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Sound Bites: New LPs from Kacey Musgraves, Imagine Dragons, Béla Fleck, Brian Setzer

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The waning days of summer have offered a bounty of new releases from a number of well-known artists, some of whom have just issued their first new music in years. This week, I covered three of them – and also invited a guest reviewer to share his thoughts about one of this week’s new titles.

Kacey Musgraves – “star-crossed” (UMG Nashville/Interscope)

The “Golden Hour” singer has just issued a sequel of sorts to that acclaimed 2018 album which was largely inspired by her then-recent marriage. This record’s subject matter, billed as a “three-act modern-day tragedy,” deals with Musgraves’ grief and recovery following their divorce last summer, but it’s not a revenge record, nor is it her “Goodbye Earl.” She’s a much deeper and more subtle songwriter, but fans hoping she’s returned to her roots may need to wait. The strength of this material is undeniable but it’s anything but textbook country. The title song sets the tone with Musgraves’ angelic harmonies leading to her story of star-crossed lovers. “Justified” deals with the maybes and the what-ifs while the melodic upbeat pop of “There is a Light” finds Musgraves regaining her balance.

Imagine Dragons – “Mercury – Act 1” (KIDinaKORNER/Interscope)

The fifth album from the Vegas hit-makers features a dozen producer credits, including Rick Rubin, whom front man Dan Reynolds credits with keeping him honest. Rubin’s challenge to Reynolds to write from within resulted in the most intimate sound and personal lyrics yet for Imagine Dragons. Choosing honesty over metaphorical imagery might have been the catalyst that allowed the group to create their most relatable record to date. Among the highlights: “Wrecked,” which nearly makes them sound like a new indie-pop band, the empowering “#1,” and the cautionary “Easy Come Easy Go.”

Brian Setzer – “Gotta Have the Rumble” (Surfdog Records)

The rockabilly icon’s first solo album since 2014 is exactly what this fan hoped it would be, an authentic and rollicking good time with Setzer’s guitar at the forefront. The former Stray Cats leader sounds charged from the opening twang-noir of “Checkered Flag” and the driving suspense of “Smash Up On Highway One” to the Carl Perkins-esque “Stack My Money.” The sweet early-60s vibe of “Drip Drop” provides a breather before the dance party ramps up with the fiery “Rockabilly Riot” and “One Bad Habit.” “Rockabilly Banjo” is an unexpected delight as Setzer creates a rockabilly/bluegrass hybrid for the closer.

Béla Fleck– “My Bluegrass Heart” (Renew Records)

(Note: As the banjo legend returns to bluegrass for the first time in decades, I asked Tom Gocze, longtime host of the Saturday morning radio talk show “Hot and Cold” (103.9 WVOM) to share his thoughts on “My Bluegrass Heart.” Tom is a formidable banjo man in his own right and a big fan of Fleck’s work.)

It is time for us to get something cool in 2021. That coolness is coming via Béla Fleck in his new bluegrass album, My Bluegrass Heart. He has brought us a group of amazing collaborators and all new tunes that appeal to this jaded banjo lover but will make those who might never think they would like bluegrass to reconsider their bias. Fleck is renowned as a jazz musician, so whenever he gets back to his bluegrass roots it is time to listen and marvel. If you listen to only one tune, listen to “Wheels Up.” That will prime your ears for the rest of this great album. – Tom Gocze

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 September 2021 08:13

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