These days I try not to write music reviews. I figure the world doesn’t really need them. Every Friday you can refresh your browser and get the new releases. Every Friday most of the new albums in the world appear on Spotify – and/or other streaming services.
This is not a whinge – just an explanation. Every year I try to write fewer record reviews than the one before. And every year I’m amazed that I still seem to write quite a lot about new albums. Old habits dying hard. But I make no effort to “keep up”. I’m moving sideways, looking back, looking all over – some of the albums I write about are huge records by big names and they’re covered everywhere. But some of the albums I write about are possibly not reviewed widely. I’m interested in movie soundtracks, jazz, ambient – those seem to be the genres that really hook me in now, to both listen to and write about.
So it’s a bit late for a half-time report – but here’s some of the albums I’ve reviewed positively this year. You know, because apparently I’m tough on music and don’t like anything!
ML Buch: Skinned Marie Louise Buch, a Danish-born, now Berlin-based composer, musician and vocalist creates pop songs and hides them inside glitch-free electronica glides; the music liquid-like in its flow, the lyrics speaking directly to and from the human condition.
A touchstone might be Oneohtrix Point Never. Certainly I can hear Daniel Lopatin’s use of texturing and dayglo fades in some of what Buch offers here. In fact it’s immediately obvious as opener Can You Hear My Heart Leave takes shape. Percussive synth pads set up both tone and rhythm before the song-proper announces itself. Eventually we’re left with a finger-picked guitar and human voice, folk music staples. Touching Screens is the pop-song highlight here, its subtle rhythmic and melodic merge recalling Don Henley’s 80s pop hits or Belinda Carlisle certainly as Buch builds on the early Grimes ideas but more calmly creates a song around a simple hook, the repeated line, “touching screens more than skin” a mantra of Black Mirror sadness, and a hopeful, happy realisation of the role technology plays in not just assisting us in our lives but in shaping relationships
Todd Rundgren: A Wizard A True Star…Live! That one person could conceive this run of music was such a thing in and of itself, but to concoct it for the stage – some 35 years on and then still sound in such surprisingly great voice too…well, that’s Todd! And Rundgren’s most concise version of his brilliant musical madness still baffles and blows minds here in this finally-presented version of the live shows.
The KLF: Solid State Logik 1 Need proof 2021 is going to be a better year? A wee glimpse and glimmer arrived on New Year’s Day with sudden appearance of this singles collection to all streaming services and the news that The KLF was back in the business of actively promoting, er even acknowledging its musical catalogue…
Blanck Mass: Calm With Horses (OST) This has been my nodding off music and my first-wake music for the last month. Sometimes on a loop. It has the added bonus of bringing back to mind the arresting images and intense character work in the film but as music it now lives on in its own space. And I love that about it.
Khatia Buniatishvili: Labyrinth I’ve been listening to Khatia Buniatishvili’s [classical piano] playing for half a decade or so and this ‘sampler’-styled collection is wondrous. Hidden depths. Beautiful emotion. Exquisite playing. It might be her finest set – and certainly works as a broad showcase.
Yussef Dayes Trio: Welcome To The Hills Here on ‘Hills’ the trio interplay is astounding, there are moments when each member gets to showcase their own chops (of course, it’s a jazz gig after all) but really the feel here is of telepathy; each player knowing they all can rub their heads and pat their tummies at the same time, more than that they can do it all together without ever muddying the waters, only ever dizzying the minds of those that listen. R.I.P. to this trio. You have to hear this killer-good live record.
Nathan Micay: Industry (OST) I love the beatless techno. Micay was making dubstep and then moved through the progressive dance genres to arrive at a sound that is a little bit Burial but is more a throwback, in terms of his film-score ideas, to things like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. The rolling aspect of the score is similar to some of the earliest work by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, perhaps particularly The Social Network.
Sly & The Family Drone: Walk It Dry The Family Drone, slyly, featured three drummers that tinkered with electronics – that’s it. Just drums and processed cassette tapes (putting the hiss in histrionics eh!) But they’ve recently added a sax player and now it’s gone full-noise fuck-off. Exhilarating, ruckus-jazz. This is Tom Waits’ workout music. This is Albert Ayler and Aphex Twin finally getting to jam. This is Fela Kuti remixed for industrial music fans. This is one hell of a noise.
