THE STEEL WHEELS, Wild as We Came Here (Big Ring): 4 STARS

For the first time the acclaimed Virginia quartet incorporate percussion, along with producer Sam Kassirer’s keyboard — and, in the process, deliver one of the year’s finest, most beautifully written and performed Americana releases. Eric Brubaker’s vigorous fiddle solos enhance the title track’s epic sweep; “Take Me to the Ending” and “Broken Mandolin” (the latter inspired by Anthony Doerr’s novel “All the Light We Cannot See”) haunt with vivid imagery and guitarist/banjoist Trent Wagler’s warm, appealingly burred baritone; “Till No One is Free” floats on the band’s sibling-like harmonies with some kind of alchemical grace: “Tell me again that love will always win/ Even if you don’t know if you believe.”

TROMBONE SHORTY, Parking Lot Symphony (Blue Note): 3 STARS

A charismatic live performer, New Orleans’ favorite son grounds his fourth album with slick covers of the Meters’ “It Ain’t No Use” and Allen Toussaint’s “Here Come the Girls.” The trombonist/trumpeter (aka Troy Andrews) also serves up some of his smoothest R&B crooning with “Dirty Water,” co-written with Ethan Gruska. But they can’t quite match the ebullience of his horn solos during “Tripped Out Slim” or the opening and closing “Laveau Dirge” tracks, and “No Good Time” slogs instead of smolders. It’s a party that needs more fresh air.

LYDIA AINSWORTH, Darling of the Afterglow (Arbutus): 3.5 STARS

Intelligent and deftly produced, the Juno-nominated Canadian artist’s sophomore outing positions her satiny soprano amidst electronically sculpted atmospheres that evoke the chill of broken promises and relationships. A deliberate reading of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” scrapes the depths of her vocal range and “WLCM” sounds lyrically trite, but she skillfully deploys poetic metaphors on tracks like “The Road,” “Open Doors” and the dreamy “Into the Real.” Recommended for fans of 9Bach, Enya and Kate Bush. At the Echo in Echo Park Monday, May 8.


(4AD): 3.5 STARS

The piercing, after-midnight intensity that’s made the Oklahoma songwriter a favorite with “Sons of Anarchy” fans and music supervisors remains, but on his fourth album he cuts that melancholy with hope and sweetness. “Ain’t we gold, ain’t we blue/ Ain’t life hard, ain’t love true,” he moans during the urgent “Ain’t We Gold,” backed by a tight band that knows when to rock and when to roll. It’s gratifying to hear him cut loose, though ballads like the gospel-inflected “Slow Down Easy,” “No Glory in Regret” and “Latchkey Kid” are the most emotionally compelling.