Lucinda Williams, "Good Souls Better Angels" (Highway 20)
Best known for 1998's "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," Williams continues her recent winning streak on her 13th studio album, with an added ingredient: rage. It's her most overtly political album, and also her loudest and most rocked-out.
"Good Souls" kicks off with the scuffed-up, throbbing blues number "You Can't Rule Me," a defiant statement of self-determination. President Donald Trump is not named but clearly the target of Williams' ire in "Man Without a Soul," an unforgiving condemnation that's a close relation to Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."
"These are dark new days," Williams sings in "Shadows and Doubts." But as she scours a grim landscape in "Pray the Devil," she does find cause for hope: "Nobody can save you," she sings, "except yourself."
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Early James, "Singing for My Supper" (Nonesuch)
James — the Alabama-born singer and songwriter Frederick James Mullis Jr. — maintains an uneasy, oblique approach throughout this debut, presenting himself as both a throwback and a character living in a fraught, uncertain present. James is 26, but his music has much older underpinnings, glancing back to the 1970s, the 1960s and before.
Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, James chafes against any comforts his vintage-sounding music might provide. His voice sounds tattered and nervous, with a grainy quaver. His melodies hesitate and evade the beat; his lyrics move via moody free association, not the direct narratives of most Americana.
He often sings about how things go wrong: relationships ("Stockholm Syndrome"), youthful hopes ("High Horse"), a family's luck ("Easter Egg"). Disillusion fills the songs, without the luxury of nostalgia. James can look back on a cozy musical past, but it doesn't promise them any clear way forward.
Jon Pareles, New York Times
• Hayley Williams, "Petals for Armor"
Good Until It Wasn't"
• Butch Walker, "American Love Story"