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Halsey, Bill Wyman, Jason Isbell

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Halsey

Badlands

Astralwerks

File next to: Ryn Weaver, FKA Twigs, Raign

Halsey's popularity eruption since her Colorado debut a year ago has sparked predictable sniping, with detractors calling her Lana Del Rey on Prozac. Since the blue-haired New Jersey native, born Ashley Frangipane, is just shy of 21, comparisons might instead include Lorde or Miley Cyrus. Her debut album, Badlands, has a hint of apocalyptic concept-style conceit, but it's hard to name another newcomer this clever or ambitious. Sure, singles such as "New Americana" can be derivative of many pop artists, but Halsey has a handle on her identity firmer than many musicians approaching 30. She relies on known session musicians and producers like Lido, while stamping her own frank and crass style on each song. Give the woman time: She just might be a giant in the making. — Loring Wirbel

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Bill Wyman

Back to Basics

Proper Records

File next to: Pete Townshend, Ian Dury

During his time with the Rolling Stones (1962-1993), bassist Bill Wyman released three albums that displayed his particular (if low-key) musical sensibilities. After the success of his friends-and-all project Willie & the Poor Boys, he adopted that approach for his long-running aggregation, The Rhythm Kings. That busman's holiday aggregation was a low-pressure way for Wyman to hang out with talented friends, focusing on live dates and albums that presented beloved covers from early- and pre-rock'n'roll eras. Back to Basics employs a similar method. It features straightforward, polished musicality, wry lyrical wordplay, and Wyman's gravelly, unprepossessing vocals that recall the late Ian Dury. Whether one would call the album "consistent" or "samey" barely matters: The bottom line is that it pleases Wyman, and as he approaches his 80th birthday in October 2016, that's success enough. — Bill Kopp

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Jason Isbell

Something More Than Free

Southeastern

File next to: John Prine, Whiskeytown, Ben Howard

Jason Isbell's latest album jumped right to the top of country and Americana charts, but many who have followed the Southern songwriter since his Drive-By Truckers days considered it a slight letdown from 2013's Southeastern album. That may be the result of mistaking previous anguish for profundity. His new Something More Than Free is a troubled but happier album, chronicling Isbell's marriage to his violinist, Amanda Shires, and the imminent arrival of their first child. Consequently, it is the yang to Southeastern's bleak yin. Isbell's band, The 400 Unit, has never sounded tighter, and even though no song carries the forlorn directness of "Elephant," tracks like "24 Frames" and "Speed Trap Town" offer some of the best lyrics being crafted this decade. Infusing some hope into his Southern landscapes does not make Isbell a lesser writer. — Loring Wirbel

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