Mayer Hawthorne, “Where Does This Door Go', Republic, HHH
The title of Mayer Hawthorne's third album is an apt one, as the once self-contained Ann Arbor native opens quite a few new creative doors here, working with notable, hit-making collaborators such as Pharrell Williams, Jack Splash, Greg Wells and Oak (of Oak & Pop). The result is Hawthorne's best release yet, another retro-referencing but still contemporary gem that shows growth not only in the sonic realm but also in his singing and songwriting — particularly lyrics that are even more detailed and empathetic than before. “Where Does This Door Go' is grounded in the pop-soul-jazz fusion of the mid- and late-'70s — think Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs — but fusing that even further with a contemporary urban attitude, from the loops in the dub-flavored “Allie Jones' to Kendrick Lamar's guest rap in “Crime' and the sinewy modern club vibe of “The Innocent.' Hawthorne grapples effectively with the wake of lost loves in tracks such as “Corsican Rose' and the Maroon 5-flavored “The Only One,' while “Robot Love' is cheeky, funky fun and “The Stars Are Ours' is so buoyant it seems ready to burst out of the speakers (or ear buds). The single “Her Favorite Song' strikes its own unique sonic path as Hawthorne extols the redemptive power of music, and he hits new vocal highs, and not just with his authoritative falsetto, on string-laded productions like “All Better' and the title track. In the latter, Hawthorne declares that he's “looking for a way back home' but musically “Where Does This Door Go' is clearly the right place to hang his hat.
Court Yard Hounds, “Amelita', Columbia, HHH
Things are a little different for Dixie Chicks sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire on their second venture away from the mothership. “Amelita' is stylistically broader and more assured than the duo's self-titled 2010 debut, with Maguire stepping up her contributions — including lead vocals on two of the tracks — and the siblings feeling comfortable enough to muscle things up a bit on the Banglesy psychedelic pop of “Rock All Night' and the blues-tinged “Watch Your Step.' Their harmonies remain the star of the show, of course, especially when they tuck into the rich and detailed lyricism of “Sunshine,' “Guy Like You,' “Gets You Down' and “Phoebe.' The Chicks may be in some sort of holding pattern these days, but these Hounds have plenty of bite on their own.
New & Noteworthy:
Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, “Walk Through Exits Only' (Housecore): The Pantera and Down (among others) frontman is as heavy as ever on his first-ever solo album.
Sara Bareilles, “The Blessed Unrest' (Epic): A move to New York and collaborations with fun.'s Jack Antonoff fortify the singer-songwriter's third album.
Raheem Devaughn, “A Place Called Loveland' (eOne): The R&B singer-songwriter (and now syndicated radio host) returns with his fourth album, and first in three years.
George Duke, “DreamWeaver' (Heads Up International): The keyboardist and composer pours the grief of his wife's death into his new album, with help from vocalists Lalah Hathaway, Jeffrey Osborne, Rachelle Ferrell and the late Teena Marie.
Kara Grainger, “Shiver and Sigh' (Eclecto Groove): The Australian-born singer-songwriter covers Robert Johnson and the oft-recorded “Breaking Up Somebody's Home' amidst her own originals on this new set.
Steve Hunter, “The Manhattan Blues Project' (deaconrecords): The Alice Cooper/Lou Reed cohort taps an impressive list of friends — Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Johnny Depp, Joe Satriani and more — for his latest solo endeavor.
Ronald Isley, “This Song Is For You' (eOne): The soul music icon gets help from Trey Songz and Detroit's KEM on his latest solo effort.
Joey + Rory, “Inspired: Songs of Faith and Family' (Gaither): The Americana duo breaks from its usual fare to delve into spiritual matters on their fifth album.
Kidz Bop, “Kidz Bop 24' (Razor & Tie): The perennial family favorite offers kid-friendly renditions of recent hits such as “Suit & Tie,' “Ho Hey,' “I Knew You Were Trouble' and more.
David Lynch, “The Big Dream' (Sacred Bones): The director and screenwriter's second album includes a cover of Bob Dylan's “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.'
Matt Nathanson, “Last of the Great Pretenders' (Vanguard): The San Francisco singer-songwriter co-produced his ninth studio effort — and first full album since 2007.
Pet Shop Boys, “Electric' (x2/Kobalt): A synthed-up cover of Bruce Springsteen's “The Last to Die' is just one characteristically striking moment from the veteran duo's latest release.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band, “Lickety Split' (Blue Note): The fleet-fingered slide guitar prodigy finds a new label home for his first new studio album in three years, with guest appearances by Carlos Santana and Trombone Shorty.
Seabird, “Troubled Days' (Tone Tree): The Cincinnati group raised more than $40,000 through Kickstarter to make its third album.
Seven Witches, “Rebirth' (Frostbyte Media): Singer-guitarist Jack Frost leads the New Jersey metal band through its hard-hitting ninth album.
Sick Puppies, “Connect' (Virgin): The Australian rock trio continues to expand its sound and sonic ambitions on its fourth studio album.
Cody Simpson, “Surfers Paradise' (Atlantic): The second full-length album from the Australian pop heartthrob and Radio Disney favorite.
Patrick Sweany, “Close to the Floor' (Nine Mile): The fifth album from the Akron, Ohio, Americana troubadour and Black Keys associate.
Kathy Troccoli, “Worshipsongs:'Tis So Sweet' (Spring Hill): The contemporary Christian returns to a more liturgical focus for the first time since 2005's “Draw Me Close: Songs of Worship.'
Various Artists, “Verve Remixed: The First Ladies' (Verve): Kaskade, Pretty Lights, Bassnectar and others apply some electronic veneer to recordings by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and more.
From The Vaults: The Cult, “Electric Peace' (Beggars Banquet); Andy Kaufman, “Andy & His Grandmother' (Drag City)
Soundtracks: Henry Jackman, “Turbo' (101/EMI); Various Artists, “Teen Beach Movie' (Disney); Varous Artists, “Young Justice' (La-La Land); Jeremy Zuckerman, “The Legend of Korra; Original Music From Book One' (Nick)