Noah Preminger: Contemptment Geez, but this is just a fucking stunner of a jazz record. Get on board. Now!
Daniel Carter/Matthew Shipp: Dark Matrix Where free-jazz can challenge and be almost willful in its destruction of form, Dark Matrix is tender for the most part; these are players taking their time to work something out, to converse, to engage in dialogue. It’s riveting and beautiful and worth listening to. It could be the record that sets you off on a new love-affair with free-improv.
JD Allen: Toys / Die Dreaming JD Allen blows the tenor sax with the clean warmth of Dexter Gordon and the wild abandon of John Coltrane. Allen has, across the last two decades, racked up 14 albums as a leader and sided with plenty of great players too (I remember first coming across his name as one of the pistons that fired the band Cindy Blackman Santana would lead in and around her time hitting the skins for Lenny Kravitz). He makes Coltrane-esque music (certainly album opener, a muscular rendition of You’re My Thrill, will give you that impression) but he is working the trio format more closely aligned to great sax-men like Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. Again, there’s so much of Sonny in his sound – in that warmth and in the balladry particularly (Toys).
Hans Zimmer & David Fleming: Hillbilly Elegy (OST) Tonally, the journey of the film was a fucking mess. But tonally its score succeeds on every level. It won’t be for everyone to sit and listen to this as music in and of itself – the country-ness of theme-cues like Kentucky 1997 are just so very filmic as to possibly feel strange on a person’s stereo with no accompanying pictures – but I’m loving this work. I’m a long-time Zimmer fan and it’s easy to forget about the piles of brilliant soundtracks he’s made. There are indeed just so many. But salvaging this from a frustrating movie feels like the right gift to come away with – and there are funereal moments (We Respect Our Dead) and moments of triumph (Steel In Our Veins) that play out away from the movie they were made for as just lovely works of music in their own right.
Till Brönner & Bob James: On Vacation Till Brönner is Germany’s biggest selling jazz artist – a smooth trumpeter and vocalist. He has written scores for documentaries and is also a photographer. But most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, he’s made this album WITH BOB JAMES. Bob James is a pianist, keyboardist and composer. And if push came to shove, so to speak, I’d probably let him shit in my mouth.
Cecil Taylor/Tony Oxley: Being Astral & All Registers – Power of Two Oxley’s great gift to the drum-kit was using every component without so much as whispering in the direction of a groove. He is a percussionist of the trap-set. He reacts, he punctuates, he is a sound-designer, a conjurer that heightens the mood while summoning it. Taylor shifted piano playing away from the melodic/accompanist role it so often performs in jazz but he does not dispense with groove altogether – there’s a Dark Night of The Soul Groove that informs his work here, creeping, sometimes downright terrifying – he is all whispers in the dark, and to the dark and his is the sound that comes when you open that creaking wardrobe door or check under the bed.
The Staves: Good Woman The Staves make music that it feels impossible to dislike – the right elements are always in place: tune, musicianship, vocals, passion. And I mention that checklist not only to tick it off but to say that Good Woman surpasses the group’s other records, reinvents the band in some way whilst still retaining the very essence. This is a wonderful record. Thoughtful, so beautifully – exquisitely – drawn.
John Carpenter: Lost Themes III – Alive After Death So, look, you have – arguably – heard this all before. But if John Carpenter didn’t do it then Trent Reznor was going to. Or someone was going to tour the world and make records in the style of Carpenter. I’m glad it was actually John Carpenter. I’m pleased he got there first. And second. And now third. And though I still go back to the original movies and their themes and Carpenter has been a big part of my listening across the last two decades in particular, I am here for Lost Themes volumes IV and five and six and however many more there may be.
QOW Trio: QOW Trio It just wizzes by. Feels like an instant classic. Reminds, straight away, of the great albums you know and love by the legends of jazz. This new intergenerational trio has such a command over these tunes, such a huge wealth of knowledge and experience – the passion and love for this craft so palpable. I hope it’s not long before they record again. I’ve listened to a lot of modern jazz that’s nearly this good. I’ve not heard anything that’s better.
