Maggie Rogers, “Heard It in a Past Life” (Capitol)
Rogers has been a phenomenon inside the music industry for a while, even before the 24-year-old graduated from New York University. She was in a master class there in 2016 when Pharrell Williams was stunned by her song “Alaska” and her explanation of her sound — a combination of her folk music background and a newfound love of dance music. The video of that meeting went viral and the song sparked a bidding war to sign her. Rogers settled on Capitol Records. That was followed by her unusual appearance on “Saturday Night Live” just as her debut single was released.
Now that her debut album has arrived, the rest of the world can finally catch up with what the music industry has known: Maggie Rogers is going to be a star.
Her single “Light On,” which combines her sweet voice, a catchy chorus and some swirling synths, has already hit No. 1 on the alternative charts. And “Past Life” channels more than a little Stevie Nicks and Sarah McLachlan.
But Rogers’ work gets stronger with each risk she takes. You can almost hear “Overnight” as a folk song, but the pounding beat and glitchy samples and choral snippets turn it into something all her own. “On + Off” takes a choppy EDM anthem and warms it up with stacks of her vocals and unexpected rhythmic surprises. And the simplicity of “Alaska” is even more charming than the version she played for Pharrell at NYU, with its breathy vocals and bouncy groove.
Rogers delivers the rare debut that is also a fully realized artistic vision.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
John Mellencamp, “Other People’s Stuff” (Republic)
This inelegantly titled album highlights his transformation from quintessential heartland rocker to often more rustic Americana troubadour intent on exploring deeper traditions. This new set culls tracks of, well, other people’s stuff that the Hoosier previously recorded for tribute albums, documentaries and other outside projects, going back more than two decades.
Some of the material goes way back, too, from Jimmie Rodgers’ “Gambling Bar Room Blues” to such country-folk standards as “Dark as a Dungeon” and the gospel-blues “In My Time of Dying.” Mellencamp manages to convey the ancient aura such nuggets exude while also making them seem of the moment. Other numbers have a more pronounced rock kick, whether it’s Ry Cooder’s “Teardrops Will Fall,” the Robert Johnson classic “Stones in My Passway” or Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why I Love You.”
Mellencamp also recorded a new version of the civil rights anthem “Eyes on the Prize,” a tune he performed at a White House event. Given a faster tempo than usual with a biting slide guitar, it has a new urgency that seems to speak directly to our own times.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Meghan Trainor, “Treat Myself”
• Backstreet Boys, “DNA”
• Dandy Warhols, “Why You So Crazy”
• Michael Franti, “Stay Human Vol. II”
• Fidlar, “Almost Free”