Miranda Lambert, "Palomino" (RCA Nashville)

With its full-band arrangements and glossy production, the excellent new album isn't as radical as last year's "The Marfa Tapes." But it's still full of daring and idiosyncratic touches: an opener, "Actin' Up," built on a low-slung psychedelic-soul riff; a funky party song, "Music City Queen," featuring the B-52's; the gutting "That's What Makes the Jukebox Play," about an "old dive bar with the hand-drawn heart hanging lonely on the bathroom door"; a rowdy cover of Mick Jagger's "Wandering Spirit" with background vocals by gospel's McCrary Sisters.

The music is steeped in country-rock tradition — think Loretta Lynn meets Tom Petty — yet alert to the thrill of disruption.

Taken in tandem with "The Marfa Tapes" and with " Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)," Lambert's bachelorette-bait duet with Elle King that just became the first track by two women to top Billboard's Country Airplay chart since 1993 — "Palomino" posits that Lambert has reached a point where she's more or less doing whatever she wants even as she's come to a kind of fruitful understanding with the hidebound country-radio establishment that hasn't always valued her work.

MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times


Sam Smith, "Love Me More"

"Every day I'm trying not to hate myself," the British pop crooner sings on a new single, "but lately it's not hurting like it did before." "Love Me More" is a simple but affecting ode to self-acceptance, and Smith delivers it with a breezy lightness that convincingly brings the message home. The arrangement keeps things airy and understated, so that even when a choir of backing singers enters in the middle, the effect is neither dolorous nor heavy-handed. The song, like Smith, keeps moving forward with a confident spring in its step.