Yello: Point There’s something groovy-nerdy about this. And I like it a lot. But then I’ve always liked Yello. If you’ve always liked them you won’t be disappointed either. If you forgot all about them and really thought they were a two-hit-wonder then you might enjoy checking in on this also.
Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin’ – 1965-1976 She’s been anthologized before – but never as well as right here. The excellent curatorial/reissue label Light In The Attic generally delight with their finds, obscure gems, totally forgotten periods, compilations of sub-genres you’ve never heard of but instantly love by sound and perfectly compiled hits collections that tell stories. With Start Walkin’ we get Nancy’s story – we get the story of her in the decade where she mattered most, across the mid-60s and until the mid-70s.
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio: I Told You So If you’ve not heard them before let this be your entry point then check out the very fine live session and debut studio album. But if you’re already a convert then get ready for the band taking it to the next level. They now sound like the actual embodiment of their heart-on-sleeve influences.
Miles Davis: The Lost Septet Fifty years on from the European tour where this show was a feature of nightly workouts devolving and reappraising the material from the recent and upcoming records – spinning new sounds to open ears – the music is hypnotic and fresh and boasts Miles in full Hendrix-aping wah-wah trumpet-transmogrifying glory. The seven-piece line-up – the very instrumentation – a nod to Hendrix’s Woodstock ensemble; a drummer and two percussionists. Though where Hendrix was all about the guitars, Miles keeps it horn-focused, his own treated trumpet sit in and around the violent and glorious sax workouts from Gary Bartz. Bartz, like Dave Liebman, is one of the lesser heralded Miles sidemen. Hard to fit them all in the rolodex of your mind when you start thinking of names like Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and Cannonball Adderley…
William Stucky: Love of Mine Scottish reissue label Athens of The North has your back when it comes to rare boogie, outsider funk, Northern Soul, those rare jams…things you hear and love straight away without always knowing the story behind them. Like Light In The Attic and other reissue labels their job is to put in front of you the magic you didn’t know you needed.
Eric Binder Trio: Hard Bop It’s not as hard as the hard bop you know and love – but it’s clean and clear and there’s nothing challenging about it, just expert-level playing from three classy, passionate jazz-heads. The trim running time (six songs, 26 minutes) would be an EP in any other genre but in jazz – particularly a chordless bop trio format – its just another throwback to a past era of perfection. Trim the fat, serve the correct and filling portion.
Sun Ra: Haverford College, Jan. 25, 1980 (Solo Rhodes Piano) It’s a beautiful and intriguing listen from a man and musician that. over a quarter century on from leaving this planet (presumably to return “Home”) continues to surprise, to baffle, to influence and inspire.
John Patitucci/Vinnie Colaiuta/Bill Cunliffe: TRIO This is both perfect for the beginner-jazz listener and totally extra for experts. It has layers – so easily accessible for anyone new to jazz and such a deceptively well-crafted set of playing experiences for seasoned old jazz heads. A masterclass.
The Weather Station: Ignorance That rare thing happened when I first heard Ignorance. I was hooked. Hooked in a way that I could just feel would last long past the first several spins and this review and deep into next year. This is one of those albums you’ll tell several people about and many will take your word give it a spin and offer some platitude about it being ‘quite nice’. But you’ll sit with it and it with you. And later in the year it’ll be on your list of favourite releases. And beyond that it’ll sit in your collection – perhaps with the other artists mentioned here – as something that will always hook you in, that will remind you too of the powerful human (anti-)qualities, the fragilities and frustrations and feelings that are confounding and sometimes confronting. That are so deeply in all of us as to almost feel hidden. Until you hear something like this – both an album of deceptively simple songs and a roadmap to and for the soul.
Joel Ross: Who Are You? What we have here is a masterclass, a modern day triumph – a brand new jazz album that feels like it could have been extracted from the vaults, yet it pulses with the spirit of today.
Willie Nelson: That’s Life There’s just something about the way Willie puts a line, we can feel the cheeky smile as he sings You Make Me Feel So Young, the knowing reflection in the title track and, for me, most exquisitely here during In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning. That weariness in his voice isn’t some desperate valedictorian croak, rather a soft comfort arriving with wisdom, drenched in nostalgia and always just the right shade of lived-in, slightly sapped but never spent. His voice is the dog-eared novel that somehow gives you more even in the thinness of its pages, as if somehow you’re absorbing the stories of all that have bent that spine before you, as well as the story in the print. That’s what Willie does with these songs.
