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Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ takes its own good advice and trusts ‘the rays of light’

James McMurtry and Wanda Jackson also have noteworthy new releases.

Lorde performs during the You Are Us/Aroha Nui Concert at Christchurch Stadium in April 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Lorde performs during the You Are Us/Aroha Nui Concert at Christchurch Stadium in April 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.Read moreKai Schwoerer / Getty Images


Solar Power

(Republic ***)

“‘Cause all the music you loved at sixteen, you’ll grow out of,” Lorde sings wistfully on “Stoned at the Nail Salon” from her third album, Solar Power. The claim is slightly disingenuous, however: Lorde was 16 when “Royals” became a megahit in 2012, and that’s not a song to grow out of.

On her first two albums, 2013′s Pure Heroine and 2017′s Melodrama, Lorde wrote sharply observant songs about teen anxiety and heartbreak and celebrity culture. Now 24, she doesn’t want to be a spokesperson for youthful angst. “You need someone to take your pain for you? Well, that’s not me,” she declares in “The Path.”

Solar Power has a sunnier disposition than her earlier releases. She finds escape and solace in warm days at the beach on the title track (which is indebted to both Primal Scream’s “Loaded” and George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90”). She looks at New Age wellness culture with a joyful wink in “Mood Ring” and tells her younger self to “do your best to trust the rays of light” on “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All).”

Again working with the ubiquitous producer Jack Antonoff, Lorde brightens her minimalist arrangements. Several tracks feature a backing chorus that included Clairo and Phoebe Bridgers. Robyn provides a humorous voice-over cameo.

Solar Power is light, and a bit lightweight, and it’s easy to enjoy.

Steve Klinge

James McMurtry

The Horses and the Hounds

(New West ***)

It’s tempting to review a new James McMurtry record by just quoting song lyrics. The Horses and the Hounds is the first new collection in six years from the Texas songwriter, and it again shows him to be an unparalleled Americana storyteller who bring his people to life with telling details.

The songs are well worn and road tested, finely wrought character sketches that rock out thanks to seasoned band members like guitarist David Grissom and keyboard player Bukka White.

Some of these songs take the measure of loss, with a clear-eyed appreciation of the time that’s left. “Now it’s all I can do to get out of bed, there’s more in the mirror than there is up ahead,” the 59-year-old singer confides on “If It Don’t Bleed.” “So run another rack, pour another shot, you don’t get it back so give it all you got.”

In some, he lets the light shines through. In “Canola Fields,” a drive through southern Alberta reminds him of a Volkswagen Beetle and a long-ago unrequited love. But decades later, romance blooms: “Cashing in on a 30-year crush, you can’t be young and do that.”

“Operation Nevermind,” about U.S. imperial excursions with little to show, takes a wide-angle view, arriving in timely fashion as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban. But mostly, McMurtry is tightly focused on rendering the everyday lives of the emotionally wounded, whether evoking Robert Penn Warren in “Blackberry Winter” or eulogizing a friend with dignity and grace in “Vaquero.”

Dan DeLuca

Wanda Jackson


(Big Machine / Blackheart ***)

In his book Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Nick Tosches called Wanda Jackson “simply and without question,” the greatest woman rock singer ever. It’s hard to argue otherwise for the singer of such immortals as “Let’s Have a Party,” “Mean Mean Man,” and “Fujiyama Mama.”

At 83, Jackson is one of the last of the great ‘50s rockers still with us, and she remains an inspiration to younger artists. Jack White produced her 2009 album, The Party Ain’t Over, and here she teams with fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett, who produced Encore with her own coproducer, Kenny Laguna; supplied her band, the Blackhearts; and delivers some backup vocals, along with Elle King and Angaleena Presley.

Beginning with the slashing rockabilly of “Big Baby” (“I’ll give you something to cry about”) and on to the lowdown “You Drive Me Wild” and the punkishly defiant “Good Girl Down,” Encore shows that Jackson has lost little of the rip-it-up fire and swaggering attitude that marked her early work and basically set the template for rock and roll.

But that’s only part of Jackson. The album also shows an equally compelling soft and vulnerable side, in the classic country of “It Keeps Right on Hurtin’” and the ballads “We Gotta Stop” and “That’s What Love Is” (the last two among the four songs she cowrote). In “Two Shots” and “Treat Me Like a Lady,” she mixes tough and tender in one song.

At just eight tracks, this Encore is all too brief. Another seems definitely in order.

— Nick Cristiano