It’s the Most Musical Time of the Year

Now Hear This !  Issue 12    December 2018

It’s time for my year-end issue, and it is jam-packed with news and reviews you can use!  In all, there are 17 reviews of new music to come across my ears since the last issue in mid-October, and as usual, it spans across my  broad spectrum of musical tastes.  So… grab your libation of choice, and kick back and have a good read, watch, and listen.  Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, the blog is now a full-fledged website – it is still under construction, but I hope to have a home landing page and a new logo soon!  This month’s image may become permanent – what do you think?  Lastly, here’s wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!


RANDOM NOTES

Here in the Columbia, SC area, we’re about to lose one of our three remaining brick & mortar music spots – a few years ago, we lost two Sounds Familiar locations, and now we’re losing Manifest Discs, as its’ corporate parent f.y.e. has decided to shut our location down; the Charlotte location will remain open.  Overhearing the store manager talk to a customer about the closing , he mentioned f.y.e wanted better performance from them in terms of all the other stuff it has its’ stores selling, like headphones, turntables, tshirts, and other paraphernalia – apparently, doing a good job selling vinyl, CD’s DVD’s and Blurays wasn’t good enough .  This is what happens when a former independent store is bought out by a corporate player.  So we’ll be left with just Scratch ‘n Spin, and my personal favorite, Papa Jazz… and then another corporate media store in 2nd & Charles.

I did manage to check out a new-to-me store during a recent trip to Savannah, GA.  Rody’s Records is located not far from the city’s Historic district, and is a relatively small independent retailer.  This is the place to go if you’re looking for rare, collectable vinyl albums- bootleg concerts and stuff like that.  Their CD selection is rather meager at the moment (they’re looking to vastly expand their offerings in this area), although I did manage to find a copy of Ultravox The Collection for five bucks, AND they had two copies of a Miles Davis poster from the 50’s, both of which I bought.  The staff there, which on the Thursday evening I visited the store, consisted of a talkative guy named Keith; he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of music (always nice to talk to someone like myself), and knowing trivial things like the fact that frontman Midge Ure from Ultravox started out as a member of Thin Lizzy- did any of you know that?  I didn’t…. would’ve never made that connection.  Overall, it’s a cool little place I’ll visit whenever I’m in town.  SUPPORT YOUR INDEPENDENT MUSIC RETAILER!!

The Sade watch is ON!  The original organic Soul diva is in the studio, and we may FINALLY get some new music from her sometime in 2019.  She released a new track as part of the Widows soundtrack called “The Big Unknown“… hear the song below…

Earlier this year, she released a song for another movie soundtrack, Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time… the song is called “Flower of The Universe“… hear it below…

Sade has released a total of just six studio albums… since Stronger Than Pride was released in 1988, she has released just three albums in the last 30 years!  Eagerly waiting for some new music from her…. at the same time, perhaps her male counterpart, Maxwell, seems poised to release the third and final piece to the Blacksummersnight trilogy.  His new single “Shame” was recently released… see the video below…

He released another track earlier this year called “The Glass House“… check it out…

Here’s a not widely known fact: if the music on his first three albums had a familiar sensual feel, it’s because he used Sade’s band, known as Sweetback when they perform without her, as the backing band.  They have released  a couple of nice albums under that name; check ’em out!

In other news, next month’s Grammys may take on the slogan #GrammysSoGirly… the last two years, it’s been #GrammysSoWhite and then #GrammysSoBlack, and this year, it appears to be all about the female artists.  Of particular note are two things for me: 1.) Cardi B is nominated for five Grammys… FIVE Grammys!  That, to me says something about the value of a Grammy award these days.  If you didn’t read my review of her Invasion of Privacy album, please check out my post “Have You Heard That New…” from April of this year, and you’ll understand why it appalls me.  We can accept her talking about her girl parts throughout the album, but a radio station can BAN a song like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside“, a song that’s been around for three quarters of a century, from being played on the radio because now someone appropriates the song as a scenario for date rape??  2.) Taylor Swift seems to have caught everyone by surprise with her recent political endorsement of a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee senate.  Republicans wanted her to “just stick to music”, the Far-Right denounced the woman they considered their Aryan princess, and even some people who received her support were taken aback.  Surprisingly, she was shut out of all Grammy consideration- maybe Hollywood isn’t so “liberal” after all…

