Titlemania

Gone are the days of ”She Loves You”, ”Fever” and other short titles accurately reflecting the content of the song. These days I seem to come across one weird and wonderful song and album title after the other, and in this edition of the blog there are more peculiar and tempting titles than ever. But then there are more titles to choose from than ever, too – 119 new songs are added to an already voluminous list. Consider it a pre-Christmas gift; the real Christmas gift comes in a few weeks’ time when The Best of 2017 is ready for consumption.

The updated list? You find it here….

Sparks

The masters of weird titles must surely be Sparks, the American band that has resurrected after decades away, and with the exact same type of peculiar and entertaining music some of us remember them by. Their album, Hippopotamus, can be a mouthful and an earful for the unsuspecting listener, but I have given you a low-energy spark with my selection, then you can go for a higher voltage if you like it.

Dance a Crooked Calypso with Paul Heston & Jacqui Abbott. Don’t know how? Their new album will teach you. Heston and Abbott flirt shamelessly with pop clichés, but they do it without too many banalities. Left are catching songs that you seemed to have heard before, but I doubt you have.

Van Morrison
Photo: BBC

Some of the songs on Van Morrison’s new album I am sure you recognize, though. Van stays in familiar territory on Roll with the Punches, blues, soul and ballads the way you want it from The Man, no surprises, but comfort and safety for both artist and listener.

Marc Almond
Photo: Mike Owen

You ought to recognize some songs from Marc Almond’s new album as well. The melodramatic sobs in Almond’s vocals is sometimes a bit over the top, but his renditions of old classics are mostly wonderful, celebrating a great time in pop music. Shadows and Reflections is a great and accurate title, because that’s what it is.

Ane Brun

Ane Brun has gone one step further. Her album Leave Me Breathless is also a tribute to yesterday’s catalogue of classics, but she has in many ways used the songs as inspiration and almost created new songs out of some of the soppiest songs of the 80s. The result is remarkable, very touching and emotional.

Chris Price

On of the most amazing new albums of the year is Stop Talking by Chris Price. Not since Harry Nilsson, John Miles and their likes have I heard more astonishing new pop music from a fairly new artist. Price is only 33 years old and have only made a few albums before this. There are virtually no songs on this album that are uninteresting and run-of-the-mill, and I had a hard time choosing what to play for you. . Together with old hacks like McVie and Buckingham, Chris Price has invigorated pop music in 2017, but being new at the game makes it just that more impressive.

Robert Plant

Robert Plant is also an old hack, and it is less of a surprise that he releases a great album, even as late in life as in his late 60s (He turns 70 next year). Carry Fire is a powerful album from a confident and wise artist, who wants to share both his lyrical and musical wisdom with his audience. This is an artist that cares, so listen well.

The War on Drugs

On to two American bands that radiate a similar confidence. The War on Drugs offers the softest touch of the two, inspired by country but still safely placed in rock territory. There is true passion in the songs, and a vulnerability in Kurt Vile’s voice that always catches my ear. I have to admit I listen less and less often to bands, but The War on Drugs, and their new album A Deeper Understanding, push me back in band territory.

The National

That’s where I meet The National, another band that never ceases to please me, although a new listener might find the songs a bit introvert. I don’t expext The National to be the greatest crowd pleasers live, but they certainly please me with their dark and eerie but oh so beautiful songs. Their new album Sleep Well Beast, is maybe less accessible than previous albums, so if you are in doubt, go to their back catalogue for even greater, darker pleasures.

Susanne Sundfør
Photo: Per Ole Hagen

From dark introvert to sweet introvert, two albums that touch emotional strings through two great vocalists: Susanne Sundfør started out as a singer and pianist. Now she is back behind the piano, and her voice is at the forefront of the songs again, after a period of flirting with other formats (successful flirts, I might add). Music for People in Trouble is a magnificent album with songs with strong emotional cores.

Beth Hart
Photo: Greg Watermann

Fire on the Floor showcases another brilliant voice, Beth Hart. Like Sundfør, you can’t peg her into one particular genre, but she seems to be more at home with the blues than with anything else. She is supposedly better live than in the studio, and I look forward to testing that later this month when I am given the chance to attend one of her concerts.

Molecules – Karoline Wallace and Erlend Skomsvoll
Photo: Petter Asbjørnsen

I have attended quite a number of concerts with Molecules as well, primarily because my daughter Karoline Wallace is the vocalist and her partner Petter Asbjørnsen the bass player. Believe me, listening to Molecules is something I do with pleasure. Yes, it might be labelled modern jazz, but the playfulness, the musicality, the flirt with rhythms and melodies, make much of the music accessible for people outside of the small modern jazz circle. Their album Louder than You, with Norway’s brilliantly inventive pianist Erlend Skomsvoll, has received rave reviews from jazz reviewers.

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

A different genre, altogether (and I hope the range of genres in the list is one of the reasons so many choose to listen and continue to subscribe) is country, and Shelby Lynne, one of my longstanding favourites. She is out with a new album together with her sister, Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet. A duet album like this will always include some compromises; Moorer is more of a traditionalist than Lynne; but I still enjoyed both the familiar Lynne material, and some of the songs they had obviously concocted together.

Jake Bugg

On to two artists that have in common how well they have come of age. Jake Bugg became an overnight sensation a few years ago, with his slightly trembling voice , moody look and catchy songs. Now he is back with an exquisite album, Hearts that Strain, and all my scepticism is burnt away from the first track. The album was recorded in Nashville, and you can hear the influence of musicians who know how to communicate and have done it for a long time.  Bugg is more than a one-hit wonder.

Miley Cyrus

And so is Miley Cyrus, from Disney princess to fullblown adult artist. I loved her previous album Bangerz as well, but Younger Now places her on the map of artists that are here to stay. She no longer caters to her teenage audience only, if at all? Here are strong vocals, influences from all over the place, including a duet with Dolly Parton, would you believe. The album is a true treasure chest.

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers is a new and more introvert singer songwriter. Her first album is definitely worth listening to, haunting and sorrowful songs, performed with Bridgers’ laid-back vocals, leaving room for the lyrics and the musicality in each song. Like som many new artists, Bridgers got attention when her songs were picked for soundtracks of TV series and commercials, but Stranger in the Alps shows that this was just stepping stones on her way to a musical career.