Tani Tabbal Trio: Now Then There are delirious bop workouts (the title track) and barely a ballad in sight – but tribute is paid to many of the greats, and there’s such a great display of wonderful playing throughout; it’s only wise older heads that can sit back like this and take their turn only when it comes. To that end, Tabbal’s solo on closer, Inky Bud, is a blur of Blakey-ness. Now Then just burns right through you. It’s a wonderful record of thrilling trio jazz.
Chris Abrahams: Appearance Because of the cascading nature of the solo piano and the setting of the music as being somewhere in-between classical and jazz and in a very nocturnal place (I always used the word crepuscular to describe the sound he conjurers, I also think he could be one of the great modern horror movie score composers, you know if he happened to be looking for another outlet) it is hard not to make an obvious comparison to Keith Jarrett. Just the Solo-ness of it all for a start. And Appearance really does whisk you away in much the manner of Jarrett’s triumphant Sun Bear and Koln concerts.
Gwenifer Raymond: Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain Slowly, surely, Raymond brings more of her personal story to these songs, reaching the album’s emotional peak in the one-two of Gawed am Gwaed and Ruben’s Song – you think, almost, that this is what Jimmy Page could have been doing with himself rather than hiding behind countless Led Zeppelin reissues. Davy Graham is in there, Martin Simpson too – it’s a giant swirl of colours and styles, and the emerging work is all Raymond’s, all her own and hypnotic and brilliant.This album has bowled me over. I’m astonished by its depth and breadth. I’m caught in the sway of its majestic powers.
Kristiana Roemer: House of Mirrors Kristiana Roemer shows serious chops, great songwriting ideas and subtle envelope-pushing on a debut album that recalls mid-period Joni Mitchell one minute (the opening, title track) and takes me back to the new ways into jazz singing that I heard from the likes of Patricia Barber (Beauty Is A Wound) and Kurt Elling (Virgin Soil).
Tindersticks: Distractions Most new Tindersticks albums blow me away on first and second listen. Then I shelve them. The catalogue so rich and deep. And the parallel career as score composers is actually enough to satiate a lot of the time. But the no-frills earnestness of this record has something truly special about it. Exquisite song selection and performances. This is a subtle stunner.
Sophie Hutchings: Scattered On The Wind Hutchings’ beautiful playing and writing is transporting – it takes you to a special place.
Pearl Charles: Magic Mirror Cinematic and subtly glorious this is an album of defiant pop songs, nothing to fault here at all. It’s pretty much perfect. Seamless. Lovely. A record like this arrives once or twice a year at best and when it does it lives on my stereo for days and weeks and months.
Pino Palladino/Blake Mills: Notes With Attachments That Blake and Pino have found each other means that Mills could push Palladino’s solo recordings into place. These are songs and song-snippets that come from Cuba and African groove ideas. And they might just have sat in the cupboard forever while Pino kept slapping de bass for a paycheck. But now you can hear this messy, glorious album jam-packed with ideas.
Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough She really is the surviving queen of country music. And as she stands at the top of the mountain the song she sings still sounds so good. This record, co-produced by Patsy Lynn Russell (her daughter) and John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s son) sounds as good as an album in 2021 by a living legend of country could sound. Everything about this sparkles and shines. As it should. The class act remains. And these songs, and these treatments, are resilient and resplendent.
Aretha Franklin: The Genesis of Aretha – 1960-1966 Here we get 22 songs that show the progress, suggesting the path of – and towards – greatness. You need dozens of discs to truly appreciate Aretha Franklin in all her glory. But this single disc will get you started in covering the early years. It’s packed with gems. And it arrives as part of a big new campaign to celebrate her legacy via re-releases, biopics and new docos. What matters most to me with Aretha Franklin, with any of the musicians I truly love, is the music. And here you get great music. That’s what makes this essential.
Neil Young: Young Shakespeare Young Shakespeare is glorious. And I’m taking old Neil at his word. This is sublime. I loved the Massey Hall show. And because Neil says this is even better that’s what I’m prepared to hear.