Record companies can make me so mad sometimes!  In my last article, I reviewed the new Amos Lee album My New Moon, which was released at the end of August; his label, Dualtone Records, has just now released a Deluxe edition of the album, including SEVEN additional tracks!  Why didn’t they release both versions at or around the same time??? They want me to buy the album a second time, I suppose, to maximize profits; don’t know if I’ll bite, although I’d like to – among the tracks is a nice acoustic cover of the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Going On?”.  Similarly, Lake Street Dive, whose latest album Free Yourself Up was reviewed in my May article, has released a new EP called Freak Yourself Out, it has five new tracks from the same sessions that produced the album. Now, the album clocks in at about 44 minutes, the EP around 20 minutes – get where I’m going?  They could’ve put all the tracks on the original album, or at the very worst, release the dreaded Deluxe edition of the album with the extra tracks!

If you ask me, the record companies aren’t doing themselves any favors with those of us who still want the physical medium of a CD, a market which has been overtaken by digital downloads and streaming, by doing this kind of shiggedy…

Finally, we mourn the loss of Jazz singer Nancy Wilson… my fellow bloggin’ buddy Daddydforreal’s favorite singer… she is to him what Ella Fitzgerald is to me.   She exuded class and elegance, an under appreciated singer who was also a social activist back in the day.  May she rest in Heaven… check out a clip for the song for which she won a Grammy in 1965, “How Glad I Am“…


THE HEARD  (Reviews)

Dead Can Dance

“Dionysus”

The best way to describe the sound of Dead Can Dance is to imagine what pop music might’ve sounded like hundreds of years ago.  The duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry have been releasing music now for nearly 35 years (both also having released several solo albums), having made their name alongside their 4AD labelmates Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil for their mysterious, ethereal sound; the name of the group stems from a book quote, and a play on the word “decadence”.   They were lumped in as part of the Goth crowd by association, and their 1984 self-titled debut album did nothing to change the perception.  Future releases, however, separated them from their peers, as they developed a Neoclassical sound rooted in Gaelic Folk, using medieval instrumentation and vocalizing in ancient tongues, including Gregorian chant.  They broke up in the mid-90’s, only to reform a decade later; their more recent releases have become more rooted in other World music influences.

Dionysus, their ninth studio album, continues a pattern down this same path that began with 1996’s Spiritchaser, their final studio album before the split, and continued through their 2012 comeback album Anastasis.  You’ll hear a lot of African polyrhythms, Middle Eastern mantras, and Asian influences throughout the tracks, and is remarkable for the fact that this celestial music is created and performed (with only occasional augmentation) solely by the duo.  Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, fertility, and ritual ecstasy, and the album explores a journey through his life; it is formed as two Acts: a three part, mostly instrumental set, and a four part set which has some vocalizations and chanting from the duo.

The results of all of these influences meshing together is beautiful, invigorating, occasionally challenging music that, in some spots, you can actually dance to (something that hasn’t often been said about DCD releases).  Having followed this group since the very beginning and possessing all of their earlier stuff, it is a wonderful privilege to receive new music from them.  This is an album of the year candidate… check out the video for “Act II: The Mountain“…

Makaya Mc Craven

Universal Beings

Latest release from 35 year old jazz drummer born in Paris, France, but currently based in Chicago; this is his most recent experiment with live improvisational Jazz and Hip-hop. 

The live jam sessions were recorded in Chicago, New York, L.A., and London, the bit parts spliced together in the studio to create this double album.  The tracks are not songs per se, but a collage of ideas that become riffs that often never resolve anywhere, they just morph into a hypnotic groove that’s often minimalist in nature, but seldom monotonous.  The instrumentation can include such pairings as bass, drum, and cello, or bass, drum, saxophone and violin; Makaya always makes it a point to have at least one woman among the musicians, as well.