Silje Nergaard

I am closing the last regular blog entry in 2017 with three Norwegian artists. Silje Nergaard rose to international prominence with her collaboration with Pat Matheny, two decades ago. Since then she has released albums and toured with her user-friendly jazz, making friends way outside the jazz community. Now she moves into electronica (not very far, though) and the result is a mix of some easily forgettable songs and some very strong tracks, some of the best songs she has recorded in years. Obviously you will find the latter songs in the playlist. The album is called For You a Thousand Times.

Ine Hoem
Photo: Stian Andersen

Regular readers will remember that I am quite taken with the music of young artist Aurora. Now another Norwegian female artist delves into a similar landscape with a similar mild but insisting voice. Ine Hoem’s Moonbird is a strong album with a surprising number of memorable tracks. Hoem jumps between genres, but she places herself clearly among new artists with an electronic heart.

Bugge Wesseltoft

Finally, when you have listened to the wonderful and varied music of all the above performers, draw you breath, put your feet up, close your eyes, and listen to Bugge Wesseltoft’s grand piano music. On his new album Everybody Loves Angels, he plays both old favourites like Morning has Broken, as well as pieces influenced by old hymns. The music is inimitably Wesseltoft, nobody plays grand piano like him, nobody can find little gems in forgotten songs and raise them up to be enjoyed once more like he does.

The Wave Pictures, Tom Paxton, Sophie Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Daymé Arocena, Jenn Grant, Greni, Laura Marling, Depeche Mode and Alison Kraus, leave us to make room for the 119 songs from 19 albums.

And – please come back for the final list of the year – The Best of 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worth the Wait?

Well, it is up to you to decide. I have had a busy few months, so had to skip a posting in September, but I hope the 300+ list of songs in the blog list have kept you content and happy while you were waiting for new tracks. Here they are, as delicately cherry picked by me. Enjoy!

Link to Petter’s Blog List: Click here!

Asgeir

Let’s start with Asgeir from Iceland, the protégé of John Grant, who has worked tirelessly to make Asgeir famous beyond the 300 000 inhabitants of Iceland. Hopefully this new album, Afterglow, will build a bridge to the rest of the world. Asgeir´s voice can sometimes be too falsetto for someone who is not fond of Bee Gees after Saturday Night Fever, but I have pruned Afterglow as well as I could, so you should be left with some ripe and juicy pieces of great music.

Hajk
Photo: Gaute Gjøl Dahle

On to neighbouring Norway, and the indie band Hajk, one of this autumn´s most pleasant surprises for me. The band does not stick to one genre, but flirts with many, from ballads to jazz to funk to pop, and does it all well, great songwriting, even greater performances.

Joep Beving

Before we enter the Anglo-Saxon world for good this October, a quick stop-over in Holland, and the pianist/composer Joep Beving’s contemplative album, Prehension. Beving is an creation of Spotify in many ways, he was completely unknown before he posted his music there, and suddenly it took off and he became one of the most listened-to instrumentalists on the service. I can understand why: he is one of the few contemporary composers who are not afraid of imitating the great romantic classical composers. Even how he looks.

Martha Tilston

Martha Tilston will be a well-known voice for those of you who have followed my blog for years. Her album Lucy & The Wolves was a longstanding favourite of mine, and now she is back with Nomad, a country/folk album in the same vein, perhaps a bit less serious and slightly fresher, but with the same trembling, strong voice floating out of the loudspeakers.

Alison Moyet

A slightly lower-pitched voice belongs to Alison Moyet, a darling of the 80s and 90s, no back with a peculiar mix of songs on her new album Other. I have to admit that quite a few of the tracks don’t appeal to me, too much electronica for my taste, but perhaps this is the perfect mix for new listeners? However, there are a number of terrific tracks left – even after I have deducted what I didn’t like. Sorry about the rest, Alison.

Emily Barker

Emily Barker is a new voice to me, even though I do recognize her claim to fame, the theme music to the British Wallander series. Parker is Australian and has recorded her Sweet Kind of Blue in Memphis. She is hard to pinpoint, skipping from folk to pop to more bluesy stuff, but I like the album and her voice, although a bit indistinct.

 

I know the flags may be a bit provocative, but they are used in Amazon Prime’s TV drama series The Man in the High Castle, in which Nazi Germany and Japan won WWII and divided the US between them, and we are entering the story in the 1960s, with some of the great music that actually came out of that decade. You’re bound to recognize a good few of the songs, here performed by Sharon van Etten, Beck, Sam Cohen, Michael Kiwanuka, Grandaddy, Kevin Morby and Maybird. The atmosphere in the tracks gives me the chill. So does the series.

Randy Newman
Photo: Matt Sayles

Randy Newman is also a master of soundtracks, and who would have believed? The singer behind Short People and other not-so-politically-correct tracks from the 70s and 80s has become a household name in families with children! But I am sure Newman is a true softie at heart, for I know few who can write a better and more heartfelt love song than him. His new album, Dark Matter, is full of them, but also acidly poignant songs about the time we live in. I love both sides of his persona. One of the greatest.

John Mellencamp
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

I like John Mellencamp best when he is rockin’ and rollin’. On his new album, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies, he does that way too little. For those of you who enjoy the country side of Mellencamp, you are in for a field day, for the rest of us, enjoy the four tracks I have added, two of which are duets with Carlene Carter.

Will Stratton

From rock’n’roll to very laidback sweet folksy pop music: Will Stratton gives us handpicking acoustic guitars, lots of heartfelt lyrics, but also broad orchestra arrangements, adding colour and lots of texture. His album Rosewood Almanac is his fifth album, so if Stratton touches you with this album, there is a great back catalogue to enjoy.

Pieta Brown

Or you could listen to Pieta Brown, another American folk pop singer, with a dreamy voice and with an album, Postcards, filled with laid-back songs. All of these have in common that Pieta sent the tracks to different collaborators, ten in all, like Calexico and Mark Knoffler, who then finished and augmented the recording they received. An interesting experiment, and one that actually works well.

John Moreland

Lots of folk inspired music this week, I will even end with John Moreland, a very American singer with a raspy voice, with earnest songs with more than a dash of heart. Moreland is a musician’s musician, but his Bruce Springsteen-light style is catching on, reviewers are lining up to recommend him and his new album Big Bad Luv. So will I.

A number of artists have kept you happy while you have waited for new tracks. Now the following are moving on to make room for the dozen new albums introduced here: Silyia & The Sailors, Rhiannon Giddens, Rag’n’Bone Man, Jens Lekman, Elbow, Jim Lauderdale, Izo Fitzroy and Wesley Stace.

