Solange, “When I Get Home” (Columbia)
Solange’s new record is more or less set in her native Houston, with songs named after the city’s streets and neighborhoods and appearances by local veterans including Scarface and Devin the Dude.
“Candy paint down to the floor,” she sings in “Way to the Show,” referring to the shiny, brightly colored look many Houstonians give their cars; elsewhere, she nods to the city’s so-called chopped and screwed sound, in which a DJ slows down a piece of music to draw out unexpected emotions.
Yet for all the warmth of its homecoming, this remarkable album isn’t about setting aside creative ambition to celebrate one’s humble roots. With its philosophical tone and painstaking attention to detail, “When I Get Home” argues that Houston, and places like it, are no less worthy of serious consideration than any citadel of high art.
Hours after the record premiered on streaming services, Solange released what she called an “interdisciplinary performance art film” that sets her new songs against striking images of African-American cowboys and bull riders — a powerful reclamation of Southern iconography not unlike the plantation-house scenes in her sister Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.”
So what’s on Solange’s mind? Her childhood, naturally, along with the comforts and temptations of sex and consumerism. On “A Seat at the Table,” Solange is also pondering the indelibility of African-American culture.
Beyond the folks from Texas, Solange’s album features a wide array of collaborators, including Pharrell Williams, the Internet’s Steve Lacy, Gucci Mane and Tyler, the Creator. (Older voices show up in samples, most poignantly Houston-reared sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad reciting a poem by their mother, Vivian Ayers.)
Each contributes to a lovingly assembled production that rarely goes where you expect it to — but, like Solange herself, always puts across a clear sense of place.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Hozier, “Wasteland, Baby!” (Columbia)
Hozier hasn’t scaled back. The Irish singer-songwriter, who made a giant international splash with the 2013 hit “Take Me to Church,” is still tackling big topics with big, cinematic sounds on his sophomore album.
The gorgeous first single “Nina Cried Power” pays tribute to soul singers. Backed by Mavis Staples and a gospel choir, he name-checks everyone from Nina Simone and Billie Holiday to James Brown and Joni Mitchell. On “Almost (Sweet Music),” he offers shout-outs to Duke Ellington and Chet Baker, though the hand-clap driven jangle seems to owe more to George Ezra than those jazz greats. Even when Hozier looks to be lighthearted, the production still seems geared to huge arenas, offering one anthem after another, whether it’s the frantic, intense “Dinners & Diatribes” or the laid-back, groove-driven “To Noise Making (Sing).” Maybe that’s what makes the title track such a delightful change of pace — a bit of sweetness in a sea of seriousness.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
• Juice WRLD, “A Death Race for Love”
• Dido, “Still on My Mind”
• David Gray, “Gold in a Brass Age”
• Patty Griffin, “Patty Griffin”