For both Jazz and mature Hip-hop fans, this joint is off the beaten path, but it is a must have for both camps.  It is part of an ongoing set of albums McCraven has produced in the past several years; also check out his release earlier this year, Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)… Check out “Black Lion” from the album…

Jose James

“Lean On Me”

First and foremost, Jose is a gifted Jazz vocalist; he is also chameleon-esque in the respect that he will genre hop from one style to another- his last album was Trap Soul, and I thought he’d lost his mind, especially since the album that preceded that one was his wonderful reinterpretations of Billie Holiday classics. So when I heard he was doing a tribute album of Bill Withers classics, I was highly intrigued… and a little concerned. His label mate, and current King of vocal Jazz, Gregory Porter, did an album last year of covers of his musical hero Nat King Cole; that album, while pleasing enough, seemed to lack the personality of the artist covering the music, and begged the question: do you reimagine the music to give it a new wrinkle, your spin, or just recreate it out of reverence for the original artist?

Jose’s answer was the latter.  In an interview posted on Blue Note’s website, he said he felt there was only one choice for him, so he got a band together and played the songs… pretty much the way Bill did them.  All of the most familiar songs from Wither’s eight studio albums are here- with nine of the twelve tracks coming from his three studio albums for the Sussex label: 1971’s As I Am, 1972’s Still Bill, and 1974’s +’Justments.  You get “Grandma’s Hands“, “Ain’t No Sunshine“, “Use Me“, “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)“, the title track, and a couple of lesser known tracks like “Better Off Dead“, “Hope She’ll Be Happier” and “Kissing My Love“.  From Bill’s Columbia Records output, which spanned for 10 years and across five studio albums, James picked the two obvious choices, “Lovely Day“, which he duets with Lalah Hathaway, and “Just the Two of Us“, as well as the lesser known chestnut “Hello Like Before“.

As far as I’m concerned, James did a good job of covering the tunes… perhaps too good.  Since I own all of Wither’s studio albums and the live album (I revere him, too), I found myself reaching for them to compare how James’ version stood up against the originals.  The only real difference between them was that James essentially used a jazz band to back him up, so there are some instrumental solos in some of the tracks; I always came out favoring the original versions.  And this is where the reverential treatment doesn’t work, in my opinion.  A reimagining of the material would bring something new and fresh to it, while this method just does what has already been done… and Bill did it best.  If you can’t do more than just replay the music, why not just leave it alone?  This project, like Porter’s, seems to benefit the artist more than the listener – I only bought Porter’s project because I don’t own any of Nat King Cole’s music (not yet, anyway) – but when it comes to this project, I’ll just stick with the originals… here is the video for “Lovely Day“…

Gregory Porter

“One Night Only (Live at the Royal Albert Hall 02 Apr 2018)

This is essentially a live version of Porter’s last studio album, Nat King Cole & Me, performed before a packed house at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.  If you happened to purchase the Deluxe version of that album, all 15 tracks are included in this live performance; he managed to also perform four tracks from two of his other four studio albums: “Hey Laura” and “No Love Dying” from 2013’s Liquid Spirit, and “In Heaven” and “Don’t Lose Your Steam” from 2016’s Take Me to the Alley.

As I mentioned in the previous review on Jose James, Porter paid tribute to his musical hero, and covered his music reverently, essentially redoing the tracks in much the same manner as Cole originally did them; to me, this method is more gratifying to the artist than to the listener.  If there is a reason to buy this album at all (especially if you bought the studio version) it’s that Gregory injects a little of his wonderful musical personality into the tracks in this live setting; I actually favor this version over the studio version for that reason.  Overall, I love me some Gregory Porter, and I’m glad he got to cover Cole’s music; now, though, I’m ready for some new Porter music… In the spirit of the holidays, here is Gregory performing “The Christmas Song“…

The Beatles

White Album (Super Deluxe)

This sort of thing really pisses me off; WHY does Capitol/EMI continue to try and milk the buying public into purchasing the same album over and over?

