MANDY BARNETT, Strange Conversation

(Dame/ThirtyTigers): ***½

Patsy Cline’s shadowed Barnett since she made a refreshing splash with her self-titled debut in 1996. Small wonder: she played Cline in the stage musical “Always … Patsy Cline,” and her smoky tones and emotive phrasing recall the late country legend. But working with producers Marco Giovino and Doug Lancio on her first album in five years, Barnett finally establishes a stronger musical identity of her own, while still offering stylistic nods to ’50s and ’60s country and soul. Highlights include seductively grooving opener “More Lovin’” and a surprising duet with John Hiatt on the Sonny & Cher chestnut “A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done.” mandybarnett.com

BILLY GIBBONS, The Big Bad Blues 

(Concord): ****

As rock stars go, Gibbons is pretty humble, and it’s not unheard of for him to jam on LA club stages with local acts like Austin Hanks. Such occasions have stoked fans’ hopes that the irreverent ZZ Top guitarist would make a solo album of witty, gritty roadhouse blues — a wish happily granted here. The unmistakable, full-bodied tones of James Harman’s harmonica are among the greasy pleasures here, along with reverberating stripper beats from drummers Greg Morrow and Matt Sorum, and searing exchanges between Gibbons and keyboardist Mike Flanigin. Satisfying from start to finish.

billygibbons.com

AMY HELM, This Too Shall Light

(Yep Roc): ***

Helm’s lustrous vocal tones and gospel conviction are intuitively complemented by bassist Jennifer Condos and drummer Jay Bellerose, longtime members of producer Joe Henry’s production stable, and guitarist Doyle Bramhall II throughout this ear-pleasing set. Helm and Henry’s tasteful, rootsy arrangements highlight the delicate tension between the earthly and the celestial in blues- and country-tinged songs by Hiss Golden Messenger, Milk Carton Kids, and Allen Toussaint, among others. As a whole it’s less inspiring than Helm’s YEAR debut “Didn’t It Rain,” but “Gloryland,” a rousing a cappella hymn played by Helm’s father Levon, takes the album out on the wings of stirring four-part harmony — a fittingly soulful tribute to the legacy Helm carries forward. amyhelm.com

NEIL & LIAM FINN, Lightsleeper  

(Lester/Inertia): ***

Pop tunesmith Neil Finn teams with son Liam for a dreamy set more intriguingly textured and less buoyant than his career-making hits with Crowded House. Despite highlights like the gauzy “Meet Me in the Air,” the Prince-nodding “Where’s My Room” and synth-sculpted “Hiding Place,” it ultimately sounds more like individually compelling elements — haunting piano solos, a sticky bassline here, a gypsy accordion there — in search of melodic unity. neilandliamfinn.com