Medium Rotation — Warm Chris; Crooked Tree

ALDOUS HARDING Warm Chris (4AD) — The fourth studio album from Aldous Harding crackles with invention. Well, crackles might not be the right terminology, since that overall impression this smoothed-out, folk-grounded pop gives is of ideal refinement. The tracks on Warm Chris are meticulous without feeling fussed into numbing exactitude. “Ennui” is a telling example, with its echoes of prime Harry Nilsson. The unerring control only accentuates the flights of sly daring Harding often takes, as with the fascinating burbles of neo-psychedelia on the spare title cut or the twining of slippery oddities that give snap to “Leathery Whip.” The journey ranges yet further due to the way Harding shapes her vocals across the album. There’s such variance from track to track that it came seem like she’s giving solos to every member of the chorus of her inner self. She expends all of herself, and yet there’s no signs that she’s exhausted her creativity. Instead, Warm Chris is so boundless that Harding is surely just getting started. In addition to the songs named above, warm up to “Fever,” “Passion Babe,” “Staring at the Henry Moore,” and “Bubbles.”

MOLLY TUTTLE & GOLDEN HIGHWAY Crooked Tree (Nonesuch) — Molly Tuttle is quite a picker. That’s not merely opinion; there’s an official proclamation to that effect. In 2017, Tuttle was named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year, the first woman to do so in the history of the that award, stretching more than twenty-five years. Tuttle doesn’t have anything to prove; if she did, Crooked Tree would bring any jury to a unanimous decision. The album finds Tuttle committing wholeheartedly to modern bluegrass. “Dooley’s Farm,” which includes fellow Guitar Player of the Year honoree Billy Strings as a guest player, has a barbed-wire storytelling that recalls Steve Earle, and “Nashville Mess Around” spins a bright, up-and-down tale of a Midwestern transplant reveling in Music City, USA (“Just rolled in from Fond du Lac/ I’m looking for some fun/ Goin’ down to Nashville town/ To see the ponies run”). In general, Tuttle show tremendous skill for pairing boisterous music with evocative lyrics, as on the title cut, based on a Tom Waits observation about gnarled trees enduring because they’re not appealing for production: “Oh can’t you see?/ A crooked tree won’t fit into the mill machine/ They’re left to grow wild and free/ Oh I’d rather be a crooked tree.” Tuttle keeps it wild and free all right. Keep twisting with “Over the Line,” “She’ll Change,” “Castilleja,” “Side Saddle” (with Gillian Welch), and “Grass Valley.”

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