So for the umpteenth time, we are treated to a Beatles reissue; this time, we have demo versions of tracks from this album.  The commercially available version gives you the original double album newly remixed and remastered by Giles Martin (son of the album’s original engineer George), plus one disc of demos; this version you can download from iTunes gives you three extra discs of demos, rehearsal sessions, etc., turning the White Album into the White Box Set ! I own a box set with this sort of exhaustive coverage of the music – The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve – and among the things we were treated to are rehearsal takes that were interrupted because Billie coughed, or she developed too much phlegm in her throat, and alternate takes that were considered substandard to the version that was ultimately released on the album.  Part of the reason why these demos were unearthed was to show that there wasn’t as much acrimony among the members as previously thought- rehearsal sessions were recorded, ideas were exchanged, and they worked with the various parts together- a stark contrast to what has been thought of as four members of a group working independently on their own distinct individual sounds.

Unless the record company can find some brand new, never before heard tracks from the Beatles, I wish they’d stop trying to put a new wrinkle on what we already have, ’cause I’m NOT buying it…

A Certain Ratio

acr:set

This is a career spanning set of seminal Manchester UK post punk/art funk band, going back to their infancy in the late 70’s on Factory Records, home to other influential bands, such as Cabaret Voltaire, OMD, and Joy Division, who, of course, later became New Order.  Mute Records has taken on the task of reissuing their entire back catalog of ten albums, from 1979’s The Graveyard and the Ballroom to 2008’s Mind Made Up.  It also includes some non-album singles, including perhaps their most well-known song, a cover of Banbarra’s “Shack Up“, which spent some time on the Billboard 100 Disco charts.  This compilation’s 14 tracks leans heavily (and rightfully so) towards their earlier material.  After 1986’s Force album, the group lost keyboardist Andy Connell, as he went on to form Swing Out Sister.  The band’s sound veered towards rave culture in the late 80’s/early 90’s, before returning to their signature sound later in the 90’s.  They had been fairly dormant, releasing only one album in the last two decades; however, this set includes two new tracks: “Make It Happen“, and “Dirty Boy“, a collaboration with the great Barry Adamson… check out the video for “Shack Up“, which dates back to 1980…

Barry Adamson

Memento Mori (Anthology 1978-2018)

Another career spanning set from Mute Records of the solo career of former bassist for the post-punk group Magazine, and also of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.  Inspired by filmmakers like Ennio Morricone and John Barry, Adamson decided to make cinematic epics for nonexistent films, beginning with what I consider his best work, 1989’s Moss Side Story. He has since gone on to release eight other solo albums, as well as score music for actual films, like Delusion, Gas Food Lodging, Lost Highway, and others.  His soundtracks always seem to focus on the underbelly of society, the seedy side; film noir is his specialty.  This collection includes one new track, “Hummingbird“, and A Certain Ratio’s reworking of the track “I Got Clothes” from last year’s Love Sick Dick EP… here is an audio clip of “007- A Fantasy Bond Theme“, from his 1992 album Soul Murder

Ella Mai

Ella Mai

The debut album from 24 year old Brit Ella Mai Howell came on the heels of her smash single “Boo’d Up“; that track was so hot, I saw videos of street performers playing the song on a number of instruments… heck, I can play it on violin and viola myself.  In my opinion, the followup single “Trip” was actually a better song, and it did well on the charts, but didn’t have nearly the same effect as its’ predecessor.

