Neil Young, “Colorado” (Reprise)
“Why do I believe in you?” Young asks as his latest album winds down, which raises only more questions in the listener’s mind. Who is being addressed? God? A lover? An overly optimistic friend? The mystery turns “I Do” into one of Young’s finest songs.
It’s striking that the track appears on “Colorado,” Young’s first album in seven years with his grizzled compadres in Crazy Horse. The rest of the band is barely audible on “I Do.”
There are several other pretty ballads on “Colorado,” balanced by a few electric excursions, notably the 13-minute “She Showed Me Love.”
While locking in with his bandmates with a crude, off-the-cuff intensity, Young spouts what’s been on his mind lately: ecological disaster, lost friends and the redemption of new love. Young’s political statements are more like manifestos, pamphlets that demand to be read aloud over a megaphone in the town square rather than sung, and Young’s protest sometimes arrives smothered in cheese.
Banal lyrics aside, Young as the cranky street-corner oracle still sounds restless and enraged on the clangorous “Shut it Down” and the rust-never-sleeps ruminations of “Help Me Lose My Mind.”
The latter song isn’t quite a thing of wonder on par with “I Do,” but there are worse things than Neil Young speaking his mind over Crazy Horse’s primal thud and thunder.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
Miranda Lambert, “Wildcard” (RCA Nashville)
Lambert got heavy on “The Weight of These Wings,” the 2016 double album all about heartache and rebuilding her life, written after the breakup of her marriage to “The Voice” star Blake Shelton. On “Wildcard” she lightens up.
Or at least, the Texas-raised country singer doesn’t dwell on unhappy endings. “Wildcard” is a uniformly strong, 14-song collection, with Lambert co-writing every track. She takes care to have her fun. “White Trash” makes light of her inability to get above her raising. “Pretty Bitchin’ ” takes a good long look in the mirror and can’t see any reason to complain. And on “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” a duet with Maren Morris, the vocal partners decide it would be unseemly to risk murdering a cheating man — better to hire a contract killer.
But while “Wildcard” doesn’t flaunt its seriousness, Lambert isn’t coasting as a songwriter. She imbues drinking songs such as “Tequila Does,” “Dark Bars,” and the blues-gospel “Holy Water” with substance. And even when singing about “Settling Down” she refuses to settle, avoiding comforting country clichés about the sanctity of home and instead exploring the tension between the instinct to put down roots and the urge to get away.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Luke Combs, “What You See Is What You Get”
• Taylor Hawkins, “Get the Money”
• Kele, “2042”