Neil Young & the Promise of the Real, “The Visitor” (Reprise)
It’s nice to hear Neil Young laugh.
Sure, it sounds a little maniacal as he cackles during the wacky eight-minute epic “Carnival,” the centerpiece of his new album. But it’s a sign that Young has every intention of surviving the current state of the world with his sense of humor intact.
Like his past two albums “The Monsanto Years” and “Peace Trail,” “The Visitor” is political and with songs like “When Bad Got Good” (“Lock him up! He lies. You lie. Lock him up!” is the chant) and “Already Great” (“You’re already great / You’re the promise land, the helping hand” is the chorus) it’s pretty clear Young is upset by President Donald Trump.
But his more universal anthems are actually more effective, whether it’s the snarling blues of the straightforward “Diggin’ a Hole,” where backing band Promise of the Real really shines, or the uplifting “Children of Destiny,” where he encourages people to “Stand up for what you believe, resist the powers that be.”
With “The Visitor,” Young offers both rage and a way through it, a musical blueprint for moving forward.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Chris Stapleton, “From a Room, Volume 2” (Mercury Nashville)
Chris Stapleton’s breakthrough has been one of the more heartening developments out of Nashville in recent years. The success has been well deserved — he had long been valued by fellow country artists as an all-around talent, but always in the service of others.
“From a Room, Volume 2” follows the format of “Volume 1,” which was released this year and is nominated for a Grammy. Stapleton leads a spare guitar-bass-drums combo, with his wife, Morgane, on background vocals. That puts his talents as a singer, writer and guitar player in stark relief.
Here, Stapleton again cuts loose with the Waylon-esque honky-tonk of “Hard Livin’ ” (“This hard livin’ ain’t as easy as it used to be”) and the blazing, blues-inflected rock of “Midnight Train to Memphis.” But he’s equally adept at more intimate, acoustic-textured numbers that range from the arrestingly dark imagery of “Scarecrow in the Garden” (“There’s a Bible in my left hand and a pistol in my right”) to the resolute positivity in the face of quotidian struggles found in “A Simple Song” (“I love my life, the kids and the dogs and you and me”).
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Asking Alexandria, “Asking Alexandria”
• Charli XCX, “Pop 2
• Eminem, “Revival”
• G-Eazy, “The Beautiful & the Damned”
• Jeezy, “Pressure”
• N.E.R.D., “No One Ever Really Dies”