By Kristi Kates | April 29, 2017
Sheryl Crow – Be Myself – Warner Bros.
The album title is an apt one for Crow’s latest, considering the winding road she took to get here. After great acclaim in the ‘90s with her folk–rock formula, she veered into country with only minimal success. Now she’s regrouped with former collaborators Jeff Trott and Tchad Blake to craft this set that returns her to her hit–making roots on tracks like the politically–irritated “Heartbeat Away,” the regretful “Strangers Again,” the soulful “Halfway There” and the more carefree “Grow Up,” which sounds like her best kickoff track for another run of radio hits. ***
David Nail – Fighter – MCA Nashville
Some country singers lean more on their songwriting or performance skills than their actual vocals, but that’s not the case with Nail. The very first thing you’ll notice are his remarkably strong vocals – emotional and with an impressive range yet so well controlled that he tailors his singing style to what each song needs. This is most noticeable on highlights “Old Man’s Symphony” (with Bo and Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe), “I Won’t Let You Go” (with some sharp guitar work from Vince Gill) and the catchy “Night’s on Fire.” ***
RaeLynn – WildHorse – Warner Bros.
She’s already being called “the country Katy Perry” and for good reason; the Voice quarterfinalist, who progressed on the singing competition show under the mentorship of country big shot Blake Shelton, seems to have a knack for slyly blending catchy pop hooks into her nu–country tunes as best evidenced by singles “Your Heart” and the title track itself. She also doesn’t fall into the typical trench of romantic–song tropes; instead, she stands her ground on tracks like “Lonely Call,” where she sends him directly to voicemail. It’s a solid and affecting blend of introspection and pop. ***
John Mellencamp – Sad Clowns and Hillbillies – Republic Records
Mellencamp did some heavy leaning on country veteran Carlene Carter for his 23rd full–length release. Carter’s vocals are the one highlight – she’s also touring with Mellencamp in support of the album – but while early previews called this an “eclectic” collection of songs, it’s really, well…not. Mellencamp’s music sounds pretty much the same as always: a faintly dated mix of lite rock and Americana with earnestly strummed guitars on tracks like opener “Mobile Blue,” duet “Grandview” with Martina McBride and first radio single “Easy Target.” * ½