CASSANDRA WILSON, Coming Forth By Day (Legacy): 4 Stars

Similar to how Billie Holiday’s behind-the-beat phrasing broke with jazz tradition, Wilson’s idiosyncratic style and musical curiosity transcend genres. Here the Grammy-winning chanteuse re-dreams Holiday’s music in tandem with top-flight players and Nick Cave producer Nick Launay, in vibey arrangements thick with guitars, piano, saxophone and drums. Where Lady Day adopted rueful, conversational approaches to “Don’t Explain” and “Good Morning Heartache,” string-heavy selections from her 1940s Decca catalogue, Wilson transforms them into hypnotic seductions. “Billie’s Blues” revels in earthy sensuality, though the dramatic orchestration underscoring the surreal horror of “Strange Fruit” nearly overwhelms its stark poetry. A grand showcase for Wilson’s interpretive virtuosity, and a spiritually honest tribute to Holiday.


RAY WYLIE HUBBARD, The Ruffian’s Misfortune (Bordello/Thirty Tigers): 3½ Stars

You know what you’re getting with Hubbard  — mean slide guitar, throbbing bluesy rhythms, twisted wit — but some of the Texas veteran’s albums pack more concentrated punch than others. Count this a winner. Credit its rocking dynamic to son Lucas Hubbard’s and Gabe Rhodes’ electric fretwork, not to mention longtime drummer Rick Richards and bassist/co-producer George Reiff. But it’s Hubbard’s flinty worldview and metaphor-rich songwriting that spark the fire in keepers like “Chick Singer Badass Rockin’,” “Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues,” “Stone Blind Horses.”


WILLY PORTER, Human Kindness (Weasel): 3 Stars
Easy-going grooves and engaging pop melodies set a hopeful tone throughout the Wisconsin folk-rocker’s studio return following his 2013 “Cheeseburgers and Gasoline” collaboration with Carmen Nickerson. Longtime acoustic fans will likely savor his robust guitar work and romantic paeans like “Constellation”; the spirit and rubbery spring of tracks like “Elouise” and “This Train” may perk jam-band ears too. Other highlights: “Walking With the Man,” title track (“All our second chances come/ When we’re done closing our eyes”).


SEAHORSE, The Fire’s Heart (Ravens Flight)3 Stars

Conflicted characters and poetic images distinguish this tuneful collection from Seahorse, aka Willamette Valley-based guitarist/songwriter Rich Swanger and whatever players he rings around his sweetly soothing melodies. Songs like “This Little Light” and “Mansion” nod in the direction of folk/Americana forebears like Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen, minus the former’s twang and the latter’s gravitas. Highlights: “Nightingale,” “Tyndall Rose,” “Anchor” (“I don’t know where I’m going/ I don’t know where you’ve been/ All I know is the boat keeps drifting/ And the fog comes crawling through the bay”).