Figurative Art in Your Ears

I have said it before (and will most likely say it again soon) – there is such an astonishing amount of incredible music being produced, and I bet you only get to hear a tiny fraction of it. My guess is that most of you will only have been exposed to at the most five of this week’s albums. I hadn’t been, until I started this month’s hunt. But the great music is out there, as you will soon see – and hear.

Most of the 103 new songs in the list are accessible pop, rock, country or jazz recordings, with a straight path from the source to your brain’s pleasure centre. True figurative art, in other words, nothing abstract about it, beauty to be indulged from the first note.

PETTER’S BLOG LIST – Click here!

The Beatles

But let’s start with the least contemporary in this week’s list, one of music’s greatest masterpieces, Sgt. Pepper’s Heart Club Band by The Beatles, re-released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of its original release. There is not very much to be said that hasn’t already been said about this milestone in music, except to repeat that this album has probably inspired more music than any other album in history. To think that this was produced by George Martin with 4 tracks available, beggars belief.

Ray Davies
Photo: Pal Hansen, The Observer

If it hadn’t been for The Beatles, perhaps Kinks would have been the world’s most loved pop group of the 60s, but they always came in second, which is saying nothing about the fabulous pop music they left us with. Their genius frontman Ray Davies – now Sir Ray Davies – is not only rereleasing old masterpieces; he is making new ones. Americana is truly a brilliant album, filled to the brim with storytelling from America, both personal and other people’s stories. He hasn’t lost the knack for composing great pop tunes on the way and seems to have been inspired, not limited, by sticking to a concept.

Jakob Ogawa
Photo: Natt & Dag

A giant leap from the Beatles and Kinks to two young artists on their way up in the world. Jakob Ogawa has only released an EP, Bedroom Tapes, but the sound is modern and truly original, and gives promise of an artist we will listen to a lot in the future. This is sweet and accessible, with great harmonies and a figurative and genderless musical landscape to embrace the sounds of summer.

Lorde

Lorde from New Zealand is only slightly older than Jakob Ogawa, but she has already developed immensely as an artist, following what easily could have been a solitary massive hit, Royals, a few years back. Her new album, Melodrama, is an outpouring of self-confidence and young energy; it is just impossible not to be riveted by the rhythms and by the originality of both performance and songwriting. Lorde is here to stay.

Charlotte dos Santos

The same must be said about Charlotte dos Santos. Charlotte has been a friend of our family since she was a young girl, and I have been fortunate enough to follow the development of a great talent, but even I was taken aback when I heard her debut album, Cleo. She dares to try out musical styles that she is interested in herself, without paying any attention to what is pc for a debuting artist, which is why Charlotte is impossible to typecast within a musical genre. Maybe that is why this album will be the first of many. Congratulations, Charlotte!

Cigarettes After Sex

The American trio Cigarettes After Sex is another debuting artist. The band released an EP in 2012, and now, five years later, the album Cigaretters After Sex is ready for the public. The dreamlike and low-energy, sweet pop songs can either bore you or relax and appease. To me they do the latter.

Dan Auerbach

 

 

 

 

It is  quite a task to find any resemblance whatsoever between the gritty rock’n’roll of Black Keys and the music on their frontman Dan Auerbach’s solo album Waiting on a Song. His alter ego has visited Nashville and produced a country pop album, filled with fun, fun, fun, hand-clapping and sunny riffs rarely created outside the city limits of Nashville. Thank you, Dan, for giving us a tasty summer album.

The Unthanks

We also have a lot to thank The Unthanks for (I couldn’t resist, sorry). They have brought attention to the little known mother of a little known artist from the 60s. Molly Drake never published any of her sweet, romantic and truly poetic songs, but obviously inspired her son Nick Drake, a quiet but outstanding folk singer who met an early death, with her compositions. Now the songs come to new life though The Unthanks album Diversions No 4.: The Songs and Poems of Molly Drake. I am really touched by the frailness and incredible beauty of some of these songs.

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith is also a terrific storyteller, and an artist who creates silly love songs without making you cringe. He has a rare ability to write songs that feel familiar even when you cant possible have heard them before. And he is doing this without plagiarizing himself or other artists. The Last Rider is filled with such songs.

Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie

The same can be said, and perhaps with even greater emphasis, about the new Fleetwood Mac album (which it isn’t) by Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie. I keep thinking, this can’t be a new album? They don’t write and perform songs like this any more? Well, they surely do, and if you used to love the Mac, you’re in luck, for the kings and queens weren’t dead, at least two of them resurrected, and this truly utterly brilliant album came as a result. I have been given ten new sing-a-longs for the car.

London Grammar
Photo: BBC Radio 6

Hannah Reid of London Grammar has a voice truly out of the ordinary, with a rare strength and range. Their second album, Truth is a Beautiful Thing, delivers on the promise of the first, and then some. There is something almost divine about Reid’s sad vocal as it surrounds and wraps itself around you. It is just so beautiful.

Arve Henriksen

So is the music of trumpeter Arve Henriksen. We used to reach total calmness with the sax music of Jan Garbarek years back. Now Henriksen brings back some of the same ambient, eerie music on Towards Language. If you need to truly relax and take leave of the world for a while, put this album on. And if you don’t have the time, listen to it twice.

Saint Etienne

The British band Saint Etienne has released a concept album, Home Counties, with stories from the heart of England, the areas around London. I am sure this has more relevance for people growing up there, but the album offers refreshing and wide-ranging pop music even for us who grew up elsewhere.

Imelda May

Irish diva Imelda May has invited other icons, T-Bone Burnett, Jeff Beck and Jools Holland, to make an album, Life Love Flesh Blood,  with her, and the result is as great as can be expected, emphasizing May’s distinctive and slightly theatrical (in a good way) voice. This music is timeless with roots going in all directions, as you should expect from a chanteuse of Imelda May’s calibre.

Youn Sun Nah

Another great and distinctive voice belongs to South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, although she hasn’t managed to reach the same diva status as Imelda May. I kept playing her 2009 album Voyage again and again back then and recommended it to everyone. Her new album She Moves On, is also interesting and pleasing, but Youn Sun Nah still seems to be looking for a unique way to make a mark on the musical world. She enhances most songs she performs, so this is definitely worth delving into.

Cameron Avery

Cameron Avery is also looking for his own inimitable style – or perhaps he isn’t? His album, Ripe Dreams Pipe Dreams, offers so much, but is more related to the big crooners than to the psychedelic rock he used to perform before. There is Lee Hazelwood and Leonard Cohen in there if you listen carefully, and then some.