Ella, who cites her primary influences as 90’s artists like Brandy, Mariah Carey, and Lauryn Hill, among others, says she was named after that legendary jazz singer I love so much; while I don’t hear that Ella’s influence anywhere, I can definitely detect the early Brandy-ish flava in both the song simplicities and the instrumentation, which is normally kept to a minimum.  Think of “Best Friend” or Lauryn’s “The Sweetest Thing” or even Erykah Badu’s “On & On” and how beautifully simple they kept it; that’s how she’s got it going, with just primarily bass, drums and piano for the most part.  As for the songwriting, one thing I will commend her on is that every song is not about P ‘n D (check my last article if you missed that discussion)… only the track “Own It” veers in that direction, and even it isn’t vulgar; the lyrics to “Dangerous“, for instance… “That’s dangerous / There’s no one else I trust / I put my all in us / I know the risk in love, yeah / That makes this dangerous / I still want all of ya / You got me so wrapped up / What if we’re savin’ love? / That’s dangerous..”  We all can identify with that feeling of vulnerability… or the closing track “Naked“… “But what if I told you there’s nothing I want more in this world / Than somebody who loves me naked / Someone who never asks for love, but knows how to take it / Are you that somebody who sees a wall and breaks it? / Are you ready to fight just to see what’s lost behind my flaws? / Can you love me naked?…”  Songs with a little bit of depth to ’em, not a bad thing.  Now, on the flip side, is the latest single “Whatchamacallit“, featuring Chris Brown in a song about two people cheating on their partners with each other; you can throw that one back.

Her album is also fairly light on features, another one of my pet peeves; John Legend makes an appearance on “Everything“, and another female vocalist on the rise, H.E.R. joins her on “Gut Feeling“, and other than the aforementioned Chris Brown, that’s it over 16 tracks.  There’s a lot to like here, and if her writing continues to mature, she will be in the game for some time to come… and she purdy too, despite all that tat action on her hand and arms…. check out the video for “Trip“…  

Mumford & Sons

Delta

The thing about when a band begins to evolve their sound, there is usually a mixed reaction… some people roll with the changes, and others have a visceral reaction in opposition to them.  As this is my first exposure to Mumford & Sons, I’ll approach a critique of this album differently than longtime fans, as I will have nothing with which to compare it – at first – I’ll go back and listen to the earlier stuff later, and then I’ll make my assessment on their sound evolution.  For now, I’ll listen to this, their fourth studio album, and merely talk about what I heard.

My curiosity with Mumford & Sons was due in part to the fact that I thought their name was cool…. for numerous groups that I’ve come to love over the years, my initial attraction was their name.  Also, I heard their sound was a neo-folk which was both critically acclaimed, and popular.  Many negative fan reviews have said they’ve gone electric, de-emphasizing acoustic instruments in general, the banjos in particular- a trend started with their last album, 2015’s Wilder Mind.   So what I heard certainly sounded like a band whose sound is in transition, and trying to diversify even more.   For instance, “Picture You ” and “Darkness Visible” essentially play as one long track, and are almost Moby-esque, with its’ mildly funky beat and electronic flourishes.  Elsewhere, there are several slow building tracks designed for the arena; of all the “electric” tracks, I favored “Rose of Sharon” the most.  What I imagine they may have sounded like prior to this transition were “Woman“, “Wild Heart“, and “If I Say“, all of which are nice tracks.

Overall, as a complete project, I found there were some things I liked, other things I could leave behind; maybe once they complete their transition and settle on a sound, I can get a better read on today’s Mumford & Sons… this project was a bit uneven, in my opinion.  Now….. after listening to Delta, I went back and listened to their second album, 2012’s Babel.  See, I don’t know now if the evolution isn’t such a bad idea.  The earlier album had a lot more energy to it, almost a punkish energy using folky instrumentation, but it just doesn’t resonate with me; I CAN see, however, how fans enamored with that earlier style might be dismayed by the new directions they’re taking… anyway… here’s a lyric video for “If I Say“…

T.I.

Dime Trap

There has been some debate recently on who is responsible (or to blame, depending on your viewpoint) for the phenomenon known as Trap music.  The architect of the style, which I consider to be an update on 90’s trip-hop, would seem to belong to the artist who named his second album Trap Muzik back in 2003 – rapper, actor, and businessman T.I.

