And So It Goes
Producers: Garth Fundis, Don Williams
Sugar Hill Records
Release Date: June 19
It's been a few years since the "Gentle Giant" has graced us with new music. But Country Music Hall of Famer Don Williams returns with longtime producer Garth Fundis along for the musical ride on "And So It Goes," his first new album since 2004. On cuts like "Better Than Today" and the laid-back "Heart of Hearts," it doesn't sound like time has changed Williams' style. Vocally, that easy manner is very much in effect all over the set. His version of Anthony Smith's "Infinity" is superb, and if this were a perfect world, "I Just Come Here for the Music," featuring some spellbinding harmonies from Alison Krauss, would be a radio hit. The song's true-to-life lyrics about a man and a woman who are both starting over make this one of the shining jewels on And So It Goes. Vince Gill and Keith Urban also make appearances, and the latter's contribution to the O'Kanes' "Imagine That" is a noteworthy standout. A great return to form by one of the format's best-loved artists, showing how timeless his sound was-and is.
Producer: Frank Rogers
Release Date: June 12
This deep-voiced country star got a mainstream boost last year when Scotty McCreery sang Turner's "Your Man" on what seemed like every second episode of "American Idol." (The two singers later performed the song together at the 2011 Country Music Assn. Music Festival.) Now Turner seems well-positioned to capitalize on that increased renown with his strong new studio album, "Punching Bag." Like its four predecessors-all of which have debuted inside the top five of Billboard's Top Country Albums chart-Punching Bag offers an assured synthesis of roots-music styles, with hard-rocking honky-tonk cuts like "Watcha Reckon" and the title track nestled against slower, more sensual country-soul stuff. In the latter category, "Cold Shoulder" is especially handsome. There's also "Pallbearer," a stark, God-haunted rumination on death that features guest appearances by Marty Stuart and Iris DeMent. But with lines like "Traveling to the graveyard, counting down the miles/With every earth-filled shovel they dig that eternal grave," it probably won't be the one to win over Blake Shelton's fans.
Looking 4 Myself
Release Date: June 12
In the interviews surrounding the release of Usher's seventh album, "Looking 4 Myself," the singer discussed the wide variety of music that influenced the set, ranging from electronic dance music to folk-rockers Mumford & Sons. And while EDM is prominently heard on many of the tracks (folk, not so much), the sound has fused seamlessly with R&B. It makes "Looking 4 Myself," at its best, a truly next-level soul album, one that has the warm, organic feel of R&B and deep pop hooks, but also the pulsating low-end and shimmering keyboard flourishes of EDM. Usher has assembled a murderer's row of top-shelf songwriter/producers, spanning from unsurprising collaborators (Will.i.am, Danja, Pharrell, Max Martin) to less-expected ones (Diplo, Swedish House Mafia, Noah "40" Shebib). There are also cameos from Rick Ross and labelmate A$AP Rocky. It's a sprawling album (18 tracks on the deluxe edition) with many highlights, but the truly stellar songs include "Climax," "Scream," "Dive" and especially "Numb," a Scandinavian all-star pileup involving SHM, Robyn collaborator Klas Ahlund and Alesso.