Carrie Underwood
Cry Pretty
(Capitol Nashville **½)

The most substantive American Idol is far from detail-oriented, but 2015's career-high Storyteller had enough specificity to justify the title, like the one where she recognized the lipstick on her man's collar not being her shade. But the banalities that drag down the tail end of her sixth album would be better-suited to say, Taylor Hicks: "Kingdom" (as in "this is our" and it's a metaphor for home), "The Champion" ("They knock me down and I get up again," where have we heard that before?), and the full-choir "Love Wins" (which shrewdly returns Whitney's famous "Iiiiiiiiiiiiii…" to its country origins) are all coming soon to a bad romantic drama near you. And that's without mentioning the Ludacris cameo. Luckily, the pretty-good first seven tracks boast "Drinking Alone" and the excellent "Ghosts on the Stereo," which is worthy of Storyteller itself. But they ain't "Before He Cheats." — Dan Weiss

Swamp Dogg
Love, Loss & Auto-Tune
(Joyful Noise ***)

Swamp Dogg is Jerry Williams Jr., the R&B, soul and rock-and-roll eccentric who's been a beloved cult artist since he dropped acid and left the straight world behind with 1970's Total Destruction to Your Mind. That album produced his two best-known songs in the rambunctious title cut and "Synthetic World," a timeless classic about the quest for the authentically real in a world that seems hopeless plastic.

The now 76-year-old Dogg is anything but an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud, however. On Love, Loss & Auto-Tune, he embraces modern recording techniques, teaming with producer Ryan Olson of indie bands Polica and Gayngs, who also brings his pal Justin Vernon of Bon Iver along for an intergenerational collaboration. The results are effective because the inclined-to-be-lewd Swamp Dogg — who lets it be known he approves of you having "Sex with Your Ex" — throws himself into the contemporary setting. His melodramatic songs of despair fit nicely with the cold impersonality conveyed by his Auto-Tuned vocals, making LL & A-T come off like a lonely, dirty-old-man version of Kanye West's 808 & Heartbreak. — Dan DeLuca

Wayne Shorter
Emanon
(Blue Note ****)

Whether as leader, as cofounder of progressive fusion-jazz avatars Weather Report, or as adventurous sideman (with the likes of Joni and Miles), saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter always sought the edge. His specialty is bringing listeners (and himself) to an emotional cliff with a nuanced, pulsing, and memorable melody line, then leaping into an incendiary unknown, where any sound is possible.

At 85, and with his newest three-album set, Emanon, Shorter is not about to cease his edgy, fiery predilections. He recruited graphic novelist Randy DuBurke (illustrated tomes include subjects such as Malcolm X) to create a package around the swirling orchestration, angular rhythms, and free, fluid tones of the saxophonist, drummer Brian Blade, the 34-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, bassist John Patitucci, and pianist and former Kimmel Center jazz curator Danilo Perez. Shorter cowrote the graphic novel with DuBurke and Monica Sly to discuss rogue philosophies and freedom fighting. Shorter movements such as "Lotus," "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean," and "The Three Marias," are pensive, thought-bubble dialogues between the more-vital-than-ever saxophonist and his team. While the former two tunes are deeply repetitive blues with recurrent themes and mad, free solos from Shorter and Perez, the expansive "Adventures," as with "Prometheus Unbound," are filled with post-bop bleats, modal jazz kinks, and an epic, off-key orchestral sweep that would make Gil Evans blush. — A.D. Amorosi