I don’t want to stretch your attention too much, so to leave room for 102 new songs, I take out the songs that have been there the longest, tracks from Laura Veirs, Halfdis Huld, Courtney Marie Andrews, the xx, La La Land, Carol Bach-y-Rita, Brent Cash, SOHN, and Kathryn Williams.

See you after summer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Return of the Troubadour

….and the departure of one.

Click to go to blog list on Spotify

A taste of 16 full-fledged albums – and six singles are what I can offer you today. The sheer number of new songs alone – 100 in all – ought to explain why it has taken so long to renew my blog list, because I listen to at least three times that, to end up with songs I hope and think you will enjoy. Among the chosen many, a number of chic and not-so-chic troubadours, the best of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (not that many) and songs from an artist particularly close to my heart – my own daughter. So let’s start with the troubadours.

Mark Nevin

Mark Nevin is an old favourite of mine from Wales, previously lead singer of Fairground Attraction. His new album, My Unfashionable Opinion, is not nearly as good as his brilliant Beautiful Guitars of 2014, but there are sweet, personal songs in between. Nevin wouldn’t have won Idol, but that is also why I like his unpolished vocals. And we share birthday…

Cory Branan

Cory Branan’s voice is equally unpolished, but that’s what you’d expect from a Memphis singer-songwriter. He was given a Newcomer of the Year award as early as 2000, even without a recording contract at that time. His new album, Adios, is rough and brings Bruce Springsteen to mind. He is at his best, however, when he turns to ballads and the contagious rhythms of “Walls, MS”.

Curse of Lono

Curse of Lono and their new album Severed, offers a strange mix of slightly popmpous Americana and a taste of Dire Straits. Again it is a bit rough, but I like the mix and the surprises the tracks offer.

 

 

Dan Clews

Dan Clews was brought out of the shadows by Sir George Martin of Beatles fame. Not that his music reminds me much of the Fab Four, but Clews is no doubt a true troubadour with a genuine English feel, even in the title While Middle England Mows Its Lawn.

 

Andrew Combs

American Andrew Combs is a very similar artist, an as American as Dan Clews is British. Combs brings fond memories of singers of the 70s and 80s like Gordon Lightfoot and Jackson Browne. His album Canyons of My Mind is his third, and worth listening to in its entirety, a truly great album.

Tom Hickox

Deep-voiced Tom Hickox is out with his second album, Monsters in the Deep. This is more pop than folk-inspired, and as the title implies, a bit dark. The songwriting is top notch and the album is a strong collection worth spending time with.

 

Aimee Mann

I will count Aimee Mann among troubadours as well. She has issued a lot of terrific music previously, but I think her new album Mental Illness is her best ever. There is true greatness in many of the songs, great lyrics woven around good and hummable melodies, all performed with a certain detachment without ever becoming cold.

Father John Misty

And from one exquisite album to another: Father John Misty has done it again. His previous album I named Album of the Year in 2015. I would argue that his new collection is of no lesser quality. There is something truly unique with his voice, with the peculiar choice of stories to tell. Each track is a little symphony, and can take repeated plays, in fact requires repetition. The title is Pure Comedy.

Karen Elson

Then on to four female artists in a row. Karen Elson from Oldham has moved to Los Angeles and produced a lavish and at times grandiose album, Double Roses. There is a lot of First Aid Kit, Kate Bush and Laura Marling inspirations here, but Karen is no doubt original enough to stand the comparisons.

 

 

 

Eliane Elias
Photo: Getty Pictures

Brazilian Eliane Elias is primarily a jazz pianist, but I adore her oh-so laid back vocal style. Yes, Diane Crall is perhaps the champion of the singing pianist club, but I must admit I like Elias even better. Dance of Time is her latest album.

 

Coco Hames

Coco Hames takes us back to the 60s and 70s female singers with a twang and reverberation in their voices. Her self-titled album Coco Hames lacks a bit of variety, but she stays true to her style, and I do like many of the songs, well-crafted and fun to listen to.

 

Unnveig Aas

Country singer Unnveig Aas has also found a particular and peculiar way of singing, that I am sure will please some and annoy others. The album title Old Soul is truly befitting. Aas is 27 years, but the songs have an old-fashioned feel to them, with a lot of pain and signs of a life lived.

 

 

Bob Dylan

Before we leave the troubadours altogether, let’s listen to the one who left. Bob Dylan has lately concentrated his efforts on songs of his parents, the American Songbook. He is an unlikely crooner, but strangely enough it works when he quacks his way through one standard after the other. It is not as successful as Rod Stewarts previous releases, but there is something honest and genuine here that I like. The album title is Triplicate.

 

Mike & The Mechanics

A group that hasn’t change one bit is Mike & The Mechanics, and that is not necessarily meant as a compliment. They had a massive hit more than 20 years ago, and I am sure we could have done without a new album, Let Me Fly,  from them. Still, they know how to build a good pop song, even if all the musical clichés are in use.

Karoline Wallace

Then on to Proud Dad section. My daughter, Karoline Wallace, has been involved in two releases since my last blog. She is part of the trio Lekerommet that released a children’s jazz album, the story of the chicken who couldn’t sing. Both the songs and Norwegian lyrics are playful, funny even for grown ups, and sophisticated enough for the adult ear. She is also the lead singer in the band Vellichor, who released their first single, Final Hours, a couple of weeks ago. This is melodic pop, but again there is sophistication in the song writing.

 

 

Finally, over to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Most of the songs have nothing to do in my blog list, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the songs (Austria – Portugal – Armenia – Hungary – Belgium), and it pleased me even more that quality was rewarded this year, with Salvador Sobral winning with what will surely be a classic, Amar Pelos Dois.

Salvador Sobral
Photo: AFP

As an extra treat, let us end with a number of tracks from Salvador Sobral’s dual language album Excuse me. He is like a breath of fresh air in a music business to a great extent taken over by format composers. He encompasses everything this list is all about.

 

To make room for 100 new songs, we say goodbye to Pretenders, Tor Miller, Vaults, Agnes Obel, Howe Gelb, Thom Hell, Nataly Dawn, Arborist, Nouvelle Vague, Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew, Emili Sandé, Michael Bublé, Saint Motel, Lori Cullen and Hugh Coltman .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of Both Worlds

When Spotify created the brilliant algorithm list Discover Weekly, a bug sneaked into the program. The list was supposed to give you only songs that you were expected to enjoy, but you had never heard before.  Because of the bug songs that you were familiar with were also made available. Spotify fixed the bug. Then listening dropped significantly. Why? Because listeners wanted a fresh taste, but they also wanted familiarity. So Spotify left the bug in. And the rest is history.

