Juice WRLD, "Legends Never Die"
One of the spookiest things about Jarad Higgins' gut-wrenching brand of emo-rap was how trapped he seemed to feel: More than a year before he died this past December, he had rapped the lines: "What's the 27 Club? We ain't making it past 21."
It's no surprise that Juice WRLD's first posthumous album is his best. An exceptional melodist who embraced a generous helping of Sting's "Shape of My Heart" on "Lucid Dreams," his greatest hit, he was granted access to experts as varied as Rick Rubin and Skrillex when he suddenly passed, and was maturing into a songwriter who understood his gifts.
"Legends Never Die" has no scores to settle with women, and the bluesy "Stay High" and "Can't Die" set up "Man of the Year" with a big pop-punk finish. "Legends" debuted at the top spot on Billboard's 200 albums; here's hoping it helps its many, many fans keep going.
Dan Weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer
Willie Nelson, "First Rose of Spring" (Legacy)
His 70th studio album is a sublime and moving set that continues the 87-year-old legend's first-rate work in recent years.
There are diversions, including a vigorous rip through the Johnny Paycheck anthem "I'm the Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised." But the album takes its main cue from the title song, a tear-jerker that unfolds at an unhurried pace.
Numbers by Toby Keith ("Don't Let the Old Man In") and Chris Stapleton ("Our Song") fit right into the theme and mood, as do two solid Nelson originals ("Blue Star" and "Love Just Laughed"). The spare accompaniment matches the singer's dry and understated delivery, although his voice is finally betraying signs of fraying.
Nelson concludes with "Yesterday When I Was Young," the Charles Aznavour standard about reckoning with the wages of a misspent youth. If he harbors any regrets, it's clear from his performance that they have only served to enrich his artistry.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Brandy, "B7"
• Alanis Morissette, "Such Pretty Forks in the Road"
• Steve Howe, "Love Is"
• Psychedelic Furs, "Made of Rain"