Beyoncé, "Homecoming: The Live Album" (Columbia)
This 38-song performance at Coachella in 2018 is certainly one of the biggest live albums ever released, in terms of onstage participation and thematic breadth. Beyoncé and her band riff on work by Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Parliament-Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, second-line New Orleans brass bands and heavy-hitting drumlines.
Listening to it at full volume is an overwhelming experience. So much action. So many cues and rhythms, so much narrative momentum. Its melodic and rhythmic quotes need footnotes to fully absorb, and her voice resonates with history.
As the most successful and popular musician of her generation, the mere mention of Beyoncé's name prompts an avalanche of images and expectations. Unfortunately, her musicality is rarely at the front of the conversation. The genius of issuing "Homecoming" as a recording is that it strips away all the eye candy — the choreography, the fashion, the visual syncs — until what's left is sound.
Cranking in your car, say, the transition from "I Been On" to "Drunk in Love" or the foot-stomping intro to "Party" is an invitation to hear her as a consummate bandleader and musical scholar.
Still, calling this the best live album of all time may be a stretch. Is this "better" than "Nina Simone at Newport," Fela Kuti and the Africa 70's "Live," "Parliament Live" or "James Brown Live at the Apollo"? What about Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace" or the Staple Singers' "Freedom Highway"? Heck if I know, but it ranks way, way up there.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Lizzo, "Cuz I Love You" (Atlantic)
Lizzo's third full-length offers a much more slickly produced but still sly, sultry and edgy overview of just about everything we've come to love about this Minneapolis transplant since she busted out of her old group the Chalice locally with her 2013 solo debut "Lizzobangers" and the 2016 follow-up, "Big GRRRL, Small World."
There a few other innuendo-filled, NSFW romps similar to the single "Juice," including the Missy Elliot-accompanied "Tempo" and "Exactly How I Feel," a fun back-and-forth with Gucci Mane. There are straight-ahead Beyoncé-like pop jams in "Like a Girl" and the self-loving anthem "Soulmate." Local fans have grooved to the slow-jammy kiss-off "Jerome," and they will also dig the Princely album closer "Lingerie," which is even slower and saltier. Perhaps best of all, there are the harder and heavier throw-downs that find her at her most self-aggrandizing, "Better in Color" and the '70s funky "Cry Baby." Aggrandize away, baby.
Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune
• Pink, "Hurts 2B Human"
• Craig Finn, "I Need a New War"
• Rob Thomas, "Chip Tooth Smile"
• Cranberries, "In the End"
• J.J. Cale, "Stay Around"
• Guided by Voices, "Warp And Woof"
• Marina, "Love + Fear"