It turns out that the older people get, the less new music do they listen to. It is a sad notion, and do explain the static playlists of many radio stations. I also love listening to songs that bring back memories and that I am widely familiar with, but the philosophy behind my blog list is that there is familiarity in inspiration. You may not find songs in my list that you have heard before (although I do add a number of remakes of famous songs), but you will recognize the music that inspired it. And through contemporary musicans’ inspiration comes familiarity. Thankfully, your feedback to me suggests that this is true.

So listening to the music I bring you, you can both be above average adventurous, while at the same time stay in familiar territory. Best of both worlds.

And HERE is the link to the blog list. (and of course links to full version of each album in the reviews below)

The Wave Pictures

The Wave Pictures from Leicestershire are living proof of the theory of inspiration. The band members listened to the parents’ record collections, to The Smiths and Morrissey, and made new music from it. On their latest collection, Bamboo Diner in the Rain, they clearly look backwards, but their sound is still distinctive. This is rougher than most of the music you will find in my blog list, but give The Wave Pictures a try, it is refreshing and naughty and funny – and nostalgic.

Tom Paxton

Real nostalgia is listening to Tom Paxton. He is turning 80 this year, and has influenced the soundtrack of our lives more than we may think. His protest songs from the 60s were more hummable and perhaps more childish than songs by his contemporaries, but “What did you learn in School today?” and “The Last Thing on my Mind” stuck in our heads for decades. The simplicity in his song writing is still there on his latest album Boat in the Water, but there is also sting, sorrow and pure humanity poured over the tracks. Some of the songs get too unadventurous for me, but I have picked five lovely songs, pure Paxton vintage.

Benjamin Folke Thomas

A singer obviously inspired by Paxton and/or his contemporaries, is Benjamin Folke Thomas. His acoustic guitar-based songs, with rather innocent, but very private lyrics, still have the same intensity as the lustre of older folk singers. The music on Copenhagen is warm and inviting, contrasting with the pain and the urgency in the lyrics.

Laura Marling
Photo: Ben Toms,

Laura Marling is another folk protégé, but with her own inimitable style – both helped by a truly unique voice, but also by creative song writing of rare quality. I really enjoyed her latest album Semper Femina, more than anything she has done before (she has released 6 albums in 9 years. And she is only 27.). There is so much variation here, so many songs where layers are revealed, both musically and lyrically, by repeat listening.

Daymé Arocena

It is a bit harder to discover all genres that have inspired Cuban Daymé Arocena. Her album Cubafonia is a bit unfocused, stretching over jazz and Cuban and classical and experimental, without a true sense of direction. I am a bit at odds who this album is for, but it undoubtedly shows off a rare talent. The songs that I like, I really like, and of course you will find all of them among the new tracks.

Alison Krauss
Photo: Randee St. Nicholas

On considerably safer grounds we find Allison Krauss, a bluegrass singer who reached world fame through her collaboration with Robert Plant. Her new album, Windy City, is despite the urban title true Country. I find it hard not to be seduced by one of the music world’s silkiest voices, but she adds too little to some of the standards she performs to make it interesting for me. I have, however, found four lovely tracks for you, where she really excels.

Jenn Grant

Jenn Grant is called a female Ron Sexsmith, and for those of you who have listened to the Canadian singer in my blog list, you will recognize the similarity. This is pop music at its best, distinct and interesting to listen to. Her voice has an undefined edge («like brushstrokes on canvas», one reviewer described it) that adds to the enjoyment and makes the songs stand out, a bit like Aurora and Anne Brun. Perhaps her first European-released album, Paradise, will open new doors also on this continent. Just remember where you heard her first.

Sophie Barker

It certainly isn’t easy to stand out and break the surface as a middle-of-the-road pop singer. Sophie Barker was the lead singer of Zero 7 and had one major hit with the group (Destiny). She is now out with a solo album, Break the Habit. Sophie is annoyed at Spotify for giving away her music (or close to it anyway), so she has decided to give the album away herself, on her own homepage. Hopefully this will lead to more people listening to her music, because she deserves much more attention. Break the Habit is a varied and exciting album with terrific pop music, at times symphonic in scope, at times intimate and close, but always fetching.

Øystein Greni

Greni also used to be frontman for a famous band, Big Bang from Oslo, Norway. Now he has gone solo, with the really telling title, Pop Noir. The album is way more accessible than albums released with Big Bang, less rock, more pop, luscious, flirtatious arrangements and shamelessly catching songs. Hopefully the move will bring more listeners in, even those who would have liked him to stick to rougher music. This is rough and stimulating enough for my taste. Pop Noir won’t put you to sleep, I can promise that much.

Depeche Mode

It is fair to say that I haven’t been an avid fan of Depeche Mode. They have existed on the periphery of my musical taste, but I know of people who would travel the globe to get a chance to see them live. Spirit, their new album, has a number of songs that reinforce my resistance, but I can’t help liking quite a few of the tracks offered. Depeche Mode seem to suddenly take a political stand, some of the lyrics are more related to what Tom Paxton used to write than to my previous image of them. Perhaps they have always been opinionated, I wouldn’t know. But I do know that Spirit is sporadically a great album, so give it a spin (figuratively, of course)

So there you are, more than 3 hours of new music that I do hope you enjoy, even though you most likely haven’t heard any of it before. But if I, still in my 50s (barely), can listen to novel music, then so can you.

To keep the blog list fresh, the oldest tracks go: Deacon Blue, Norah Jones, Yann Tiersen, Pink Martini, Parekh & Singh, Beady Belle, Madeleine Peyroux, Regina Spektor, Rumer, Moddi, Dawes and Billie Marten.

 

 

 

Head for Supplies!

All you have to do is open the Spotify playlist here, after you have filled up your head with new information about the 48 new songs I have added today.

Elbow

So, welcome back! On top of the supply chain is one of my favourite bands, Elbow, with –coincidentally of course – a track called Head for Supplies. It is not the only brilliant song on their new album, Little Fictions; I have added five others. Guy Garvey’s husky but haunting voice – performing beautiful but challenging songs – is Elbow’s trademark. In addition, listen to the percussion on this album. It is definitely live, repetitive yet exciting, and dominating the songs in a manner we are not used to in the age of drum machines. The irony here is that the band’s drummer left before the album was recorded. So who took over?

