Music Notes: Justin Bieber to Sting, new albums arrive for spring

New releases from artists ranging from Loretta Lynn to Demi Lovato to Cheap Trick have been released in the early part of 2021.
New releases from artists ranging from Loretta Lynn to Demi Lovato to Cheap Trick have been released in the early part of 2021.

New music is in full bloom.

It’s been expected that the paralyzed state of the touring industry the past 12 months would generate an eruption of new recorded material. After all, how many livestreams can an artist be expected to perform and remain creatively fulfilled?

While some current releases were recorded and wrapped pre-pandemic, others were crafted during the quietude of quarantine. (Mr. Harry Connick and Evanescence, take a bow.)

The rest of 2021 will undoubtedly serve a continued stream of fresh material, but here is what we’re listening to now.

All releases are currently available unless otherwise noted.

Loretta Lynn, “Still Woman Enough”: It’s rarefied air to reach your 50th album, but Lynn is the kind of national treasure who deserves every accolade. On this celebration of women in country music, the maven of the genre — who turns 89 in April — fits among the fiddles on the title track with Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood, two-steps with Margo Price on “One’s on the Way” and sassily meshes with Tanya Tucker’s whiskey-hued vocals for “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” She revisits “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” “My Love” and “I Wanna Be Free” and, backed by a banjo, recites the lyrics to “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It’s a moving, folksy inclusion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the song and punctuate the career of this legend.

Justin Bieber, “Justice”: The sixth studio album from the pop prince rankled some with his inclusion of snippets of Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. (The family expressed support of the usage). But getting mad at Bieber for expressing an interest in social justice is like screaming at a kitten — why? Sure, “Peaches” (with Daniel Caesar and Giveon) is Auto-Tuned into oblivion with eye-rolling lyrics that attempt to color Bieber as a tough guy. But when he embraces his strengths — that downy voice that swoons over the gentle pulse of “2 Much” and “Deserve You,” the gliding “Off My Voice” and introspective “Lonely” — Bieber’s continued appeal is evident.

Sting's "Duets" album features collaborations with Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Chris Botti, Julio Iglesias and many more.
Sting's "Duets" album features collaborations with Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Chris Botti, Julio Iglesias and many more.

Sting, “Duets”: Eclecticism, thy name is Sting. With a resume that has paired him throughout the years with artists as varied as Mary J. Blige, Zucchero and Shaggy, this 17-track collection of those collaborations is a feast for fans. “It’s Probably Me,” with Eric Clapton’s unmistakable guitar, slinks seductively, while his romp with onetime tour mate Annie Lennox on “We’ll Be Together” benefits from an electric guitar backdrop and a new air of playfulness. A full recast of his cheeky “Englishman in New York,” called “Englishman/African in New York” with African artist Shirazee, adeptly blends world music with new lyrics and Sting’s cosmopolitan outlook.

Demi Lovato, “Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over” (April 2): Against a simple piano background, Lovato exposes raw vulnerability in the first moments of the first song, “Anyone” (“I talk to shooting stars. but they always get it wrong/I feel stupid when I pray/so why am I praying anyway if nobody’s listening?”). The musical companion to her documentary series, “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” is a bracing, 19-song journey from “Dancing With the Devil” of addiction (“Almost made it to heaven, it was closer than you know”) to a form of peace (“Good Place”). Musically hopscotching from polished power-pop (“That’s The Kind of Lover I Am”) to dance floor thump (“Lonely People”), Lovato’s confessionals hit deep. Her cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” takes the ethereal route of the Adam Lambert/Gary Jules versions, but the song is a fitting choice for an artist who, even at peace, will always sound haunted.

Cheap Trick, “In Another World” (April 9): The opening blast of harmonies on “The Summer Looks Good On You” is an apt indicator of what the veteran rockers crafted for their 20th studio album. Robin Zander’s voice, still a distinctive blend of velvet and grit, soars on “Quit Waking Me Up,” its chorus soaked in horn-infused sunshine. “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll” and “Light Up the Fire” re-establish the band’s credibility with anthems powered by Rick Nielsen’s guitar, while “Another World” serves as the lyrical backbone of the album.

Other newbies:

Kings of Leon, “When You See Yourself”: The band’s eighth album and first since 2016. Trivia note –the first gig KOL played as a band was at Smith’s Olde Bar.

Lana Del Rey's 2021 album, "Chemtrails Over the Country Club," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Album Sales chart.
Lana Del Rey's 2021 album, "Chemtrails Over the Country Club," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Album Sales chart.

Lana Del Rey, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club”: A No. 1 debut on the Billboard Top Album Sales chart makes it her third chart-topper in a row (2014′s “Ultraviolence” and 2017′s “Lust for Life”).

The Fratellis, “Half Drunk Under a Full Moon” (April 9): Postponed since last year, the sixth album from the Scottish trio is a melodic rush of soulful pop.

"The Bitter Truth" is the band's first new original music in a decade.
"The Bitter Truth" is the band's first new original music in a decade.

Evanescence, “The Bitter Truth”: Frontwoman Amy Lee has described the band’s first original music in a decade as an outlet to “pour our frustrations, our rage, our grief and our love to create a world we had some control over.”

Harry Connick Jr., “Alone With My Faith”: The genre-hopping musician used COVID-19 downtime to huddle in his studio and record new songs as well as Christian hymns; he played every instrument and sang every note on all songs.

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