PJ, Rare

Much like contemporaries such as Kehlani and Jhene Aiko, Paris Jones writes about her life in realistic and plainspoken terms. As she puts it on “Benjamin,” she has money on her mind, and she’s too busy to worry about men, having children or doing the dishes. When she sleeps, as she tells us on “Awake,” she dreams of her career: “My grind keep me awake at night… money keep me awake at night.” And she works hard to convince us that she’s on the verge of greatness on “This Is What It Looks Like,” singings over the track’s acoustic guitar melody, “I’m so far from the typical/I’m nothing but original.” It remains to be seen if PJ will achieve her goal, but her Rare debut has a refreshingly honest quality, whether it’s performing over the crunchy Moog keyboards and live drums of “Come Down,” or riffing over the funk-rock rhythm of “Gangsta.” “I really wanna be gangsta,” she sings. “Really wanna be the type that don’t take shit from no one.” — Mosi Reeves

Jeff Beck, Loud Hailer

Jeff Beck, one of the mighty triumvirate of ‘60s guitar god, feels no need to modernize, retool, change or apologize for anything he’s done over the past five decades. At 71, his guitar mastery is intact and, if anything, more unruly and visionary then when he first stepped on a stage with Rod Stewart in 1968, intending to give the audience “Some Truth.” In an act of pure happenstance and serendipity Beck decided to cast his lot with two women that Queen drummer Roger Taylor introduced him to — Rosie Bones and Carmen Vandenberg from the indie band Bone — and he set right two co-writing with them. Bones and Vandenberg are sassy, irreverent, and vocally outrageous, leaving their sticky lipstick traces all over 11 songs, while Beck’s voice is a third voice, nudging them along into darker and more dangerous paths, exploring rhythms and electronics with restless abandon. But “Scared for the Children,” the stand out track, is more hymn than rave-up, a slow mediation that soars on the wings of Beck’s hushed shimmering guitar solo. —Jaan Uhelszki

Lucy Woodward***, Til They Bang on the Door***

Lucy Woodward sets the stage ablaze with Til They Bang on the Door, a neo-soul solo album produced by Henry Hey and Michael League. While Woodward is primarily known for her vocals with other artists such as Pink Martini, Rod Stewart and Snarky Puppy, her f follow-up to 2010’s Hooked! cements her ability to take center stage with self-described “masculine” horn arrangements offset by searing vocals. The album opens with “Ladykiller,” where trumpets frame spitting lovelorn declarations that segue into an explosive roar of brass band antics, then Woodward covers Nina Simone’s “Be My Husband,” where she traverses difficult emotional territory with ease. “I Don’t Know” is a bluesy rumination on vulnerability in love, while “Too Hot To Last” extinguishes sizzling passion with moody saxophone. –Sara Jayne Crow

**Good Charlotte: **Youth Authority

For their reunion album, Good Charlotte turns back the clock to 2001 and delivers a raucous, SoCal-bred slab of pop-punk and alt rock drenched in old school moves. Produced by John Feldmann (who worked on the band’s first two full-lengths), the aptly titled Youth Authority unfolds like a succession of diary entries filled with earnest and oftentimes silly ruminations on their days as young, snot-filled punks. The self-reflective “Life Changes” is an absolutely massive opener strapped to an Offspring-inspired guitar riff, while “Reason to Stay” is a scream-along love anthem drunk on reckless romance. Good Charlotte also offers up several funky pop numbers, the kind of sun-baked goodness that only California groups can properly pull off. The best has to be “40 oz. Dream,” on which singer Joel Madden longs for the era when suburban brats, “knew how to throw a party, when it was Gin & Juice, and we had Dre and Snoop.” –Justin Farrar

**Michael Kiwanuka: **Love & Hate

On his sophomore effort, Michael Kiwanuka still sounds deeply inspired by soul-folk legend Bill Withers. You can hear the connection in the English singer/songwriter’s husky cry and restlessly probing poetry. Yet the Danger Mouse-produced Love & Hate also finds him traversing a lot of exotic terrains. “Cold Little Heart” and the title track are splendorous, long-form compositions veiled in atmospheric string arrangements and space-rock guitars from the dark side of the moon. A psychedelic-tinged meditation on insecurity, “Falling” is just as introspective and sonically rich. If there’s one cut intended to slice through the album’s dreamy gauze it has to be “Black Man in a White World,” a funky, jagged and mercilessly honest anthem that requires zero explanation — simply crank it and pay attention. –Justin Farrar

Aaron Neville, Apache

Legendary New Orleans musician Aaron Neville only gets better and better. At 75, he’s abandoned the thematic albums of years past — 2006’s collection of soul classics Bring it All Home, 2010’s extravagant saintliness on the gospel-tinged I Know I’ve Been Changed and 2013’s My True Story, his love letter to doo-wop produced by Keith Richards and Don Was. On Apache, he is resolutely himself, penning most of the songs, which is a first for him. Over these 11 tunes, he shows a more realized picture of who he really is, moving from ballads, to funk, to R&B, to the earnest social commentary on “Fragile World” that recalls Marvin Gaye around the time of “What’s Going On.” Throughout, Neville sings his secret language of love, place, hardship and connection, delivering it with that still sticky-as-honey voice and its famous tremble and ache, a secret weapon that has lost nothing with age. “Stomping’ Ground,” is a fascinating autobiography set to a funky New Orleans beat, hinting at sin, sacrifice and things better left unsaid, while “Heaven” is a counterbalance to all that implied danger, a plea, an apology and finally a soul-searing song. But it’s “I Wanna Love You,” that makes the heart beat faster. —Jaan Uhelszki