Rag’n’Bone Man

Rory Graham performs under the name of Rag’n’Bone Man for reasons unknown, but his album Human introduces an artist with an extraordinary voice. The album is way too long and monotonous, however, so luckily you have me. I have picked a bouquet of songs of the appropriate size to prove the point of a great voice, without being repetitive. Graham is a favourite with the audience and with critics and has won a number of prestigious awards lately, but I have never heard any other tracks than the title track before.

Wesley Stace

Wesley Stace also hides behind a made-up name, John Wesley Harding, for reason equally unknown. His album, Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding, is nothing but superb pop music, memorable in every way. The production is simple and unsoiled, focusing on Stace’s insisting storyteller voice and on lyrics that enhance the lovely tunes.

 

Jens Lekman

Jens Lekman  has released a similarly wonderful new album, similarly filled with personal stories shaped as pop songs. Life Will See You Now is a surprising collection of mild-mannered tunes, really among the best albums released anywhere so far this year. Lekman invites us into his everyday world with both melancholy and sunshine in a perfect combination.

Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale has been performing and writing since the early 80s. On his latest LP, London Southern, he shows off his art both as a singer and a songwriter. Some of the tunes are a bit on the cheesy side, but the best songs present an artist who knows his stuff and can do country and smoky bar songs better than most. He is in his prime, being exactly my age, turning sixty in a few weeks. (I am slightly younger, come to think of it. By a few months).

Rhiannon Giddens

A slightly younger artist, exactly 20 years his (and my) junior, is Rhiannon Giddens, but the roots are obviously the same, the American South. The inspiration behind Freedom Highway is traditional American folk, and Giddens uses traditional instruments, but it is done in a contemporary fashion, making the music accessible for a greater audience, while staying faithful to the roots.

Silya Nymoen

Silya (Nymoen) also pushes borders with her three EPs released with her band, The Sailors, Chapter 1-3 Life, Resolution, Heart. Silya became an immediate success after she won The Ultimate Entertainer Stjernekamp in her native Norway, but has struggled a bit to distillate her talent down to one genre – and decided she couldn’t. The most interesting part of the collection is Heart where she is using a string ensemble to accentuate the powerful songs.

Izo FitzRoy

A new voice with a truly retro style is Izo FitzRoy. She must have listened a lot to Janis Joplin and her contemporaries, but she is not imitating but rather renewing that particular vein of music. I could have wished for a bit less solemnity; it is all a bit on the serious side, but I have really grown to like the songs on Skyline and FitzRoy’s performance.

To make you concentrate on new, rather than old songs, I have quietly removed Yellowbellies, King Creosote, Brad Mehldau Trio, Lady Nade, Bess Atwell, Alysha Brilla, Lady Gaga, Club des Belugas, Angela McCluskey, Conor Oberst, Wilco, Ian Shaw, James Vincent McMorrow and Leonard Cohen. They have served us will since November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl Power

Most of this month’s new blog list tracks come from female singers, but that does in no way mean that there is a lack of variation in what I have to offer you. We will skip from the happiest of musicals to insisting melodies and strong lyrics to sultry South American rhythms to one of Europe’s most popular trios and their electronica ballads.

Here is the updated list!!

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone of La La Land

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone of La La Land

USA flagI have to start with music from the movie La La Land. I can’t remember last time I saw a movie and listened to a soundtrack that made so content, happy, but also a bit melancholic and nostalgic. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling sing so incredibly well together, and the music of Justin Hurwitz is perfectly integrated into this the loveliest of films. It is surprising that music so heavily infused with jazz and swing works so well in a movie for all ages in 2017.

Carol Bach-y-Rita

Carol Bach-y-Rita

USA flagRemaining in the US, on  to Carol Bach-y-Rita, fluent in 5 languages and singing in at least three on her new album Minha Casa/My Home. She can make it swing in any language, obviously, and is helped along by brilliant musicians like Bill Cantos, who I had the immense pleasure of working with as a student in San Diego. The album is hard to pigeon-hole, as Carol herself seems to be, being a radio star, dance instructor as well as a wonderfully versatile performer.

Laura Veirs Photo: Alicia J. Rose

Laura Veirs
Photo: Alicia J. Rose

USA flagI introduced Laura Veirs in my blog list in 2012. Now the American versatile singer is back with a new album, Carbon Glacier, and she proves once again she is a true genre-hopper. Her voice is unpredictable and alluring, as is her music, sometimes folksy, sometimes pop, at other times almost grungy.

Courtney Marie Andrews

Courtney Marie Andrews

USA flagAn even more intense and insisting voice belongs to Courtney Marie Andrews from Arizona. At the outset she sounds like a folk singer, but the music on Honest Life transcends folk. It took awhile before I was won over, but now I hear new things with every listen, and you will find me humming Irene or other songs if you sneaked into my car without my knowing.

Halfdis Huld

Halfdis Huld

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Halfdis Huld from Iceland is a little bit easier to call a folk/pop singer. Her acoustic guitar gives her away, as well as her airy, feminine voice. The music on Home is sometimes a bit too sweet, but her songwriting skills cannot be argued with, and as with Emma Stone’s singing in La La Land, it is hard to avoid being charmed.

Kathryn Williams Photo: Tom Sheehan

Kathryn Williams
Photo: Tom Sheehan

England flagSt_Patrick's_saltire.svgOne of the best albums of 2014, Hypoxia, was signed Kathryn Williams, an album inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poems. Her new album, Resonator, isn’t less peculiar. This time she dives into the American standards, but bringing Northern Irish vibraphone soloist Anthony Kerr along for the ride. The sound is eclectic and surprising, perhaps bordering on the mundane when listening for too long. But I still think that many of the standards get a new lease on life through Williams’ interpretation.

The xx Photo: Alasdair Macellan

The xx
Photo: Alasdair Macellan

England flagRomy Madly Croft of The xx is one of the most listened-to voices in the world at the moment. Her duets with Oliver Sim make up the sound of this ultra-modern band, still rooted in music from previous decades. There is something really vulnerable in the band’s music that I believe touches something in listeners of all ages. Their second album, I See You, will obviously end up on most best-of-lists this year. Listen to it anyway. It might even end up on mine.

Sohn

Sohn

England flagI am normally easily bored by electronica like Christopher Taylor – or Sohn, performs. But I found his new album, Rennen, irresistible, finding great pop music under the electronica surface, and interesting orchestrations and mixes. Not all of it excites me, but there is enough of good stuff here to keep my foot tapping for a long time. Who would believe that would be possible with electronica?

