She Remembers Everything
(Blue Note *** ½)
Rosanne Cash's recent work has been preoccupied with history, from Black Cadillac in 2006, which mourned her late father, Johnny, to The River & the Thread, which traveled back to the wellspring of popular music that is the American South. She Remembers Everything is similarly cognizant of how the past is never over, and its empathetic title track, written with Sam Phillips, is particularly resonant in a political climate in which women still find their recollections of assault and trauma disbelieved.
Cash's 14th solo album is very much a work of the present, however, detailing the uncertainties of everyday life with poetic grace. Produced by her husband and longtime collaborator, John Leventhal, and also Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Neko Case, many others), it includes two songs she wrote for the HBO series True Detective and one particularly beautiful love and marriage song, "Not Many More Miles to Go," that faces up to mortality with quiet strength. Cash, 63, is a skilled storyteller and has been deservedly highly regarded since her days as a country chart-topper in the 1980s. But she's still underrated as the rare singer who can communicate complexity of thought and shades of doubt in simple conversational phrasing, and she's only getting better at it as she gets older. — Dan DeLuca
Powerhouse soul shouter Charles Bradley died last year at 69, a particularly painful loss because his late-breaking time in the limelight lasted less than a decade. And — as anyone who ever saw "The Screaming Eagle of Soul" can attest — he came across as one of the warmest, most genuinely thankful-to-be-alive individuals ever to stand on a stage, which he would leave during shows in an attempt to hug everyone in the audience. (Bradley's was the second cancer death in the Daptone label family, less than a year after the loss of Sharon Jones in 2016.)
Black Velvet draws from sessions from three previous albums, taking its title from the alias Bradley used earlier in his career while fronting a James Brown cover band. The previously unreleased material includes covers of Neil Young ("Heart of Gold"), Nirvana ("Stay Away") and Rodriguez ("Slip Away"). None are quite as choice as Bradley's trademark transformation of Black Sabbath's "Changes," but the singer's earnest outpouring of warmth always carries the day, even when he's dropping lyrics from Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" into "(I Hope You Find) The Good Life." And though it initially seems kind of lame that the title track is an instrumental, it works as Bradley's band's moving tribute to their frontman, who died before cutting a vocal to the shimmering soul groove. — D.D.
(Def Jam ***½)
Vince Staples' surprise new 22-minute project may be part of a trend in a year in which Pusha T dethroned all competitors in seven songs, but Staples pioneered it. His breakthrough double album Summertime '06 (2015) was bookended by two EPs — 2014's Hell Can Wait and 2016's Prima Donna — that were just as good as the full length stuff. FM! is most similar to 2017's Big Fish Theory, in which the diamond-hard rhymer takes a backseat to atypical yet danceable beats, the rare "experimental" rap record everybody liked, even without much worth quoting. FM! is more lyrical — one tantalizing track is the most upbeat thing Earl Sweatshirt's ever recorded and is over in 22 seconds. But it's also the most accessible record Staples has ever made; the lead "Feels Like Summer" stoops to an AutoTuned "hook" that never recurs. That doesn't make it his best, as every single track ends so abruptly it's like an album-length continuation of the amorphous Black Panther hit "King's Dead," leaving comparatively little to chew on. But that's what repeat plays are for, right? — Dan Weiss