For this, his tenth album, T.I. wants to diversify the Trap style, as well to deflect from himself total responsibility for creating it; he wants us to consider all the artists in the game as having contributed to the continuing evolution of Trap.  And as such, just about every track on the album has a different producer, in order to spread the wealth.  As for the tone of the album, T.I., at just 38 years of age himself, presents himself as an elder statesman of sorts, presenting tracks that serve as a kind of instruction manual for the aspiring player in the hustlin’ game, as well as speak on the consequences of your actions.  In particular, he bares his soul on several tracks, where he relays personal experiences as lessons to others.; he also employs Dave Chapelle as narrator throughout the album.

As I see it, there’s no need to point out specific tracks here, it pretty much flows with that theme, as well as the usual topic of loyalties within your circle.  For all the cooks that were in the kitchen to concoct this musical buffet, it holds together pretty well, and T.I. is in sharp form lyrically – he goes in hard and stays there… check out the video for “Wraith“…

The 1975

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

So here’s another band for whom I was intrigued by their name as to what they sounded like.  For me, 1975 was  a year that began to shape the future direction of my life – I was prepared to learn a bunch of foreign languages, so I could be an interpreter for the government – but then came disco music, especially Silver Convention and their string section – I decided to take up the violin, and the rest is history.  Now, as for The 1975, they’re a quartet from Manchester, UK, birthplace of a couple of other artists in this months’ issue, and this is their third album, and the first half of a duology that will culminate with a second new album in the spring of 2019.

As the title alludes, this is an album about the illusory concepts of millennial love and its’ many manifestations.  This is a band that seems to write songs as I would write them – the musical backdrop completely belies the subject matter.  For instance, “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” is a track with a danceable, mildly Afrobeat-type rhythm about digital infidelity… “
I swear that /  I only called her one time / Maybe it was two times? / I don’t think it was three times / It can’t be more than four times / I think we need to rewind / You text that boy sometimes / Must be more than three times / I didn’t mean to two-time you, two-time you / To two-time, two-time you…” Another single from the album, “Love It If We Made It” is a song lamenting the great social divides in the world, the chorus being a message of hope… the track itself sounds to me a lot like Songs From the Big Chair – era Tears for Fears.  They are musically schizophrenic: “Be My Mistake” is an country-styled acoustic ballad about a guilty conscience proposing a hookup outside of a relationship; “Sincerity is Scary” speaks on the concept of a person sending their “representative” into the world, especially the dating world – track sounds like urban R&B, while “I like America and America Likes Me” is a song decrying gun violence and the use of guns in general, set to a kind of a Trap-like beat with auto-tuned and digitized vocals; finally, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) details the lead singer’s struggles with coke and heroin addictions, set to a upbeat pop rhythm that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in, um, 1975.  It that concept of sunny music with somber undertones lyrically that The 1975 are adept at creating, and they do it really well.

Do yourself a favor and check this one out; it caught me by surprise that I liked it so much, but that’s what this blog is all about, new musical discoveries… check out the video for “Love It If We Made It“…

TobyMac

The Elements

Back in January, TobyMac released the track “I just need U“, and I anointed it as the first great track of 2018; nine months later, his seventh solo album finally dropped.  His message is God-centered and inspirational, wrapped in pop confectionery, so it is accessible to all with an eye towards the spiritual realm without being preachy.   Two other singles, “Everything” and “Scars“, were also released in advance of the albums release, and are included here.  In addition to his usual message, he takes time out to appeal to current social matters, with “It Starts with Me“, a track about overcoming an upbringing of intolerance towards others.

TobyMac has been on his Christian journey and spreading positive messages for more than 30 years, and I hope he keeps on keepin’ on… here’s the video for “I just need U“…

Georgia Anne Muldrow

Overload

I love, love LOVE my self-appointed labor of love in listening to and reviewing music; someday, someone may appoint me to a paying gig doing it.  And the best part of it is when I can discover someone I didn’t know about… I said in my bio that I’m slippin’ as far as staying on top of all the best talent out there, and it’s true, ’cause I wouldn’t have been sleeping on this sista for the past dozen years.  Ms. Muldrow has been part of the L.A. Soul/Hip-hop/Jazz scene since about ’06, and has released an astonishing 17 projects since then, using different aliases for different styles of music.  I came across her as a feature on the Blood Orange Negro Swan album I reviewed in my last article, and my curiosity took over from there, so here we are…