Brent Cash

Brent Cash

USA flagBrent Cash of Athens, Georgia, is a true pop artist with roots taking us back to the 70s and 80s, clearly inspired by the post-Beatles artists dominating this period. He is also a multi-instrumentalist, and on his latest album, The New High, he plays all instruments, except strings. I don’t see the point, to be honest, not that it doesn’t sound good, it really does – but modern pop music at its best is a collective art form in my view. Sorry, Brent.

 

Leaving us after four months of loyal service is Lawrence Arabia, Lisa Hannigan, Scott Hirsch, Leyla McCalla, The Divine Comedy, Ed Harcourt, Torun Eriksen, Laleh, Britta Phillips, Bob Lind, Max Jury, Janne Schra, Gregory Porter and The Explorers Club. Welcome back to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Modern Crooners

We are starting off the new year with a number of great voices, many of them imitating the crooner and torch singer style of the 50s and 60s. Still, the music is definitely neo-crooning, made for this time and age, while being inspired enough by times gone by to kindle a sense of nostalgia in the listener.

To the updated playlist in Spotify

Hugh Coltman Photo: Sophie Leroux

Hugh Coltman
Photo: Sophie Leroux

England flagHugh Coltman has taken inspiration from one of the greatest crooners of all time, Nat King Cole. Coltman has got the same rasp in his voice as Cole, but I feel he is adding his very own touch both to the songs and to Shadows. He grew up with these songs; his mother played them over and over again, and although Coltman has done more pop than jazz standards in his career, you can hear this is music that he almost innately understands.

Nouvelle Vague Photo: Business Wire

Nouvelle Vague
Photo: Business Wire

Flag_of_France.svgOne of the groups Coltman has been associated with is French Nouvelle Vague, and it so happens they have released a new album as well, I Could Be Happy. This is more of a project than a group, doing mostly cover songs of other artists. But Nouvelle Vague definitely do it their very own way, sometimes quite obscure, but often really entertaining and naughty and wonderfully melodic.

Michael Bublé

Michael Bublé

Canada FlagMichael Bublé released a new album at the end of 2016, Nobody But Me, and I can’t avoid being charmed by his nonsensical  and predictable pop songs. At the same time I am annoyed by the fact the Bublé is one of the few singers today that can interpret some of Sinatra’s best songs impeccably (at least as close as you can get). Why doesn’t he stick to what he does best? Luckily, a number of Sinatra classics is on the album, and Bublé shows off what he can do when taking the chance.

Howe Gelb

Howe Gelb

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I don’t know whether Howe Gelb is trying to look to the future on his new album, Future Standards. The music is clearly inspired by the same music that inspired Coltman and Bublé, but Gelb is a different crooner altogether, sounding more like Lou Reed than Frank Sinatra. And most of the music is contemporary. There are some unnecessary nonsensical songs on Future Standards as well, but the rest (all of the ones in the new blog list) are definitely worth a listen to on this intimate and different album.

England flagA completely different take on crooning is offered by Vaults, an English electronica trio who has found sudden fame performing last year’s Christmas song for the John Lewis advert (video above) , a cover of Randy Crawford’s old hit, Some Day I’ll Fly Away. The album Caught in Still Life as a little bit all over the place, but I enjoy listening to Blythe Pepino’s tough and convincing voice, and the best picks are really exquisite and timeless, including the advert song.

Scotland.svgEmili Sandé was an overnight sensation in 2012 when she released her debut album Our Version of Events. Her long awaited second studio album, Long Live the Angels, arrived recently.  Sandé was truly a breath of fresh air in 2012, now she operates more in the same territory as singers like Mariah Carey and Adele, but without a personal touch to match. Both the songwriting and the production are superior, though, so I might get over the initial disappointment.

Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel

Flag_of_Denmark.svgA singer with a haunting voice, Agnes Obel, also reached sudden fame in 2010, winning five awards at the Danish Music Awards in 2011. She has always been considered an artist’s artist, and her new album, Citizen of Glass, does little to reach out to a wider audience. I am nevertheless certain you will be intrigued by Obel’s music. The choice of instruments, the constant change and musical surprises, excite the listener. And there is a beauty in the eerie vocals that give me goosebumps.

Tor Miller

Tor Miller

USA flag22 year-old Tor Miller is a more traditional crooner, but he doesn’t stay true to crooning on his many-faceted debut album, American English. This is a singer experimenting, both with his vocals and with the choice of material. His love for the 70s prevails, though, and there are bits of both Billy Joel, Elton John and David Bowie to be found in the background. I found a number of songs that I love on American English, the rest I left alone.

Thom Hell

Thom Hell

Norway flagAs a McCartney fan, it is nearly impossible not to be impressed by one of his more successful disciples, Thom Hell. Still, only part of his new album, Happy Rabbit, succeeded in exciting me. While Paul McCartney has a range in his music that never ceases to surprise and delight, Thom Hell sticks to the quiet, laid-back version of 70s and 80s post-Beatles music. The whole album looks back, both in lyrics and in music; even the production sounds as if it could have been produced decades ago. There is nothing bad about nostalgia, but Happy Rabbit offers a slight overdose.

Lori Cullen

Lori Cullen

Canada FlagThere is nothing wrong being inspired by other artists, and jazz singers tend to rely on a songbook of standards when picking their material. Lori Cullen has gone one step further, and let two of her fellow countrymen, her husband Kurt Swinghammer and composer/singer Ron Sexsmith , produce and write her new album, Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs, from start to finish. Cullen’s lovely, airy and summerwind-swinging voice fits the songs like a glove. There is a real danger of a slight overdose here as well, but the dose left in the list should be enough to cure any melancholy you might feel .

USA flagNataly Dawn’s voice has a similar effect on me, and I have been a great fan of her band Pomplamoose’s YouTube channel for years, where the duo performs mostly covers. On Haze, the material is unknown to me, so I must assume this is homespun. Some of it is enjoyable, other parts of the album are easily forgotten. The production is a bit sparse, sounding like most of the material from Pomplamoose, enthusiastically thrown together on the spot. But this is also the charm of Haze. Which incidentally was financed in great part by crowd financing.

Pretenders

Pretenders

USA flagChrissie Hynde is back, performing as Pretenders, with a new album out, Alone. There is still a lot of attitude both in the singing and the songs, so if you used to love Pretenders, the love will surely be rekindled. Time has obviously been standing still since the last album, god knows how many years ago. Why change a recipe for something that tastes so good?

Saint Motel also sticks to a favoured recipe, bringing us more happy pop, bursting with energy and rarely dipping very deep. Still, saintmotelevision offers sophisticated pop that gets my toes moving, particularly when the band pours their brass section over the tracks and steals shamelessly from 80s groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Commodores.

