Danielle Bradbery


Big Machine Label Group

Of all the critiques lobbied against music-competition reality shows — they’re stilted, they’re unimaginative, they’re ineffective at finding stars — the argument that they don’t reveal much about their contestants has always been the least convincing. Sometimes, record labels grow young talent in petri dishes out of public sight, but shows like “American Idol” “The X Factor” and “The Voice” show all the seams, all the pimples. Who you are for several weeks in front of a national audience is very likely who you’ll be when you take a shot at your recording career.

No shock, then, that the self-titled debut album of Danielle Bradbery, the prim winner of the fourth season of “The Voice” in June, arrives without a scratch on it. Bradbery is 17 going on Faith Hill, singing with a precisely calibrated voice without a hint of risk. On “The Voice,” she was reliable to a fault with her Pam Tillis and Carrie Underwood covers: clean, crisp, dull. Her most memorable and credible performance was of Jessica Andrews’ statement of familial pride “Who I Am,” which made sense: It’s a young woman’s empowerment anthem.

Given that, it’s odd that the ample songwriting talent assembled for this album — Sarah Buxton, Josh Kear, Gordie Sampson and others — mostly give her songs about cutting loose: “Wild Boy,” about someone who “takes you on a ride like a paper airplane in a hurricane,” or “Endless Summer,” where she throws shade on the path not chosen: “I could have stayed in our hometown, married you and settled down with a picket fence/ Would have had a couple kids by now.”

At best, this antiseptic and extremely competent album is country by the numbers. Bradbery has skipped right past the example of early Taylor Swift into choppier waters that her voice, and her mien, don’t communicate. Or in other words, she’s exactly as she was on “The Voice.”

— Joe Caramanica, The New York Times

Jake Owen


RCA Nashville

Life’s a beach — an endless blur of them, really — on “Days of Gold,” the fourth album by the affable country rogue Jake Owen. And it’s clear that we should have seen this coming. Last year around this time, Owen released an EP, “Endless Summer,” that included a mildly suggestive come-on (“Summer Jam”) and a set of instructions (“Pass a Beer”). Turns out that was just the warm-up.

Owen, 32, grew up in Vero Beach, Fla., so this is his native habitat. Some of the songs on “Days of Gold,” notably the summer-bliss title track, hail surf and sand as a beau ideal, a state of mind. Elsewhere, things get a lot more literal: “Beachin’,” with its dismal, rapped verses and raise-your-cup chorus.

Strikingly, Owen had no hand in writing any of these songs: About half the album’s tracks bear a credit by Jaren Johnston, and others bear the fingerprints of first-call Nashville songwriters like Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley and Shane McAnally. Their best efforts home in on Owen’s capacity for open heartache, epitomized by the ballads on his previous album, like “The One That Got Away” and “Alone With You.”

What are the keepers? For starters, “Life of the Party,” a solid new entry in the putting-on-a-good-face subcategory of heartbroken country songs, and “One Little Kiss (Never Killed Nobody),” which feels like a worthy sequel to “Alone With You,” another that contemplates stirring the embers of a dead romance. “Thought I’d be fine to see you one more time,” Owen sings. “Yeah, right.”

— Nate Chinen, The New York Times

Glen Hansard


ANTI- Records

Trying to out-earnest Bruce Springsteen on one of his most earnest songs, “Drive All Night,” isn’t easy, but veteran Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard manages it with help from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Springsteen’s sax man Jake Clemons.

Many know Hansard from his work in the 2006 movie “Once,” and removed from his former partner Markéta Irglová, he skews serious and heavy-handed. But all four of the songs on this EP aren’t bad: “Pennies in the Fountain” uses fingerpicking to advance its folkie loneliness, and the a cappella “Standing In the Shadows” has a change-is-gonna-come heft.

A portion of the “Drive All Night” sales go to music-education nonprofit Little Kids Rock.

— Steve Knopper, Newsday