Shania Twain (Mercury Nashville)
Shania Twain performing at the opening night ceremony of the 2017 U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York.
When Shania Twain declares on her new album, “I’m independent to a fault, I know this well,” she’s singing about love, but she could be talking about her career as well.
Twain broke a lot of the norms in country music in the mid-90s, flaunted her sexuality and her midriff (gasp) and incorporated rock riffs into her danceable country pop melodies. She’s back again after a 15-year break still pushing the boundaries of the genre with her mix of pop, country, dance, and rock music.
Twain’s ex-husband, former producer, and co-writer Robert “Mutt” Lange often got the majority of the credit for her previous multiplatinum albums. But on Now, her first record since 2002, Twain wrote all the songs by herself, a rarity in country and pop music, and her songwriting is light-hearted, hooky, and inviting.
These new songs still carry the feminine strength and optimism she’s always espoused, with a bit more vulnerability. She goes from the lamentation of “Poor Me,” about getting dumped for another, to “Life’s About to Get Good,” in which she affirms: “I’m ready to be loved and love the way I should.”
The biggest change, however, is her voice, which was crippled by Lyme’s disease. After a long rehabilitation, Twain’s voice is deeper with a little bit more gravel tones and that’s to be expected after a vocal injury.
But the vocal recordings in some songs, namely the single, “Life’s About to Get Good,” have been so over processed and tweaked in the studio that it’s distracting. Her voice sounds much better on songs that are more simply produced, such as “Because of You.”
Twain has persevered through a lot of personal hardships and this album’s survival message shows she’s not going to let anything stop her.
— KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press
Miley Cyrus (RCA)
Miley Cyrus says she named her new album Younger Now (RCA) because she feels more youthful at 24 than she did as a boundary-pushing teen.
But make no mistake. The songs on this album are far more mature than anything else she has ever done — even more than the 2013 blockbuster album Bangerz, which she assembled with teams of producers and songwriters.
Younger Now is pure Miley and she expresses herself well. “I’ll start feeling mad, but then I feel inspired,” she sings on the delightfully simple ballad “Inspired,” which she wrote for Hillary Clinton. “We are meant for more. Pull the handle on the door that opens up to change, I know it sounds so strange.”
Maybe Cyrus learned from her godmother Dolly Parton, who appears here on the sweet “Rainbowland” using her powers to charm as a singer doing lovely harmonies, as well as in a voicemail talking about her recording process and lack of tech savvy, as well as teasing Cyrus about boys.
Are there more elegant ways to express some of these emotions? Sure. But it all sounds like her. It sounds real. The ache of “Miss You So Much” sounds more believable than so much of what is on country radio today, as she worries about loss over layers of echoing guitars. “A Week Without You” manages to sound like classic country, which she shakes up with her swearing and timely imagery.
And on the album’s title track, Cyrus seems to carve out a niche — part-rock, part-pop, the edge provided by her raspy voice and unexpected harmonies — that she has all to herself for as long as she wants it, which, given her track record, may not be that long. “No one stays the same,” Cyrus sings in the memorable chorus. “Change is a thing you can count on.”
— GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
HEART OF THE CITY
Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition (BFM Jazz)
There’s a decidedly upbeat, infectious vibe on much of this album, which features renowned drummer Steve Smith back as a bandleader.
There’s a strong mix of reinterpreted jazz standards and original material, mostly in the modern jazz genre. There’s a fair amount of improvisation, and the solos are tight.
Smith was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame with Journey, and has twice been voted in by Modern Drummer magazine readers as the No. 1 fusion drummer.
Besides Smith, who at times sets a fiery rhythm pace, members of Vital Information NYC Edition include Baron Browne on bass, Mark Soskin on keyboards, Vinny Valentino on electric guitar, Andy Fusco on alto sax, and George Brooks on tenor and alto sax.
—TOM HENRY, The Blade