Patty Loveless, “Sleepless Nights: The Traditional Country Soul of Patty Loveless” (Saguaro Road)
The album's subtitle is particularly revealing, perhaps even more so than the title itself. “Sleepless Nights” is a covers album of songs made famous by Nashville's old guard: George Jones, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, et al. Gram Parsons, who popularized the song “Sleepless Nights,” is the non-Nashville anomaly on the list.
Loveless' 16th full-length, which was produced by her husband, Emory Gordy Jr., is a throwback in the vein of Lee Ann Womack's excellent 2005 album “There's More Where That Came From,” and like that record, it never feels overly nostalgic or indulgent, despite being all covers. Loveless grew up in rural Kentucky singing many of these standards in a duo with her brother, and now, decades later, she sounds completely comfortable wringing them of every ounce of country heartache.
In her early 50s, Loveless may be over the hill in Nashville terms, but her beaming, brassy voice traces new contours in these oft-sung songs, making her one of country music's best and bravest interpreters. — Stephen M. Deusner
The Pretenders, “Break Up the Concrete” (Shangri-La Music)
Tough gal Chrissie Hynde is back — and sounding like the gritty, inwardly smirking hipster chick of yesteryear on the Pretenders' first release since 2002. But there's a moving vulnerability that flourishes here, especially on the country-flavored tracks, which makes the album one of her most listenable in years.
Her legendary band is now a loose group of session types, but this time Hynde delivers an inspired set of new roots-rock tunes with terrific players, led by veteran drummer Jim Keltner (Dylan, Stones and Neil Young), a real joy who enhances every song with pinpoint precision and character. From the rollicking opener, with its Dylan-nod title, “Boots of Chinese Plastic,” the energized album digs in with virtuoso guitar from James Walbourne (Pernice Brothers) while keeping the overall tone immediate and, thankfully, not overproduced.
Hynde's voice is at once direct and mysterious, drifting confidently through soul- and country-flavored tracks aided by the glistening pedal steel of Eric Heywood (Jayhawks and Son Volt), nearing punk-rockabilly furor on “Don't Cut Your Hair,” and sending out a green-themed message on the bouncy title track, “Break Up the Concrete” — a call for Americans to create more livable spaces. This is pretty much a no-brainer: Hynde is in classic form, matched by tasteful players who seem into it. — Brent Baldwin
Metallica, “Death Magnetic” (Warner Bros)
An unmitigated disaster, Metallica's 2003 album, “St. Anger,” was an overproduced, overthought turd that not only sold poorly but also inspired the documentary “Some Kind of Monster,” which showed the band running into “Spinal Tap” jokes like birds flying into windows.
If they were laughingstocks then, they're getting the last laugh with “Death Magnetic,” a return of sorts to form that revives the earlier, menacing sound of their garage-thrash days. The guitars sound suitably raw, and the rhythm section thunders in an explosion of kick-drum and machine-gun snare. Purposefully, nothing here is as radio-friendly as their early-'90s hits, even if some of these tracks sound meek compared to recent efforts by Mastodon and Comets on Fire.
Still, having booted the misnamed Bob Rock and hired producer Rick Rubin, the band pummels “The End of the Line” and “Cyanide” persuasively. “Death Magnetic” is no “Master of Puppets,” but it does stand as Metallica's best album since James and Lars cut their hair. — S.D.