J.S. ONDARA, Folk ‘n’ Roll Vol. 1: Isolation (Verve Forecast): ★★★★

I’ve been pulled out of the market/ I am a restaurant worker…/ I’m not an essential worker. “Those lines, delivered in a haunting folk-blues cadence during opening track “Pulled Out of the Market,” establish recurring themes of struggle and imposed isolation for Ondara’s sophomore album. It’s notably Dylan-esque, from the Everyman perspective to the guitar-and-harmonica instrumentation. But while the Kenya-raised, Minneapolis-based troubadour embraces folk traditions absorbed via Dylan, his soulful performance power is rooted in his singular worldview and humor. Highlights: “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday” (“I’m gonna meet you at the dining table”), “Isolation Anonymous,” the a cappella “Shower Song.” Jsondara.com

 

JON BATISTE & CORY WONG, Meditations (indie release): ★★★★

Six melodic tracks of contemplation and release, improvised in-studio over three nights in September between jazz pianist Batiste and Vulpeck guitarist Wong with  drummer/percussionist Nate Smith and Hammond organist Sam Yahel. The music circles and rises with the organic flow of conversation, eloquent in its simple immediacy. Smith’s and Yahel’s subtle embellishments behind Wong’s repeated acoustic pattern give “Teardrops” a misty feel, while Wong responds to Batiste’s ruminative opening to “Home” with a mood-lifting riff that evokes a tension-breaking joke at a family dinner party, a dynamic repeated throughout this cathartic, sensitively performed set. corywongmusic.com, jonbatiste.com

 

JAKE BLOUNT, Spider Tales (Free Dirt): ★★★1/2

Titled after Ghanian folk legend Anansi, this sparkling set of black and indigenous Appalachian ballads, laments and fiddle tunes resonates with the present day while reaching deep into history and American roots music. Rhode Island banjoist and fiddler Blount movingly resurrects the Leadbelly-popularized traditional “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (aka “In the Pines”), its lines about a grisly murder still haunting, while guest fiddlers Tatiana Hargreaves and Rachel Eddy and bassist Haselden Ciaccio provide robust support. Highlights include entrancing fiddle tune “Blackbird Says to the Crow” and gospel traditional “The Angels Done Bowed Down.” jakeblount.com

 

LOST IN SOCIETY, Help (Wiretap Records): ★★1/2

A blast of righteous anger from Asbury Park’s fertile music community, these two tracks speak directly to our profound unease. “What a time to be alive,” frontman Zach Moyle growls during the title track, with bassist Nick Ruroede and drummer Hector Bonora pounding out agreement. “I’m just lookin’ for some peace of mind/ Some logic without sacrifice.” It’s the kind of pound-the-air-with-your-fists anthem that in less unsettled times might incite cathartic sing-alongs in a crowded bar. “Get Free” is a testosterone-injected reading of the Vines’ original. lostinsociety.com

 

NICOLE ATKINS, Italian Ice (Single Lock): ★★★★

The Asbury Park-raised pop chameleon establishes her latest album’s vibe with a smoldering groove during opener “AM Gold” (“We’re stranded in the garbage of Eden/ We’re starvin’ what we should’ve been feedin’/ No angels, no saints, no heathens/ Just people needin’”). That timely message reverberates through subsequent tracks such as “Mind Eraser” (co-written with My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel), “Never Goin’ Home Again” and “St. Dymphna” during this smartly written set, warmly produced (by Atkins and Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tenner) in Muscle Shoals and comfortably melding hooky melodic pop, harmony-braided country, disco and folk. nicoleatkins.com

 

DANIELIA COTTON & THE CHURCH BOYS, A Different War (Cottontown): ★★★

The New York-based dynamo kicks off this EP by reprising “Forgive Me” from her introspective 2017 album “The Mystery of Me”; the song gets tougher treatment here, with defiant guitar and organ swelling behind Cotton’s rocking, gospel-ribbed pleas. She’s joined by Bronx rapper Mickey Factz for the title track (“Your color opens doors/ Mine’s fighting a different war”), then protests economic inequality (“Cheap High”), issues a feminist rallying cry (the punkish “She Too”), with a pair of bluesy heartbreak ballads showcasing her limber vocal range and interpretive intensity. RIYL Grace Potter, Lenny Kravitz. danieliacotton.com

 

WOODS, Strange to Explain (ATO): ★★★★

After a two-year detour that included backing the late David Berman in his widely lauded Purple Mountains, frontman Jeremy Earl and bassist Jarvis Taverniere return with their 11th Woods album, a polished synthesis of psychedelic folk, jangly pop, acoustic and electric guitars, Mellotron, and Earl’s falsetto. Synthesizers pulse hypnotically through “Where Do You Go When You Dream?” while flamenco flavors the dreamy “Just to Fall Asleep” and trumpet-accented instrumental “The Void,” and harmonies and ghostly electronics embellish the ruminative title track. Ear-catching production textures abound, but smartly composed songs give this 11-track set heft. woodsist.com


STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES, Ghosts of West Virginia (New West): ★★★1/2
The irascible songwriter’s 20thstudio album draws on songs he composed for the documentary play “Coal Country,” which debuted at New York’s Public Theater this winter and was inspired by a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. Their names are called out during the potent “It’s About Blood”; “Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” and “Black Lung” also testify to miners’ sacrifices over pick-ax rhythms and plangent banjo. The bittersweet “If I Could See Your Face Again,” sung by fiddler Eleanor Whitmore, voices a widow’s grief, while “Union, God and Country” and the melancholy “Time Is Never on Our Side” express the proud beliefs of miners whose work represents community solidarity — and survival. steveearle.com