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Two Lanes Of Freedom
Big Machine, $13.99
Veteran country star Tim McGraw resolutely refers to independence and the highway in the title of his new album, “Two Lanes Of Freedom,” his first since leaving Curb Records, his label for two decades. The title cut flaunts that freedom by employing world-music instruments, harmonies and rhythms to communicate just how creatively liberated he feels.
But McGraw’s always pushed at the boundaries of country music. Here he balances experimental arrangements with hat tips to contemporary country music — the hit “Truck Yeah” follows the current trend of matching rural signifiers with pounding rock, while “One Of Those Nights” nicely weaves in slice-of-life sentiments, a common McGraw theme.
Elsewhere, he succeeds at broadening his sound with hip-hop, bluegrass and piano pop. He also bridges the generations on “Highway Don’t Care,” a duet with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban that says even freedom needs an anchor in true love.
Vagrant Records, $11.88
Fans of the Eels will be surprised to know that the band’s frontman, Mark “E” Everett, seems to have been lifted from his melancholy — a sentiment that has inspired the band’s previous material. Even the title of the Eels’ 10th record, “Wonderful, Glorious,” oozes optimism. The album’s opener exudes funk and sex appeal, thanks to E’s unique vocals. The song “Peach Blossom” is melodically interesting, with a pounding, rhythmical drum and angry guitar.
“On the Ropes” does hark back to the indie rockers’ original sad sound with lyrics like: “I’m not knocked out, but I’m on the ropes.” It’s reminiscent of moments on the band’s “Electro-Shock Blues” (1998) and “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” (2005) albums. While “Wonderful, Glorious” is interesting and good, it doesn’t match up to the Eels’ previous work. We prefer E’s tortured soul.
Holly Williams is the kind of poetic songwriter country music once embraced. These days, the powerfully sensitive songs featured on her new album, “The Highway,” are relegated to the independent Americana genre that exists outside of the arena-rock formulas of country radio.
The strength of Williams’ songwriting and the subtle emotions in her husky, expressive voice suggest she is following in the cross-genre paths of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kathy Mattea — or the country side of Neil Young and Lyle Lovett.
Writing of struggles with family and faith, of living a transient life and of dealing with faithfulness and problematic men, Hank Williams’ granddaughter uses personal experiences to explore universal issues. Amid a raw yet seamless blend of piano, acoustic guitar and subtle rhythms and sonic accents, her songs seek something true amid the bumps and bliss of daily life. She makes listeners feel why that search is important.