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Miranda Lambert: ‘Platinum’

Let’s cut to the chase: Miranda Lambert’s new "Platinum" (RCA) album isn’t just the finest work of her already-strong career, it’s also the best album so far in an already impressive 2014.

Lambert does it by foregoing marketing strategies and current trends. She simply follows her heart and speaks her mind.

It’s hard to imagine another superstar singer daring to be as raw as Lambert is in "Bathroom Sink," while still managing to rock hard.

Lambert effortlessly bounces from the Western swing style of "All That’s Left" with The Time Jumpers to the Def Leppard-styled arena rock of "Somethin’ Bad" with Carrie Underwood. It’s clear that "Platinum" isn’t about packaging Lambert as some sort of salable country star, which was an issue with her last album. This is about ripping away the packaging to let Miranda be Miranda.

Whether it’s the Bonnie Raitt-ish "Holding on to You," which she co-wrote with fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe and Jessi Alexander, or the honky-tonk sing-along "Gravity’s a Bitch," Lambert uses whatever country-leaning style suits her material best. She may be most effective, though, when, like her husband, Blake Shelton, she romanticizes the glory days of country, as she does in the first single, "Automatic," and the gorgeous "Another Sunday in the South."

But considering how great "Platinum" is, Lambert better watch out. She may be leading country into a new Golden Age.

-- Grade: A

Bob Mould: ‘Beauty & Ruin’

The Bob Mould Renaissance continues with "Beauty & Ruin" (Merge), picking up where the outstanding "Silver Age" left off in combining hard rock and memorable melodies.

Mould captures both hope and despair well here, raging like he did in his Husker Du days in "Kid With Crooked Face" and "Tomorrow Morning," picking up some Foo Fighters-styled streamlining on "Little Glass Pill."

The single "I Don’t Know You Anymore" and wound-up generation-gap lament "Hey Mr. Grey" are as irresistibly catchy as anything from Sugar’s heyday. However, it’s the wrenchingly lovely future sing-along "Let the Beauty Be" that shows that Mould continues to grow artistically beyond his already legendary past.

-- Grade: A