VALERIE JUNE, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers (Fantasy): 4
Hopeful and — as is the norm with this idiosyncratic artist — cosmically conscious, June’s latest album is her most immediately engaging. Working with Grammy-winning Jennifer Hudson/Tank and the Bangas producer Jack Splash, she contours songs with Afrobeat polyrhythms and guitar (“You and I”), analog loops (“Within You”), and bird songs, a meditative flute and singing bowl (“Starlight Ethereal Silence”). Throughout, June returns to soul like a prodigal child circling home in wonder for the album’s strongest tracks: reassuring opener “Stay,” the swaying “Call Me a Fool” (introduced by Stax legend Carla Thomas’ recitation of “African Proverb”), and the hooky “Fallin” (“Fallin’ out of love with love/ All the things you’re dreamin’ of”).
ALLIE CROW BUCKLEY, Moonlit and Devious
Low, distorted guitar and synth tones shape the spectral chill of the LA singer-songwriter’s debut album, which may appeal to Angel Olsen fans. With her controlled vocal style, Buckley’s poetic turns of phrase and dramatic arrangements (crafted with Jason Boesel and Mike Viola) carry the emotional weight of standouts “Hanging Tough” (“Dollar scratchers under my nails/ Still betting on beginner’s luck”), “Trouble in Paradise,” the title track, and the Sharon van Etten co-write “Gold Medallion.” The album’s sound makes a more lingering impression than individual songs, but piques interest in future Buckley projects.
TASH NEAL, Charge It to the Game (Black Hill): 3
The former London Souls frontman had abundant subject matter for his solo debut: social injustice, the hustle and wonder of creative careers, surviving a brutal car wreck. Composed while Neal was recuperating from that 2012 nightmare, the 11 tracks punch harder than his LS releases. His brawny guitar’s as forward as his falsetto in the slick mix, which undercuts his lyrical impact. “Finding Your Way” and the Dan Auerbach-produced “Like a Glove” introduce lighter pop moments, while gritty funk and R&B rhythms drive “All I See Is Blood” and “Something Ain’t Right” (“Though you treat it like a chore/ Our lives matter just like yours/ If you feel me, someone testify”).
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, Maverick Thinker
The folk-rocking Cornwall trio decamped to Sound City in Van Nuys just as the pandemic hit to record their third album, which is more intimate than 2017’s “Proud Disturber of the Peace.” Frontman Ruarri Joseph’s melodic compositions benefit from more focused arrangements (particularly the harmony-brightened “Quiet Life”), and the band has fun with the slinky groove of “The Deep End” and the Dylan-esque rocker “Wake Up” (“You should be famous/ You should be in the papers/ Without your makeup/ There’s no problem/ Until you make one”). Joseph’s podcast (“William the Conqueror: The Podcast”) expands on the songs with fiction about their daydreaming protagonist.