Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall, "The Marfa Tapes"
Lambert and her buddies first headed to remote Marfa, Texas, in 2016, and wrote Lambert's heartache hit "Tin Man." During the pandemic, the three returned to Marfa. Documenting their endeavors around the campfire on an iPhone voice notes app, "The Marfa Tapes" is a marvelous off-the-cuff success. Logs crackle, wind howls, giggles and miscues are not edited out.
In addition to versions of the hits "Tin Man" and "Tequila Does," 13 new loosely performed songs are all traditional country tunes of a high order. Lambert is the focal point, and it's a big deal for an artist of her stature to take this kind of risk. Ingram and Randall are also showcased, and their camaraderie is unmistakable.
When Randall sings lead on "Homegrown Tomatoes," Lambert's concentration on her harmony vocal is evident. "Nailed it!" she compliments herself before the moment passes. Yep, you sure did.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Bebe Rexha, "Better Mistakes" (Warner Bros.)
Can it be fair to say that a musician who's sold 10 million copies of a single is still struggling to break out? Rexha had a smash with "Meant to Be," her 2017 pop-country collaboration with Florida Georgia Line, and she's scored other hits with G-Eazy ("Me, Myself & I") and Martin Garrix ("In the Name of Love").
Yet Rexha, 31, hasn't quite defined herself as a solo pop star, perhaps because she's never settled on a single sound or attitude; "Expectations," her 2018 debut, sounded like a collection of demos intended for higher-wattage acts. She's still covering a lot of ground on her new LP, which flits among sparkly retro-disco ("Sacrifice"), woozy emo-rap ("Die for a Man," featuring Lil Uzi Vert) and low-slung electro-funk ("Baby, I'm Jealous," with Doja Cat). But the material is stronger, and her singing has a witty sensuality that finally feels distinct.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
• St. Vincent, "Daddy's Home"
• J. Cole, "The Off-Season"
• Black Keys, "Delta Kream"
• Jorja Smith, "Be Right Back"
• Juliana Hatfield, "Blood"