Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, “Not Dark Yet” (Thirty Tigers)
Even though they are sisters working in the same field, Lynne and Moorer have always kept their distance from each other artistically.
It’s an understandable decision, but they sound so stunning together on their first joint project that you can’t help but wonder what took so long. “Is It Too Much,” co-written by the sisters, is wrenchingly beautiful as Lynne and Moorer sing separately and together about sharing emotional burdens.
Though that’s the only original on the album, their harmonies turn Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” into something completely new, making it sound like a more reverent prayer than the original. Their understated take on the Killers’ “My List” strips away the angst of Brandon Flowers’ original delivery, turning it into a straightforward, pretty love song, while their twisted harmonies on Nirvana’s “Lithium” give the grunge classic an unexpected edge, even without Kurt Cobain’s shrieks or heavy guitar riffs.
Lynne and Moorer have made more than their share of great records separately, but their collaboration on “Not Dark Yet” takes them to a new artistic level.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
The War on Drugs, “A Deeper Understanding” (Atlantic)
The War on Drugs’ fourth album overall and their first with Atlantic matches 2014’s “Lost in the Dream” in vision, expansiveness and nuance. Though it mostly employs the same aesthetic calculus characterizing much of their output, subtle differences in mood and pace distinguish the record. On paper, an 11-minute lead single like “Thinking of a Place” might suggest a grandiose, majestic epic in the vein of “Under the Pressure.” Certainly, it does have a kind of sweeping yet weary romance to it.
Andrew Paschal, Popmatters.com
Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can” (Bordello)
In “Open G,” Hubbard presents a song that doubles as a guitar lesson. That’s no surprise: Music and the musicians who make it (including himself) have been a favorite subject of the 70-year-old, who, thanks to a late renaissance, has elevated himself into the upper echelon of sage, stubbornly individualistic Texas troubadours. And it’s a subject that runs throughout his latest terrific album.
But Hubbard also likes to “puzzle over the spirits,” as he puts it in “Prayer,” both of the high variety (“God Looked Around”) and the low (“Lucifer and the Fallen Angels,” which also serves as a bitingly funny commentary on the country music business). He concludes the set with “In Times of Cold,” a stark but moving contemplation of death, with Patty Griffin on guest vocals.
Once again, Hubbard does all this by conjuring his unique hoodoo, bringing even the most lofty and philosophical thoughts down to primal lyrical and musical levels.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
Madeline Kenney, “Night Night at the First Landing” (Company)
“Don’t forget / There’s room for you,” Kenney sings on the opening track of her ethereal debut album, inviting listeners to submerge themselves in the immersive and delicately transcendent “Night Night at the First Landing.” Over the course of the next 10 tracks, Kenney croons, croaks and cries her way to one of the better albums of 2017.
Claire Greising, Popmatters.com
• LCD Soundsystem, “American Dream”
• Joan Osborne, “Songs of Bob Dylan”
• Motorhead, “Under Cover”
• The Script, “Freedom Child”
• Lil Peep, “Come Over When You’re Sober”