Sam Hunt, "Southside" (MCA Nashville)
"I'm sorry I named the album 'Montevallo'/ And I'm sorry people know your name now/ And strangers hit you up on social media," Hunt sings.
That would be the Drake-inspired star's previous album, "Montevallo," named for the Alabama hometown of the woman who's now his wife. Its follow-up, "Southside," has been six years in the making, in part because he let her go and put serious time into getting her back.
No one said aping Drake is good for one's personal decisionmaking. Still, it's given Hunt a sound like no other: atmospheric country-pop tunes built on hip-hop drum machines and mercenary hooks.
"Southside" shamelessly includes his goofy smash, "Body Like a Back Road," even though it's three years old — and even though its "driving with my eyes closed" hook feels awkward after Hunt's November DWI arrest. The song fits right in, though; the singer's breathy John Mayer affect hasn't evolved much since.
The surprises are "Nothing Lasts Forever," which adds fiddle to the Weeknd's desolate R&B, and the lovely "Hard to Forget," on which the Nashville mainstream embraces sampling technology.
dan weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer
Laura Marling, "Song for Our Daughter" (Chrysalis)
Unlike her last two releases — the electronic-based collaboration "Lump" and the more electric "Semper Femina" — "Song for Our Daughter" is mostly acoustic and stark, with lovely harmony vocals and artful string arrangements.
The album opens with "Alexandra," a response to Leonard Cohen's "Alexandra's Leaving," and these songs display some of Cohen's poetic artistry.
Marling's vision, like her voice, is clear and direct. Once again, she contemplates women's conflicts, and she envisions these songs as insights she would impart to a daughter. They reflect on a world of unequal pay and hypocritical expectations, the constraints of gendered narratives, the need for independence.
Marling was often called an "old soul" as a teenager when she released her first album. She's now 30, and these thoughtful songs carry the weight of experience.
STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Kenny Chesney, "Here and Now"
• Car Seat Headrest, "Making a Door Less Open"
• Damien Jurado, "What's New Tomboy?"