Loretta Lynn, “Wouldn’t It Be Great” (Legacy)
More than five decades into her legendary career, Lynn remains a bracing breath of fresh air on her new album.
Long ago, she mastered the ability to sound genuine no matter what the situation. And Lynn continues that here, whether she is singing about secretly dumping an ashtray into a rival’s beer in the honky-tonk “Ruby’s Stool” or plaintively singing about longing for connection on “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For.”
With the help of producers Patsy Lynn Russell, Lynn’s daughter, and John Carter Cash, son of Johnny and June Carter Cash, she also takes songs from her past and gives them timelier readings. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” has become prouder and more defiant than the original, while the traditional folk song “Lulie Vars,” about a pregnant girl being murdered by her boyfriend, could be a MeToo anthem.
“Wouldn’t It Be Great” was set to be released last year, but was delayed when Lynn suffered a stroke. Its release now marks the Queen of Country’s recovery and proves that her reign is as strong as ever.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Macy Gray, “Ruby” (Mack Avenue)
Back in the day of neo-soul’s gentle, jazzy sway, Gray — a raspy vocalist with a tactile grit that happily grated against the genre’s smooth operations — made a hit with the stammering “I Try,” and never looked back. She almost couldn’t, as that sensuous tune’s rep (and platinum sales) overwhelmed much of her strong catalog going forward. Yet, with her Billie Holliday-ish 2016 covers album, “Stripped,” and her salty, sample-heavy, hard R&B-based “Ruby,” Gray has outrun her pop past without eschewing it.
Still grimy after all these years, Gray and her assembled crew are bluer than usual during large chunks of “Ruby.” While nu-blues axeman Gary Clark Jr. stops by the gospel-tinged “Buddha” to bring eyesight to the blind, the vocalist does the tear-in-the-beer routine proud on the woozily romantic and brassy “Over You” with a lyrical lament (“I haven’t had a drink since my last one/No clouds in my sky, but I’m on one”) that’s ruminative but optimistic.
Gray might lose a star for the gurgling pop of “Sugar Daddy” with schlocky up-tempo mistress Meghan Trainor, but gains two back during the abrasive “White Man,” with the R&B cut’s bruised take on someone else’s raw racism. And all the while, Gray has never sounded more hurt, more high or more unbound as she riffs, scats, wails and quietly coos her heart out.
A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Atmosphere, “Mi Vida Loca”
• Eric Church, “Desperate Man”
• Steve Perry, “Traces”
• T.I., “Dime Trap”
• Twenty One Pilots, “Trench”
• Cat Power, “Wanderer”
• Ghostface Killah, “The Lost Tapes”
• Echo & the Bunnymen, “The Stars, the Oceans & the Moon”
• KT Tunstall, “Wax”