LIGHTNING BUG, “A Color of the Sky” (Fat Possum): 2½
Frontwoman Audrey Kang guides listeners into “interior worlds” where she found inspiration, purportedly after an existential reckoning brought on by a season of loss. “The past is made of stardust/ The future’s shifting sand/ If it’s my own path that’s drifting/ Then where am I to land?” she wonders during “Wings of Desire.” Guitarist Kevin Copeland and keyboardist Logan Miley help transform such musings into dreamy, midtempo sonic tapestries, with intuitive support from drummer Dane Hagen and bassist Vincent Puleo. “Words are absurd,” Kang admits in the title track. Despite its lack of rhythmic variety, it’s the music that offers any release.
DELTA NOVE, “Beyond” (self-released): 3½
A double LP of new music from the Long Beach-based “world funk” ensemble, much of it completed during the pandemic shutdown and after drummer Dominic Feedam died of cancer in 2019. Feedam had already finished basic tracks for their eighth studio album, and the tasty grooves he unspools with bassist Viking are augmented by guests such as Ozomatli tabla player Jiro Yamaguchi, Parliament-Funkadelic trombonist Fred Wesley, Orgone diva Adryon DeLeon and String Cheese Incident percussionist Jason Hann. Highlights include the open-hearted jam “Big Sky,” the reggae-infused “Samambaia” and a smoldering redo of Fela Kuti’s “Upside Down” (here called “Downside Up”).
CEDRIC BURNSIDE, “I Be Trying” (Single Lock): 4
The Grammy-nominated blues guitarist and sometime actor finds solace in the simple act of declaring the truth throughout this grittily satisfying set of Mississippi hill country blues, recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis in three days with producers Boo Mitchell and Luther Dickinson, Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Reed Watson. Opening with the acoustic “The World Can Be So Cold,” Burnside calls out for divine intervention (“Step In”), acknowledges his flawed humanity (the hopeful title track), digs into the songbags of grandfather R.L. Burnside (the stark “Bird Without a Feather”) and Junior Kimbrough (“Hands Off That Girl”) and reaches a hopeful conclusion: “Love Is the Key.”
LUCY DACUS, Home Video (Matador): 4
Excavating formative experiences and wisdom from her Virginia childhood, the indie-rock darling’s third album balances smart, storytelling ballads with cathartic rockers. Bruising truths are gentled by Dacus’ velvet vocal tones and melodies, as she offers compassion to her teenage self and casually cruel girlhood crushes; adults aren’t let off the hook so easily. Highlights: “Cartwheel,” “Please Stay” (featuring boygenius bandmates Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers), “Hot & Heavy” (“You were always stronger than people suspected/ Underestimated and overprotected”), the engaging “Brando” (“You called me cerebral/ I didn’t know what you meant/ But now I do, would it have killed you/ To call me pretty instead?”).
WANDERLUST, All a View (self-released): 3½
It’s all but impossible to listen to Wanderlust’s new release and not hear echoes of the past. The Philly-spawned power-pop band’s first album in over two decades is rooted in the ’90s — specifically, demos made by frontman Scot Sax in 1996 — yet is also a spirit-renewing record of the pandemic era, as the reunited lineup (Sax, guitarist Rob Bonfiglio, bassist Mark Getten and drummer Jim Cavanaugh) expanded on the original demos and Sax and Bonfiglio co-wrote additional material. Chiming guitars, invigorating harmonies, sturdily constructed and hummable melodies, a meaty rhythm section, and not a bum track in the bunch. Highlights: “Critical Mind,” “Corduroy Moon,” “Trick of the Light.”
STEVE MARRINER, Hope Dies Last (Stony Plain): 3
The Juno Award-winning guitarist/producer — aka one half of Manx Marriner Mainline (alongside slide guitarist Harry Manx) and frontman of swampy Canadian rock trio MonkeyJunk — is in solid, engaging form throughout this 10-track set, with a gravelly delivery that occasionally recalls Australian rocker Jimmy Barnes. He and guest guitarist Steve Dawson punch up the beat and blues in Tom Petty’s “Honey Bee,” while Samantha Martin proves a gutsy duet partner for impassioned ballad “Enough” and Marriner commandeers the drum throne for instrumental highlight “Uptown Lockdown.” RIYL roots rock.
SPELLLING, The Turning Wheel (Sacred Bones): 2½
Divided into “Above” and “Below” sections, Chrystia Cabral’s third full album is less funky and more theatrical than 2019’s “Mazy Fly,” which suits the Bay Area artist’s girlish soprano. The wide-ranging instrumental palette (strings, synths, piano, bassoon, banjo) and scale-climbing of tracks such as “Emperor with an Egg,” “Little Deer,” “Legacy” and “Queen of Wands” generate some sonic drama, but it’s ultimately undone by weak hooks and a lack of sustaining melodic interest.
GRACIE AND RACHEL, a whisper becomes a shout
(Righteous Babe): 3
Holed up in their home studio during quarantine, Brooklyn-based keyboardist Gracie Coates and violinist Rachel Ruggles’ transformed three tracks from last year’s lush-sounding “Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong” album into a handsomely arranged EP of self-described “whisper songs.” “I will be heard, I will say every word/ Forget the way I was taught to behave,” a hushed Coates sings during “trust (a whisper song)” (which gives the EP its title), as organ pads, violin strains and subtle percussion reshape the meaning of her words. “Turn up the volume, I will not be quiet/ Freedom’s around the corner, I know I can find it.”