tom Petty keyboard player Benmont Tench.
The surfaces are smooth, and there's tension roiling underneath. "Rumors" is a superbly crafted 10-song set that was written, recorded, and planned for release in 2019. It was pushed back first by the birth of Price's daughter, Ramona, then by record company drama, and again by the pandemic and the illness of Price's husband and musical partner, Jeremy Ivey, who has had several inconclusive tests for covid-19.
No matter if songs like the simply soulful "What Happened to Our Love" or "Stone Me" are absolutely brand new: They capture Price working at a high level, ever more confident in her artistry.
She's so in the groove, in fact, that she even manages to say something fresh when navigating a cliche-ridden subject like the quest for success in "Twinkle, Twinkle."
Hot tracks: "What Happened to Our Love," "Stone Me"
-- DAN DELUCA
BChloe x Halle
As a pop enterprise, Beyonce is now at Prince's level. And her proteges Chloe and Halle Bailey contribute more of their own songwriting than Morris Day ever did with the Time.
This follow-up to 2018's heavily "Lemonade"-indebted "The Kids Are Alright" is a departure to no place in particular -- but making a high-profile R&B album in 2020 with no conceptual arc is its own distinction. The sisters are 20 and 22 now, and for once in pop, titles like "Do It" and "Tipsy" come as a natural progression rather than a defiant rebuke of their teenage fame.
Their music has matured beyond YouTube into something that's fully club-worthy. The tuned percussion of "Baby Girl" and psychedelic guitar molasses of the best-in-show title track make sure of that.
"Wonder What She Thinks of Me" sounds like something Halle Bailey might sing in her forthcoming role in the live-action "Little Mermaid" remake. It's their calling card as ambassadors for a young, Black generation with "Hamilton" and Disney soundtracks mixed in among their musical influences.
Hot tracks: "Baby Girl," "Ungodly Hour," "Wonder What She Thinks of Me"
-- DAN WEISS