Queen and Adam Lambert, "Live Around the World" (Hollywood)
Adam Lambert is not Freddie Mercury. Nor, to his credit, does he try to be. What he is, though, is the perfect successor to the iconic Queen vocalist, seemingly predestined to revive the supergroup with his own impossible vocals and over-the-top showmanship.
"Live Around the World," culled from every tour they've done over the past six years, shows the "American Idol" runner-up breathing new life into some of the greatest rock songs ever written, and putting them across just as boldly and fabulously as Mercury did.
But Lambert is no human photocopier; on song after song, he brings his own sensibility and finely calibrated vocals, unlocking possibilities that had lain hidden for decades. "Don't Stop Me Now," which was a minor hit for Queen in the '70s but has exponentially grown in popularity since then, helped by its use in TV commercials, finds Lambert teasing the audience by comedically stretching out a note as the audience is ready to charge ahead. But it all comes with a wink and a nod; on "Fat Bottomed Girls," performed in Texas with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders dancing onstage, Lambert follows the line "Ain't no beauty queens in this locality" with the ad-libbed, "Not true!"
Campiness aside, Lambert may just have the best voice in rock music today, and yes, let's just say it: There are times he hits notes Mercury dared not, at least not onstage, where Mercury often relied on drummer Roger Taylor as a stunt vocalist to hit the highest notes to help preserve his own voice for the grueling year-long tours the band did.
"Who Wants to Live Forever" is the vocal and dramatic high point of a Queen show these days, and the version here is particularly emotional, dedicated to victims of the Orlando gay club mass shooting the night before.
Taylor is exquisite in the David Bowie role on the "Under Pressure" duet, and guitarist Brian May provides the unmistakable Queen sound with every note and power chord.
They also do two Mercury solo tracks, "Love Kills" and "I Was Born to Love You," adding a new element to the show and keeping Mr. Mercury front and center even in absentia.
WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
Loudon Wainwright III with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, "I'd Rather Lead a Band" (Thirty Tigers)
On the aptly titled "I'd Rather Lead a Band," Loudon Wainwright III embraces a role even more retro than the one he has carved out as an old-fashioned troubadour, putting his guitar aside to join the '20s — the 1920s.
Wainwright makes like a dance band crooner as he revives material by Irving Berlin, Fats Waller and Frank Loesser, among others. For any kids who might listen, this is their great-great-grandparents' music, which explains the reference to a Gatling gun.
Wainwright is ably backed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and while the band is tight, old Loudo is loose. He hams it up with the same comic timing that has served his own songs so well for the past half century. That makes him the ideal interpreter of "I'm Going to Give It to Mary With Love," a lascivious, hilarious obscurity that would make Cardi B blush.
Some of the other songs are more familiar, including "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Heart and Soul," and just about everything swings thanks to arrangements highlighted by muted horns, creamy winds and lots of hi-hat. Wainwright sings about fidelity, forgiveness and the consequences of a kiss, which shows the romance dance hasn't changed much in the past century or so.
STEVEN WINE. Associated Press
Adam Wright, "I Win" (Independent)
Nashville songwriter Adam Wright may have sensed we could all use a laugh, and so he has released a witty antidote to 2020.
Wright, whose compositions have been performed by such stars as Garth Brooks, Lee Ann Womack and Alan Jackson (his uncle), wisely kept these 12 tunes for himself. The whimsical tone is in the tradition of Roger Miller and Ray Stevens, whose sly humor made songs funny even on repeated listening.
"I Win" is a quarantine accomplishment — one-man-band Wright performed, recorded, mixed and produced the set. He plays acoustic and electric guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion, overdubs vocals and achieves a charming, demo-style informality that suits the material.
There's nothing casual about Wright's songwriting, however. Craft and care are reflected in the way he packs clever rhymes and wordplay into concise tunes. The set is half an hour long, and one song — the delightful "I'd Be Good" — runs a minute.
Wright's last album, 2018's "Dust," was filled with compelling dark dramas, and not everything here goes for a grin. The love song "Sure Wanna Stay" and the topical "Wonder If the World Can Wait That Long" showcase his yearning tenor.
But Wright sings with tongue in cheek — a nifty trick — about logic, losing at love, cash flow woes and, on "Rhymes With Bucket," a philosophy for life. He offers a tonic for a pandemic on "Cheer Up," singing, "Probably going to be here awhile — smile." This album can help us do just that.
STEVEN WINE, Associated Press
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