Charlie Worsham – The Beginning of Things
Young, adept at playing several instruments, this Jackson native can sing well and write better. Although the credits on his sophomore album feature Nashville standbys Shane McAnally and Ryan Tyndell, the most important name is Frank Liddell, producer of Miranda Lambert’s last two albums and wife Lee Ann Womack’s The Way I’m Livin’ — several of the best albums released in any genre this century. Soul horns (“Cut Your Groove”), “Subterranean Homesick Blues” babble (“Lawn Chair Don’t Care”) and electronically manipulated guitar runs (“I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”) – he’s at home with them. Ignore a dumb, squawked tune about urging a woman to take off her “Birthday Suit” (Worsham sounds like Tweetie Pie begging Sylvester for a feel) and the rest is as moderately intelligent as male country in the 2010s can get; I haven’t had so much fun with a potpourri since Jerrod Niemann released Free the Music in 2012. The highlight: the title track, about an aging guy who prefers “the beginning of things” despite a senile mom, half-painted house, and a daughter “who calls him Bill.”
Lana del Rey – Lust for Life
A thought triggers the spring of memory. Using blue jeans, white mustangs, honeymoons, and other tangible products to signify the acquisitions of a life lived, Lana del Rey sings as if she won’t let memories consume her. Key is the singing approach for which she is loved and loathed: a dazed mumble that repels affect and which she manipulates as a guitarist would a pedal. The sheer number of guests distinguishes her fifth album, accentuating the degree to which del Rey breathes in her own world but one nevertheless as reliant on multi-platform streaming as ours. Asking Stevie Nicks to join her on, well, “Beautiful People Having Beautiful Problems” is too on-the-nose. But Nicks and del Rey harmonize beautifully; few singer-songwriters can turn self-regard into a mirror in which listeners see their own desires reflected as shrewdly as Nicks. A$AP Rocky, on two tracks, raps tentatively, aware of how his partner reduces admissions into mere words on a page (can we make Lana and A$AP our generation’s Marvin and Tammi?). Otherwise, longtime collaborator Rick Nowels contributes the barest of skittering loops and when he needs to fill space he’ll place del Rey in a funhouse where her own harmonies taunt her. Inconsistent, ceding space to nattering self-parody (“Heroin”), and about twenty minutes too long, Lust for Life has two other essential tracks: “In My Feelings” and closer “Get Free” are manifestos by a sensibility committed to blurring subject and object, the longing and the longing for. On the latter, background vocals shout a Neil Young borrow while the guitar plucks a theme evoking a century of film noir. Her triumph is the performance of longing. No coward soul is hers.