The first name that’ll come to mind when listening to her is Erykah Badu- that sista has a certain panache that cannot be duplicated, so to call anyone a left-field version of her would be an insult to Erykah, for she is out there all by herself.  There are notable similarities in vibe that cannot be denied, however, so you must acknowledge it.  Most of this album percolates in a slow, simmering groove, starting with “Play It Up“, through the title track and its’ militant follower “Blam“, then back to the meditative “Vital Transformation” and the assuring “You Can Count on Me“.  The vibe is temporarily interrupted by the disjointed ragtime feel of “These Are the Things I Really Like About You” and a little later, by the cosmic jazz workout of “Bobbie’s Dittie“.  In between is the oddly titled “Canadian Hillbilly“, perhaps the most sensuous track, and my personal fave on the album. 

It took me a couple of listens all the way through to fully appreciate this album, but it was worth the extra listens to realize this sista is on another level – she has me binge listening to her back catalogue now… check out the audio clip for “Vital Transformation“…

Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Look Now

It took me a long time to begin the review for this album, as I wanted to provide complete clarity in my thoughts about the artist.  What I came up with, when it’s all said and done, is this:  Elvis Costello is a musical treasure, a songwriter who has treated us to many characters, and countless stories over his 30 albums.  I have often wondered how he could possibly remember all the lyrics to all of his songs; a lyric sheet from from one of his albums reads like a short book.  It is this literacy that makes him one of the pre-eminent songwriters of the past 40 years.  He has broached just about every style- his last album, 2013’s Wise Up Ghost paired him with The Roots, and previous collaborations have seen him try his hand at classical, country, jazz, and soul; the results, more often than not, are successful.  

For his latest album, Costello reunites with the Imposters for the first time since 2008’s Momofuku.  He co-wrote a song with Carole King (“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter“), and teamed up with the legendary Burt Bacharach, with whom he collaborated on 1998’s Painted from Memory, for three tracks (“Don’t Look Now“, “Photographs Can Lie“, “He’s Given Me Things“).  The tone of the album is fairly mellow, sophisticated pop, with Costello’s sardonic wit and especially his anger turned down – at 64 years of age, he can no longer be considered an “angry young man” – but that doesn’t mean it’s turned off – check the video for “Suspect My Tears” I included at the end of the review.  The overall feel of this album will remind you of one of his early classics, 1982’s Imperial Bedroom, perhaps intermingled with the Bacharach collaboration.

For me, a fan since the very beginning, this album ranks as his best in many years.  He has placed this one along with some of my favorites, including 1980’s Get Happy!, 1978’s This Year’s Model, the previously mentioned Imperial Bedroom, and 1993’s collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet The Juliet Letters.  There is a Deluxe version of the album, which gives you four additional tracks, but stores were charging double the price for it over the standard edition, so those tracks will be a digital download for me.  If you’re a fan of this man’s music, this is definitely a worthy purchase. 

Beres Hammond

Never Ending

When I first heard “I’m Alive“, the lead track from the 20th album from this 63 year old lovers rock/dancehall icon, I thought to myself “this sounds like a testimony record-was Beres sick?”  There’s nothing I’ve read to suggest that he was, although he looks a little more frail than I remember him being.   And it has been six years since his last album, the Grammy-nominated One Love, One Life.  Alas, it appears it is just an effective testimony we can all sing.

The latest album furthers Beres’ legacy of quality lovers rock, one drop, and inspirational tracks through the stories he tells in his songs- he is one of reggae’s greatest lyricists.  Beres’ raspy tenor is also in its’ usual fine form throughout the album’s 14 tracks, so you get close to an hours’ worth of Sir Hammond doing what he does best. 

