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Vocal trials aside, Twain still daring

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B- Shania Twain

Shania Now

Mercury

Shania Twain enumerates many kinds of loss on Now, her first album since the end of her marriage to producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who helped Twain revolutionize country music in the 1990s with pop-leaning hits like “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”

There’s the loss of innocence she describes in “Poor Me,” which appears to recount Twain’s discovery that her husband was having an affair with her best friend. And there’s the loss of trust she says she had to regain before she could love someone else in “Life’s About to Get Good.”

On this surprising yet frustrating album, Twain shows that her taste for adventure and her commitment to polish remain intact.

Like her mega-selling Come on Over and Up! albums, Now cuts a wide stylistic path, veering from rootsy numbers such as “Light of My Life” and windswept ballads like “I’m Alright” to the zany “Let’s Kiss and Make Up,” which layers a folky acoustic lick over a pulsating tropical-house groove.

The problem is Twain’s singing. In interviews she said that she suffered from a temporary loss of her voice related to Lyme disease. When her voice returned, she said it was lower and less flexible. That works out OK in the slower, moodier tunes. But the uptempo material feels flat and robotic.

In her heyday, Twain sang with an exuberance to match her and Lange’s busy, vivid arrangements. But that attitude is lacking from a party song like “More Fun,” which is about as convincing as an ad in an airline magazine.

Hot tracks: the jazzy “Light of My Life,” “I’m Alright,” “Life’s About to Get Good”

(Twain is scheduled to perform June 18 at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena.)

— MIKAEL WOOD,

Los Angeles Times (TNS)

B+ Miley Cyrus

Younger Now

RCA

Miley Cyrus says she named her new album Younger Now because she feels more youthful at 24 than she did as a boundary-pushing teen.

But make no mistake. The songs on this album are far more mature than anything else she has ever done — even more than the 2013 blockbuster album Bangerz, which she assembled with teams of producers and songwriters.

Cyrus expresses herself well. “I’ll start feeling mad, but then I feel inspired,” she sings on the delightfully simple ballad “Inspired,” which she wrote for Hillary Clinton.

Maybe Cyrus learned from her godmother, Dolly Parton, who appears here on the sweet “Rainbowland” using her powers to charm as a singer doing lovely harmonies, as well as in a voicemail talking about her recording process and lack of tech savvy.

Are there more elegant ways to express some of these emotions? Sure. But it all sounds real. The ache of “Miss You So Much” sounds more believable than so much of what is on country radio today, as she worries about loss over layers of echoing guitars. “A Week Without You” manages to sound like classic country, which she shakes up with her swearing and timely imagery.

On the title track, Cyrus seems to carve out a niche — part-rock, part-pop, the edge provided by her raspy voice and unexpected harmonies. “No one stays the same,” Cyrus sings in the memorable chorus. “Change is a thing you can count on.”

Hot tracks: “Miss You So Much,” “Younger Now,” “Rainbowland”

— GLENN GAMBOA,

Newsday (TNS)

B Foo Fighters

Concrete and Gold

Roswell/RCA

You might grow frustrated with Dave Grohl’s consistent displays of competence and rarer bursts of inspiration, or his ubiquity as the rock guy at every awards show celebrity jam. But in general, the Foos continue to make decent, if not particularly memorable, records.

Working with Adele producer Greg Kurstin, Concrete and Gold sharpens the Foo sound without being overly glossy. For a guy who is at heart a (great) drummer, Grohl has always had a surprising melodic gift. And befitting an album that features Paul McCartney as a guest, Concrete and Gold sounds downright Beatles-y at times. (Justin Timberlake and Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman are also contributors.) Along with raging riff rockers like “La Dee Da,” the Foo’s ninth studio album includes its share of sweet and quiet moments. Though most of those, like the opening “T-Shirt” and delicate-at-first “Dirty Water” eventually rev themselves up into thunderous arena rock, as the band can’t resist attempting to be all things to all people.

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Album cover for Miley Cyrus's "Younger Now" + Enlarge

Hot tracks: “La Dee Da,” “T-Shirt,” “Dirty Water”

— DAN DELUCA,

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

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