Prince, “Originals” (Rhino)
This album is a gift, and a collection of gifts. Prince gave many songs to other performers — often to women — and these are the demos in the form of fully realized recordings, most of them produced between 1982 and 1984, when Prince released “1999” and “Purple Rain.”
Many became hits: “The Glamorous Life” (for Sheila E.), “Manic Monday” (for the Bangles), “Jungle Love” (for the Time), “Nothing Compares 2 U” (originally for the Family, but then covered by Sinead O’Connor).
On a historical level, it’s fascinating to hear how closely most artists hewed to Prince’s original vision — it would be foolish to try to improve a Prince song, or even to try to equal his performance.
The most striking exception is “You’re My Love” (for Kenny Rogers): Prince’s version is full of soul and humor.
Some of the less well-known songs — the funk workouts “Holy Rock” (for Sheila E.) and “100 MPH” (for Mazarati), the new wave-ish “Make-Up” (for Vanity Six) — could have easily fit on Prince’s classic albums, which makes “Originals” sound like a Prince greatest hits collection in the guise of a shadow history.
Lil Nas, “X 7” (Columbia)
For those living under a rock, invincible cowboy-rap phenomenon “Old Town Road” is the biggest hit since “Macarena” and five weeks away from being the longest-running No. 1 song of all time. That’s way too much pressure. By all rights, the 20-year-old who sings it should be spared the indignity of people even listening to this hasty, futile grab for lightning in a bottle twice, when no one (especially not him) pretends to know what he’s doing.
Because Lil Nas X was a private citizen five months ago, it’s instructive to think about his first release in terms of, well, what one of us would’ve done. No one else could’ve come up with “Old Town Road,” of course.
The six other productions are neither hits nor filler, but they’re enticing and — eventually — hooky.
Buddy and Julie Miller, “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South” (New West)
Buddy and Julie Miller last made an album together in 2009. Since then, Buddy has continued to flourish as an Americana producer, sideman and solo artist, while Julie has been confined at home by chronic illness. That put a strain on the couple’s relationship, which is chronicled with unsparing candor on “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South” — the title, in fact, refers to the Nashville street on which they live.
On the surface this might seem like a Julie solo record — she wrote all 12 songs and sings lead on all but one.
But with his spare, unvarnished arrangements, a mix of acoustic and electric, and complementary vocal harmonies, Buddy again shows an unerring knack for ensuring that Julie is at her transfixing best, heightening the raw emotion and vivid, cut-to-the-bone nature of her lyrics.