Buddy and Julie Miller, Breakdown on 20th Avenue South (New West Records) – This multi-Grammy-winning, folk-rock couple vanished for a decade while Julie fought a chronic disease, but they are back in audacious form. The new studio work features snarling rock dished out in a Southern twang, and lyrics that are downright transcendent, particularly in the closing “Storm of Kisses.”
Madonna, Madame X (Interscope) – Given her irregular television and stage appearances in recent months, Madonna could have made a much worse studio album than the surreal globe-hopping concept album here. Critics might perceive Madame X as a superficial romp through Latin American styles, but Madonna weaving a playful mystery tale offers far more choice moments than her recent albums that tried to reclaim sexuality in her sixth decade.
Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers, No Good Deed (Pretty Good for a Girl Records) – In the midst of women’s blues-rock releases that rely on predictable riffs, Abair’s third album with the Boneshakers band bursts with hints of the best moments from artists like Elle King, Bonnie Raitt and even The Black Keys, yet Abair sustains the energy longer than any of them. The 10 songs chosen for the album, most Abair originals, do not suffer from a single weak cut, and the fact that the lead vocalist plays saxophone means her insane sax riffs are not mixed down in the engineering.