Ryan Adams, “Prisoner” (Pax Am/Blue Note)
Let’s get this out of the way: Adams’ new album is not the second coming of “Heartbreaker” and it’s not a tell-all about his divorce from Mandy Moore, which was finalized last year.
After all, Adams is 42 now, not the 26-year-old behind “Heartbreaker.” And “Prisoner” does sound like the aftermath of some sort of sadness, but the causes are less clear, even though Adams’ inspirations are often more straightforward.
The single “Do You Still Love Me?” sounds like late-’70s album rock filtered through Oasis. The rugged and charming “Outbound Train” starts like a “Nebraska”-era Springsteen track before veering into Paul Westerberg cool for the verses, while “Haunted House” could fit on a more recent Springsteen album.
Of course, there are also songs that undeniably sound like Adams, especially the plaintive, harmonica-driven rock of “Doomsday,” the wistful “We Disappear” and “Shiver and Shake,” which harks back to the pop-folk sound he honed to cover Taylor Swift’s “1989” album last year.
“Prisoner” does make Adams sound held back at times, but by the end he also sounds set free.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Sampha, “Process” (Young Turks )
Sampha’s debut has been a long time in coming. The British songwriter born Sampha Sisay released his first EP, “Sundanza,” in 2010 and has slowly and steadily built anticipation for his full-length debut with carefully plotted, ever more high-profile collaborations with Solange, Drake and Kanye West.
“Process” comes to haunting fruition on this powerfully personal collection, in which the south London singer carves out an electro-soul space akin to postmodern R&B purveyors like Frank Ocean (whose “Endless” he also guested on), but with an even more intimate alone-at-the-keyboard sensibility. Sampha’s becalmed vocals expertly convey emotional fragility in songs in which skittering beats and heartfelt musings are rarely at cross-purposes.
The most effective performance on “Process,” though, is “Nobody Knows Me (Like the Piano),” which finds him giving props to the instrument in his mother’s house to which he owes his self-realization: “You would show me I have something some people call a soul.”
DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer
Alison Krauss, “Windy City” (Capitol)
With her precise, polite voice and her impeccable taste in musicians and songs, Krauss will never make a bad album, whether on her own or fronting her band Union Station. “Windy City,” her first record since Union Station’s 2011 release “Paper Airplane,” is a collection of 10 covers, mostly of country and bluegrass tunes from the ’50s and ‘60s, such as “Gentle on My Mind,” “You Don’t Know Me” and “I Never Cared for You.”
Produced by Nashville legend Buddy Cannon and with cameos from some her Union Station bandmates, the Cox Family and Jamey Johnson, it’s a lovely and mostly restrained set of forlorn ballads (“All Alone Am I,” originally a hit for Brenda Lee) and twangy toe-tappers (“Poison Love,” popularized by Bill Monroe). She adds a bit of New Orleans swing to the bluegrass classic.
STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Little Big Town, “The Breaker”
• Dirty Projectors, “Dirty Projectors”
• David Bowie, “No Plan”
• Rhiannon Giddens, “Freedom Highway”
• Thundercat, “Drunk”
• Steel Panther, “Lower the Bar”
• Xiu Xiu, “Forget”
• Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, “The Tourist”