Missy Elliott - “Iconology” [EP] (Atlantic *** 1/2 stars)
Take “Iconology” for what it sounds like: an exceedingly slapdash and minimal release under 15 minutes in length rush-released to cash in on Missy Elliott’s Video Vanguard honor at the best VMAs in more than a decade. Her first collection since 2005 is even shorter when you snip one of the two versions of the sung doo-wop “Why I Still Love You” — I’d keep the a cappella one, more impressive for bucking longtime accusations that her beats call the shots. The three other tunes are high-quality, low-budget reboots of her signature bump: “Throw It Back” pretends a single sleigh bell shake is as striking as the elephant in “Work It,” and the footwork-goes-old-school “Cool Off” is cleverly inflected to sound like “culo.” Most forgettable and conventional is “DripDemeanor,” featuring someone named Sum1. Just because we missed her so much doesn’t mean she owed us an album, though it wouldn’t have killed her to put 2015’s stickier “WTF (Where they From)” on this. And when that album does arrive, you betcha “Iconology” helped take the pressure off. —Dan Weiss
Bon Iver - “i,i” (Jagjaguwar *** 1/2)
While each of the three previous Bon Iver albums differed radically, “i,I” is an amalgamation and a culmination. Justin Vernon has called it the autumnal capstone of a journey through the seasons that began with 2008’s wintry, desolate “For Emma, Forever Ago.” Like that much-loved record, “i,I” focuses on Vernon’s earnest, urgent voice; like 2011’s self-titled album, many songs contain blossoming, spacious orchestration; as on 2016’s “22, A Million,” Vernon manipulates sounds with electronic distortions and Autotune (although with more restraint and warmth). The songs are elliptical, in arrangements and lyrics, and often beautiful.
In addition to a core group that includes longtime member Sean Carey, “i,I” features many guests, including Bruce Hornsby, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, and James Blake. Vernon seems to seek the perfect sonic details for each song — Hornsby’s churchy piano chords in “U (Man Like)”; the pulsing synths that cede to a triumphant horn fanfare in “Salem”; the somber, jazzy sax solo in “Sh’Diah.” “So what I think we need is elasticity, empowerment and ease,” he sings in “Salem,” although most lyrics prioritize questions, often about faith, ethics and identity, rather than answers. He’s searching for insight and comfort, and “i,i”’s rich, complex songs offer both. —Steve Klinge
Rodney Crowell - “Texas” (RC1 ***)
Although he left for Nashville in 1972, Rodney Crowell does hail from Texas. So it’s fitting that the onetime country hit-maker and current Americana stalwart would draw on his heritage again for inspiration. And this new guest-laden set yields more riches.
Much of “Texas” rocks with a loose-limbed rambunctiousness, whether it’s celebrating salt-of-the-earth types on “Flatland Hillbillies” (with Lee Ann Womack and Randy Rogers), saluting a classic ride on “56 Fury” (with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons), trading verses on “What You Gonna Do Now” with Lyle Lovett, or swaggering through “You’re Only Happy When You’re Miserable,” which is powered by Ringo Starr on drums.
Elsewhere, Crowell slows for more contemplative turns. On the waltz-time “Deep in the Heart of Uncertain Texas” (a real place), he is joined by Womack, Willie Nelson and Ronnie Dunn as he delivers the revealing line: “I tried hard to leave here, but never did could.” “Brown and Root, Brown and Root” revives a bit of Texas history and is performed with Steve Earle, who actually did this previously unreleased Crowell song live in the ’80s. And “The Border,” written 10 years ago but utterly timely, puts a human face on some of what is happening in that fraught area.
The album concludes with the rocking “Texas Drought Part 1.” Crowell has indicated that there is, indeed, a Part 2. “Texas” makes you want to hear it, along with any other Lone Star-inspired efforts he might have. — Nick Cristiano
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