Ariana Grande, "Dangerous Woman" (Republic)
One of the best things that happened to 22-year-old Grande — inheritor of Mariah Carey's crown as soul-pop's youngest multi-octave vocalist — was "Saturday Night Live." As it did with Taylor Swift, the comedy show allowed the usually stiff live performer to loosen up and demonstrate another side of herself. Grande has opened her jazzier vocal sound and found more minimalist production values that make her lyrical emotionalism shine on her third album.
"All I want to do is fall in deep," she sings with a soft, strong quaver against a murmured syn-bass line and finger-snap percussion on "Into You." It's a torrid track whose chorus blossoms into full-blown electro-disco.
Grande maintains cool but mighty distance on the slick faux-blues of the title song, on which her quick-speak and multitracked runs are a highlight. "Side to Side" offers a dubby, dance-hall vibe and a naughty Nicki Minaj rap, and "Leave Me Lonely" is, weirdly, an even better pairing. The gruff-voiced Macy Gray and the usually smooth Grande go toe-to-toe creating sleek soul that's scuffed up like pricey patent leather after a mud storm. Brava, girl.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Dierks Bentley, "Black" (Capitol Nashville)
Though he's been racking up country hits for years, Bentley's last album, "Riser," especially his hit "Drunk on a Plane," introduced him to a wider country and pop audience. And he picks up where he left off with his new album and the smash single "Somewhere on a Beach," which combines catchy lyrics with a laid-back delivery and a dramatic groove.
It's a trick Bentley manages again and again on "Black," expertly weaving styles and storytelling tricks to build memorable tales to sing along with. "I dialed seven digits five times today, just to hear you say you love or hate me," he sings to open "Pick Up," probably the best-written country song this year. "I'll take anything. I just want to hear your voice."
His duet with Elle King, "Different for Girls," smartly laments how the sexes deal with a breakup, while "Mardi Gras," featuring Trombone Shorty, shows how easily Bentley can move from one genre to the next without losing his country viewpoint.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Chance the Rapper, "Coloring Book" (Apple)
Mixtapes used to be casual, tossed-off affairs giving rappers a chance to stretch out and experiment between official albums. The "official" mixtape — this is the Chicago rapper's third — blurs those lines. It's silly to call "Coloring Book," with its seriousness of purpose and guest appearances by Kanye West, Future and Kirk Franklin, anything other than an album.
And it is a mighty impressive album — available only on Apple Music, as the streaming music exclusivity wars continue. Along with Franklin, Chance also guested on "Ultra Light Beam," which pointed West's "The Life of Pablo" in a gospel direction. "Coloring Book" starts in a similar fashion, putting a top-notch West verse to use on the irresistibly energetic "All We Got," a celebration of the redemptive power of music.
From there — with boisterous horns, uplifting spirit and Chance's varied vocal attack (he's a singer who doesn't need to be Auto-Tuned), as well as a guest list that includes Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and T-Pain — "Coloring Book" brings the gospel-rap-pop fusion to more consistent fruition. "I don't make songs for free, I sing for freedom," Chance raps on an album that at its heart is about pain and suffering endured by the poor in his native Chicago, and music's role in helping them rise above it.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Tegan & Sara, "Love You to Death"
• The Kills, "Ash & Ice"
• William Tyler, "Modern Country"
• Maren Morris, "Hero"
• Paul Simon, "Stranger to Stranger"
• The Lonely Island, "Popstar"
• Michael Franti and Spearhead, "Soulrocker"
• Dan + Shay, "Obsessed"
• Train, "Does Led Zeppelin II"