Lil Nas - “X 7” (Columbia *** 1/2)
For those living under a rock, invincible cowboy-rap phenomenon “Old Town Road” is currently the biggest hit since “Macarena” and five weeks away from being the longest-running number-one 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 very 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. Smart to venture into guitar-rock and off-kilter sax when the priority is resisting pigeonholes, and smart to interpolate Nirvana and include Cardi to convince people these tunes have historical weight. But chances are you could’ve written better lyrics. — Dan Weiss
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. —Steve Klinge
Buddy and Julie Miller - “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South” (New West *** 1/2)
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 to 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 may 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: “I feel the fingers of the night/ Wrap around me tight/ Then it whispers in my ear/ Then screams out, there’s no one here,” she sings on the haunting “Unused Heart.”
Not that it’s all feelings of abandonment and alienation. “Till the Stardust Comes Apart,” for one, is a pledge of unending devotion. But what really speaks to the renewed strength of the Millers’ relationship is the unique power they continue to conjure when they make music together. —Nick Cristiano
©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.