I’ve been waiting to see if he could top the albums that I think are his greatest works: Music is Life (2001), A Moment In Time (2008), and his magnum opus, 2004’s Love Has No Boundaries; I’ve come to the conclusion that he probably never will, so I’ve decided to judge each album without comparison to that seven-year period of genius.  This is a worthy addition to his catalog, and one of the best reggae releases of the year… here is the video for “I’m Alive“…

Hugh Cornwell

Monster

This is the ninth studio album from the former frontman of my all time favorite band The Stranglers.  Cornwell, a founding member of the band many called a punk version of the Doors (because of its’ keyboards) left the band in 1990 after 16 years, and both he and the band have soldiered on without each other now for close to three decades. Cornwell uses a stripped down band of just guitar, bass, and drums, and is still able to rock out pretty good for a man who will turn 70 next year.  This album is one that is devoted to songs about both heroes and villains in history- in his words, people who’ve defied categorization, including Lou Reed, Mose Allison, Evel Knievel, Phil Silvers aka Sgt. Bilko, Benito Mussolini and Robert Mugabe, among others.  It is a two disc set, with the second disc being devoted to Stranglers tracks performed by him solo.  Here’s wishing that he and the band can, at long last, put their differences behind them, and come together again before it’s too late… no video is available for any of the tracks, but this is an audio clip of what I think is the strongest track on the album, “Pure Evel“…

Kane Brown

Experiment

So I came across this young man purely by accident – I’d stopped by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and he just happened to be performing (Ella Mai was also in the parade).  The parade commentators mentioned that he’s one of the hottest country singers going right now, and I noticed that he is melanated, so I had to go and check him out online.   Along the way of learning about him and his music, I noticed there are some who are waging the “this ain’t REAL country music” argument against him.  Naturally, I needed to know what the fuss was all about, so I gave his newly released second album a spin.

For those unfamiliar with Kane Brown, he is  a 25 year old man from the northwest Georgia/Southeast Tennessee region, born to a black father and white mother.  He is not the average looking Country singer… he has a fair amount of urban swag to him – tattoos, jewelry, and an aggressive and expressive hairstyle – he looks like he’d fit in on Empire… until he opens his mouth… he doesn’t sing about beer, big wheel trucks and  and other stereotypical country topics… he may be more Atlanta Rhythm Section or Florida Georgia Line than Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings or Chris Stapleton… and that’s what has country purist’s britches in a bunch.  As I said when I reviewed Thomas Rhett’s album earlier this year, he is not your daddy’s Country… this is the new Country, which is sometimes Southern Rock, sometimes Country with elements of other genres, and sometimes it’s just Pop with a southern twang.  He is a star borne of the social media age, as he posted himself doing covers of other artist’s songs online.  As his popularity swelled, he gained the attention of major label folks, who signed him to a deal, he released some EP’s, and then his self-titled debut album dropped in late 2016… the rest, as they say is history.  The singles “Lose Him” and “Homesick” are here; my favorite tracks are “It Ain’t You, It’s Me“, and “The Weekend“.

To be fair about the authenticity of his music as Country, he sure sounds like Country to me.  The R&B world is waging the same war against its’ newer artists, too; it’s all a matter of the music diversifying itself to be more things to more people, or a matter of reinvention.  There’s nothing wrong with a little genre-bending, there is enough room for everybody; people are resistant to change, or anything other than what they like.  For someone like me, who can appreciate Country music, but is not a huge fan, I took this music as it is, not in comparison to what something else is – if it’s good on its’ own merit, then what difference does it make?  I think this is a decent album… check out the video for “The Weekend“…

Author: maestrotjd

I am a music lover. All kinds of music. My musical palette is informed by everything in my musical past, and my music collection is a reflection of all of it. I don't claim to know everything about every type of music, and frankly, I'm starting to slip as far as staying current - but like anyone else, I like what I like. Because my palette is so wide, I'll review and talk about a lot of different types of music; I still maintain an ear for new and interesting music, and I've always lived on the cutting edge. This is a renewal of a couple of passions - writing, and talking about music; I'm also embarking on a renewal of playing music and DJ'ing, so that the last few tracks of my personal album will be the greatest works of my career.

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