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Track record

  • This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records)

    This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow)

    This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music)

    This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records)

    This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music)

    This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow)

    This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow) Purchase photo reprints »

  • This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records)
  • This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow)
  • This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music)
  • This CD cover image released by Big Machine Records shows the latest album by Taylor Swift, "Red." (AP Photo/Big Machine Records)
  • This CD cover image released by Cooperative Music shows the latest release by Martha Wainwright, "Come Home to Mama." (AP Photo/Cooperative Music)
  • This CD cover image released by Broken Bow records shows "Night Train," the latest release by Jason Aldean. (AP Photo/Broken Bow)

Red

Taylor Swift

Big Machine Records, $13.88

Taylor Swift’s “Red,” the Grammy winner’s fourth album, is a 16-track set that has the singer continuing to step away from her country roots to take on a more rock and pop sound. The album features songs that are big and stadium ready (she has a U2-like moment on album opener, “State of Grace”) and others that are soft and slow.

But while “Red” contains its share of winners, many of the songs lack the colorfulness and vitality the album title suggests, leading to an overall letdown. Lyrically and sonically, the album lacks oomph and feeling: It sounds like we’ve heard it all from her before (check “Starlight”).

Hooking up with some new — and popular — producers seemed like a good move for Swift, who has worked with a supertight group of writers and producers on her first three albums (half of “Red” is produced by her longtime producer Nathan Chapman). Unfortunately, stepping out of her comfort zone doesn’t always work.

Max Martin and Shellback, who have helmed No. 1 smashes for Maroon 5, Pink, Kelly Clarkson and others, have given Swift her first No. 1 pop hit with the juvenile-sounding anthem “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which echoes Avril Lavigne in her teen years. “22,” another Martin and Shellback collaboration, is an improvement, but not by much, with weak lines like: “Everything will be all right if we just keeping dancing like we’re 22.” The producers fare better on “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” an adventurous track with Swift taking the bull by the horns, sounding aggressive over an electrified and electronic beat.

Jeff Bhasker, best known for producing the breakout album by fun. and songs for Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Lana Del Rey and others, is behind average songs like “Holy Ground” and “The Lucky One.” Swift also works with Dan Wilson, a singer who has co-written two of music’s best songs with the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.” His song with Swift, “Treacherous,” is a good one.

The main issue with “Red” is that it sounds empty. There’s nothing close to the country-soul ballads like the heart-wrenching “You’re Not Sorry” and “White Horse” from her “Fearless” album, or even the emotion — and magic — on songs like “Never Grow Up” and “Enchanted” from 2010’s “Speak Now.” She gets close to reaching those touching heights on “I Almost Do” and the album’s duets. English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran — and Swift’s falsetto — shine on “Everything Has Changed,” produced by Butch Walker (Lavigne, Pink, Dashboard Confessional). On “The Last Time,” Swift takes a back seat to Snow Patrol lead singer Gary Lightbody, whose heavy and gravely vocals ride beautifully over the haunting beat, courtesy of producer Jacknife Lee. Too bad there’s not more where that came from.

Come Home to Mama

Martha Wainwright

Cooperative Music, $9.99

2012 is the year of the Wainwrights.

Rufus Wainwright gave us a smooth, poppy record with the Mark Ronson-produced “Out of the Game,” and now his little sister delivers a top-notch album with her third CD.

On “Come Home to Mama,” Martha Wainwright acknowledges there were two main sources of inspiration for the album: becoming a mother and becoming motherless.

The album gets its title from the song “Proserpina,” a track written by her mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle. It was the last song McGarrigle wrote before she died in 2010. Her daughter’s version uses simple piano chords and strings, and its simplicity keeps the focus on the song’s touching lyrics and Wainwright’s soft vocal range.

Another highlight is “All Your Clothes,” a beautiful open letter from Wainwright to her mother with lyrics like: “The baby is doing fine, my marriage is failing, but I keep trying” (Wainwright gave birth to her son in 2009).

Wainwright’s voice works nicely on songs that take on an electronic direction, like “Four Black Sheep” and “Some People.” The latter is littered with emotional conflicts as she sings “I don’t love the way I used to” and “If only I believed in God, then I would ask God to help me find my way.” Honesty like that makes “Come Home to Mama” a must-listen.

Night Train

Jason Aldean

Broken Bow, $11.88

Jason Aldean blends hard-rock sonics with country music themes better than any of his contemporaries, as he proves once again on his fifth album, “Night Train.”

But his multi-platinum success depends just as much on his willingness to break formulas and take chances. Aldean has made every album with producer Michael Knox as well as with his road band backing him in the studio. That symbiotic relationship keeps getting tighter and more ferocious with each outing. It gives Aldean’s music an edge lacking in most current Nashville country rockers.

“Night Train” shows how confident the singer is in his crew. There’s the fierce guitar squawks set against the arena-rock drum beats in the chorus of “Feel That Again.” There’s the Zeppelin-style acoustic opening of “Wheels Rollin’,” which also features an imaginative guitar solo. And a synthesized carnival sound pops up behind the rocking arrangement of “This Nothin’ Town.”

No one else in country music is creating music that sounds anything like these songs. That distinct quality runs like a high-watt third rail through “Night Train” — and explains why Aldean has electrified the American heartland with his music.

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