Punkt.Vrt.Plastik: Somit Somit is almost a hip-hop rhythm which is then worked into submission by, seemingly, two separate piano lines (on two separate pianos) being played at the same time. There’s old school breakneck bop on display here too (Ribosome) which is just another reminder that this is a jazz band. A Very Jazz Band. Indeed. One of the best I’ve heard in a while.
José James: New York 2020 (Live) There are several star turns here. Across two discs. You are spoiled for choice. Not a dud here. Just musicians playing like their livelihood depends on it. Because it does. Throw them your coins if you can. Or listen and share and talk up this magical project. There is magic here. That’s for sure. A velvet voice, a band that turns on a dime, an effortlessly churning groove – all good things. Sometimes it feels like the very best things in this life.
Nils Frahm: Graz Across nine – mostly short – instrumentals Frahm conjures soft moods and the sweep of an epic journey now and then (Kurzum at nearly nine minutes, Crossings at over six) but the John Cale-like Hammers shows a percussive instinct and, gosh, the opener, Lighter, is barely there for its first half; we all but hear the lid being lifted before the Satie-like waft starts to drift through. Gorgeous stuff. Let this take you where it will. Nils Frahm. Exquisite. Piano master.
Vijay Iyer Trio: Uneasy One of the great jazz albums of the year has arrived. One of the great albums, period. It was made in late 2019 – it was worked up over a few years before that – but it sounds fresh and vital in 2021. And feels like near career-best from all three of the musicians involved; all three among the best players working in the genre at this time.
Mikael Tariverdiev: Visions in Black & White This is glorious stuff. So easy to like. So warm to cushion back into. A lick of the classical here (Sunday) and some honking shriek-jazz there (Black and White). It’s just perfect. And when it’s not it’s intriguing. But I’m in love with this. My favourite new jazz is decades old Russian TV and film scores – or music that came from the maestro that cooked up so many of them.
Pasquale Grasso: Solo Ballads That’s Grasso’s great skill, never showing off the bag of licks and tricks just for the sake of it; forever in service to the tune. That’s the Jim Hall of it for me. The tone and taste and talent to know just what to play and when to play it.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra: Promises This album is an installation. It’s a piece of art that hangs in the air but only as it’s happening. Hit stop or let it play out and then it’s back in the box. But as you hit play the air curves, and these sheets of sound are draped across it. It’s not that all seems right in the world, more that the world itself goes on pause. That’s a magic trick worth remembering. Surely.
Norah Jones: ‘Til We Meet Again (Live) She plays the piano a lot in the shows now and on the albums – and she’s good. And that is both fairly obvious and was always the case but also is now more obvious than it ever was.
Archie Shepp & Jason Moran: Let My People Go Let My People Go is a big album of big emotions, big songs, big (but subtle) playing from huge talents. It transcends the genre. It isn’t just a jazz album – but it’s also one of the very best jazz albums you might hear this year (or any) – it’s like a musical conversation, a reunion, tear-stained and beautiful.
Nathan Salsburg: Landwerk No. 2 But really, this is the sort of gift we need in these times. An album to play on a loop – itself effectively a set of loops, or borne from such. An album to play a second time while you re-boil the jug. There aren’t many escapes offered where you can just sit out the window and contemplate a few moments passing. But Salsburg’s Landwerk project feels built for exactly that. I’m doing my best to embrace it. This music is subtly wondrous. It feels like the soundtrack is being built to a whole other world. In fact it’s two worlds coming together to forge a new one.
Tom Jones: Surrounded by Time An album that stands up so very well, from a singer that sounds like time has forever been irrelevant.
Alexa Tarantino: Firefly This is a killer jazz album. From a brilliant bunch of players with Alex Tarantino fully establishing herself as bandleader on this set.
Alela Diane: Live At The Map Room No words could do it justice when what I want is for you to listen to it. Have your own discovery. Hear it and marvel in the arrangements, so simple but intoxicating. Marvel at the words and melodies and tunes; the very best – modern – folk music you might ever hear. An Americana for all seasons. Please give this a listen.
