Lady Gaga, "Joanne" (Universal)
Lady Gaga has spent the last few years proving her vocal chops — the Grammy-winning album with Tony Bennett, the show-stopping "Sound of Music" tribute at last year's Academy Awards, her performance of "Till it Happens to You" for her Oscar nomination this year — and her strong voice is the star of the promising but uneven "Joanne."
Those performances may have hinted at what this album could be: a stylistic departure from her dance-pop past. "Joanne" is more like a rock-and-country album with a few dance songs sprinkled in.
It doesn't feel like a new persona as much as an artist exploring her boundaries. The result is a little haphazard, but it's interesting to hear where she might be heading.
"Joanne" is named for the pop star's late aunt. The title song is fittingly tender, though Gaga's voice sounds affected. Backed by acoustic guitar and simple percussion, it ultimately lends the track a timeless feel.
Gaga employs an equally obvious vocal technique — this time a stiffened vibrato — to lesser effect on the downtempo ballad "Angel Down."
She sounds more natural, even fierce, elsewhere, particularly on the heartfelt "Million Reasons" and the rocker "Diamond Heart."
Gaga co-wrote and produced every song, most of them with Mark Ronson, who also plays guitar, bass or keyboards on many of the tracks. Other co-writers include Beck, Florence Welch, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, folk-rocker Josh Tillman and country hit maker Hillary Lindsey.
There's a lot going on, and there's no real cohesion, but there are a few catchy standouts likely to merit replays.
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