Dinosaur Jr: Sweep It Into Space It’s been on repeat-play for a couple of weeks already and I feel the need to play it many times most days. So much joy wrapped up in hearing this band when firing on all cylinders. And so much love for these reunion years, a gift that keeps on giving. And giving.
Dianne Swann: The War on Peace of Mind This has been a long time in the making and it’s worth your time. She’s one of our great talents and perhaps we’ve left her languishing in support rather than helping to provide the platforms for this star-turn. No matter, it’s here now and it’s fabulous. Buy this record. Listen to it lots. Tell everyone you know that one of our best new songwriters has been there in the background doing it all along. And the best proof of all of that is right here. Right now.
Mandy Barnett: Every Star Above Barnett goes full Streisand on the versions of I’m A Fool To Want You and You’ve Changed, she absolutely shoots for the stars on opener, But Beautiful and she can frame the small moments within this widescreen re-take. For Heaven’s Sake, for instance, is a gentle lean-in moment – the song held in a tender caress by Barnett’s voice and then the orchestra breaks out to take the melody for a wee stroll. Shades of kd Lang to the vocal treatment. So beautiful. A gorgeous treatment.
Vincent Herring: Preaching To The Choir Vincent Herring is a hell of a player – a saxophonist that brings to mind the best of Charlie Parker’s sprightly runs and his way with a melody, just updated for the modern context.
Spines: Backstory. Spines Live 1986 Backstory is something you’ll want to hear if you’ve ever been curious at all about the Spines. It’s something you’ll love forever if you’ve ever been any sort of fan at all. And it deserves a wide audience – it’s such a polished performance, by the band then nearing its final throes as an entity first time around. They had done the work, played the gigs, made the records, it was all there and that’s all so very clear to hear. We’re lucky to have this – and good on them for carrying on the fight to be heard.
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog: What I Did On My Long Vacation (ep) God, I love this stuff. It just makes me look forward to the full album. As always with Ribot, I hear some and want more and more. And more.
Micky Dolenz: Dolenz Sings Nesmith Great album. Such great, great songs – and the sense of purpose, the living tribute to the monument of Nesmith’s songwriting ability is reason enough to want to like this.
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made Out of Sound This is an epic journey – engagement of all senses, a wild splatter-painting as album; I feel like I’m glued to a bus window, staring out at the whiplash of trees pinging by. I feel like I’m suspended in time and space with only this music hovering all around me.
Chrissie Hynde: Standing In The Doorway – Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
Text messages back and forth between her and her accompanist. Delivered in time to celebrate Bob’s 80th. Well, if you gotta serve somebody…
The Bend: We Disappear We Disappear might be named after a poem, a poem that has turned into a song. But it’s also the very spirit of and in this album – some of the players you hear here have disappeared from the physical frame already, some of them might not have long left in this world, all of them – spanning generations – are disappearing right here in front of our ears. Re-emerging and re-energising as particles and participles of the very music. The greatest gift there ever could be.
Masabumi Kikuchi: Hanamichi Released posthumously, six years after it was recorded, it features Kikuchi at the piano, in improvisational mode, creating on the spot, taking standards out for a stroll and forgetting (on purpose) when he was due to return them home, though never absent in his though is the intention of widening his gait nor challenging the normal route.
Hélène Grimaud: The Messenger I’m just stunned by this as a series of performances. I listen to this for the tranquillity and mastery of the piano. For the subtle use of chamber orchestra in support. And for the emotions conjured from both the composers and the performers. Beautiful.
Lisa Gerrard & Jules Maxwell: Burn It’s always a thrill to hear Gerrard. She’s a unique and singular talent and the pairing with Maxwell has created some stirring soul-sounds, so perfectly timed for winter. This is like musical mulled wine.
PVA: Toner (ep) The late 90s big beat era never sounded so good. The early 2010s indie-goes-dance hook-fest was never quite this good either. PVA have arrived fully formed. I can’t wait for a full-length album to capitalise on this swell of fine intent.
Marc Ribot: Marc Ribot Plays Solo Guitar Works of Franz Casseus [Reissue] Such a glorious treat to have this music again. To hear Ribot’s dedication to his old friend and teacher – and from there to the music that they both served. This has been my regular walking soundtrack around the city. Listening to it on repeat some days. It is music as transportive art. It feels sacred. There is warmth. This is music that gives you itself as a hug.
Cande y Paulo: Cande y Paulo It’s just something so soft and lovely and warm and beautiful. It’s just something you have to hear. Such pure musicianship, such talent. Excellent songs and really just wonderful.
Joan Armatrading: Consequences I listen to this new album and can hear moments (Glorious Madness, the title track) that get close to Willow, Love and Affection and some of the songs from her mercurial debut. Yet never does it sound like she’s repeating herself.
Bill Kwan: No Ordinary Love – The Music of Sade As with the best – most intriguing – tribute albums you have to forget about the originals, you have to put your connection to the original singer/writer on hold and think about what the aims of the covers-artist are. Here it’s obvious that Kwan is a fan. It’s clear that he has his version of a nice voice. And he’s combining the two to reinvent material he loves. Once you make that connection there’s a lot to like here. And the use of stirring strings alongside the small-combo jazz makes for some wonderfully exotic new textures (King of Sorrow). I’m into this. Of course I’m off to listen to Sade straight after, but not in comparison, just because this is reminding me of their brilliant catalogue.
Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong You’re Dead The Hendrix spirit is there again as Magic Mushroom sets off for psychedelic fields – and then a more jazzy approach both to the rhythm section and the guitar work comes in; heavy metal be-bop if you will.
Lucy Dacus: Home Video Lucy Dacus goes from strength to strength – she is a brilliant writer. And this works as very fine introduction and/or confirmation.
Drive-By Truckers: Live at Plan 9 July 13, 2006 A fantastic live document. A killer set. A band firing on all cylinders. And a version of the band we’ll never get to hear again.
Various Artists: The Way of Darkness – A Tribute to John Carpenter Look, it’s so Carpenter that if you’re arriving at this with only the films to go on you might think these are close enough to the originals. But if you’d done the listening you’ll spot these as loving tributes. They’re different but not so different. No one is here to radically rework them. This is about hitching the wagon. Raising the flag. Mixing the metaphor. And all the while bowing down to the horror soundtrack master.
Brooke Blair & Will Blair: Night Stalker – The Hunt For A Serial Killer (OST) I bang on about loving film music – and I really do, I’m obsessed – but some scores do not work out on their own away from the images the music was created for. Not the case here. I reckon this Night Stalker soundtrack stands up on its own. Which is just as well because I didn’t really want any lasting reminder of the gutless and voyeuristic feel of the doco mini-series.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Angel Dream (Songs from the Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’) There’s so much to lament about him no longer being here to bring new music into the world, but thoughtfully curated versions of his back-catalogue allow us to revel in the artistry as well as consider possibilities. Something about the decision to re-think and re-release this music also pleases me for wresting it from the terrible fucking film that inspired it.
Molly Lewis: The Forgotten Edge (ep) I really love this wee mini-album – right down to its knowing lack of length. The secret to this sort of party-trick is to know the limits and to never milk it for too long. The title track feels like Peter Nero, there are shades of Morricone and even some of Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack work. But this never strays over into loungey gimmick. This is simply flawless. A breathe of fresh. Well, quite literally in fact.
David Crosby: For Free Everything about this album is right. If it’s his finale, a victory lap, then it’s perfect. If it sets up even more from Crosby then it is as much of a hinge as 1971’s legendary first record and 2014’s surprise comeback.
Erik Wøllo/Michael Stearns: Convergence The music of Convergence is subtle and holds me (pardon the unavoidable pun) like the music of Hammock. The gentle sway (!) of it. Nursing. Restorative. This is the ambient music I love most – where there is no pulse, as such, but the music bursts with life through textures. Convergence is its own meditation. It is also a return to the recording world – album-wise – for Stearns. His first in nearly two decades. And the continuation of a solid streak of very good work from Wøllo. Maybe they’ll work together again. And soon. Fingers crossed.
Acute Inflections: 400 I think this best reminds us of the pure power of Marley’s songwriting. Reggae fan or not, you will find a new way in – to songs that have felt chiselled into place across the last five decades. And it’s that rare skill to have absolute virtuoso talent used only for pure joy and musical communication.
Now, believe it or not, that’s just some of the albums I’ve reviewed so far this year – the favourites, the really good ones.