Arborist

Arborist

St_Patrick's_saltire.svgThen on to a very different band from Northern Ireland, Arborist. If Saint Motel got you out of your chair, Arborist will surely get you down again and in touch with your emotions. Their album Home Burial, offers music more in line with Fleet Foxes, atmospheric rock, lovely harmonies, horns that float like oil over the tracks, leaving a warm glow in every note.

Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew

Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew

Australia flag flag_of_portugalFinally, an unlikely combination of artists, former punk musician Scott Matthew from Australia and composer Rodrigo Leão from Portugal, who has released the album Life is Long. Some of the songs and some of the vocals can be a bit much at times, a bit grandiose, but the album gets better with every listen, and fits in perfectly in a blog entry about crooners.

Left With Pictures, Christine & The Queens, Waldeck, Hamilton the Musical, Michael Kiwanuka, Alan Price, Bob Dylan, Lake Street Drive, Ole & SIlje Huleboer and Ellen Jewell have all been in the blog list since mid-September. Enough is enough.

See you in a few weeks with a number of new tracks. I don’t know which it will be. You don’t know which it will be. How exciting is life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Best 2016 Albums

Don’t just take my word for it. Below are my 10 favourite albums of 2016. But as an avid reader of my blog, you already know what I think of these fabulous albums. So this year I have added excerpts from other reviewers who also happen to love these albums.

But reviews are opinions. Shape your own, listen to the albums and see if you agree with my (and the reviewers’) annual report.

I have made a playlist with all songs from all 10 albums: Click here for playlist. To listen to individual albums, click on album title.

I wish you all a happy new musical year, hope you will be back to listen to new tracks that I have carefully dug out for your listening pleasure, in 2017.

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as-long-as

AS LONG AS (EP) – Billie Marten

Marten is a welcome change of pace voice in a crowded singer songwriter landscape. Her ability to tell these sorts of sad, tragic, emotional stories is really remarkable. Her talent is really still emerging, which is shocking in and of itself. I’m genuinely looking forward to hearing where she goes from this EP. But there’s no need to rush; I’ll listen to this album several times over. Of course the four songs don’t feel like enough, but they whet my appetite for more from this exquisite songstress.

Greg Jones, Ear to the Ground.

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the-blue-hour

THE BLUE HOUR – Frederico Albanese

An Italian composer resident in Berlin, he is a master of the piano but a student of popular music’s many and varied turns. The result is a lyrical, rhythmic and emotive modern classical sound that enthrals to the last….Albanese joins a select group of modern classical artists able to offer so very much without the need for words.

Gareth James, Clash

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douwe_bob_pass_it_on

PASS IT ON – Douwe Bob

Pass it on is a collection of surprisingly profound songs, the near perfect second release of a great talent.

Randy Timmers, OOR

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LIONESS – Sivert Høyem

Ever since Madrugada (Høyem’s band) released the album «The Nightly Disease» the night has been associated with Sivert Høyem… Yet it is the light that characterizes this album, and it far warmer than on HØYEM’s previous solo albums. It is striking how melodies and seemingly uncomplicated arrangements define the direction of the album.

Mode Steinkjer, Dagsavisen 

 

6-19

remember-us-to-life-300x300

REMEMBER US TO LIFE – Regina Spektor

Despite widening the playing field a bit, Remember Us To Life is simply Regina doing what she does best. She’s always had a knack for writing both flashy and tender pop melodies, but on her latest album she knocks each number clear out of the park. It’s a delightful smorgasbord of all things Regina, complete with the richest selection of music she’s ever offered up on a single album. The various styles and flavors at hand here make for one hell of an indulgence. And dammit, I don’t remember the last time it felt this good to indulge.

Atari, Sputnik Music

5

all-my-demons

ALL MY DEMONS GREETING ME AS A FRIEND – Aurora

Fears and sorrows hold a radiant gleam on “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend,” the rapturous debut album by the 19-year-old Norwegian singer and songwriter Aurora…. “Conqueror” is the pop bait for a more introspective album, full of thoughts about solitude, loss, mortality and the tenacity — signaled by the music as much as the words — to endure them. Aurora, whose last name is Aksnes, has a high, pure voice imbued with a serene conviction that can seem childlike or ageless, hinting at fellow Scandinavian singers like Lykke Li and Björk; her melodies hint at Celtic and sometimes Asian music. Her voice also lends itself to the endless layering that becomes both her shield and her consolation… Aurora’s producers and songwriting collaborators, primarily Odd Martin Skalnes and Magnus Skylstad, build crystalline electronic edifices completed by her many vocals: celestial choirs, rhythmic interjections, gangs of unison reinforcements.

Jon Pareles, New York Times

4-10the-theory-of-joy

THE THEORY OF JOY – Ian Shaw

Jazz singers magnify the character tics of everyday life – tell-tale inflections that reveal a backstory, offbeat emphases, the catch in a voice of a hidden regret, all the mannerisms that bring favourite singers as close as partners or friends… Ian Shaw doesn’t record as often as he should, as is confirmed by this collection of favourite songs and three originals. Though he knows many idioms, and is as likely to echo Stevie Wonder as Carter or Murphy, Shaw is in his most suitable element here, with a sharp-eared and sensitive jazz trio led by the excellent pianist Barry Green. Blossom Dearie’s You Fascinate Me So mingles the singer’s candidly talkative delivery and graceful falsetto flights. Bowie’s Where Are We Now? poignantly captures bruised resolve in swerving long notes, All This and Betty Too includes a respectful impression of Carter’s sound and speed, Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is bluesily intense. It might occasionally sound like lounge jazz to a very casual listener, but you don’t have to bend an ear very far to detect its character and class.

John Fordham, The Guardian

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you-want-it-darker

YOU WANT IT DARKER – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s 14th studio album is a bleak masterpiece for hard times from pop’s longest-serving poet. At 82 years old, what is truly extraordinary about Cohen is not that he is still making albums but that they are as rich, deep and potent as ever. If anything, his ruminations on life gain added poignancy and urgency with passing time.

Something between defeat and defiance has crept into his tone, which has dropped to a half-spoken bass whisper, a grumble and sigh filtered through a weary frailty that makes his pearly couplets shine even brighter.

The musical setting, by Cohen’s talented singer-songwriting son Adam, is perfection, an organic bed of elegantly twanging guitar lines, humming organ, melancholy piano and aching violin, following stately chord progressions framed by the warm, female vocal harmonies that have become a Cohen trademark.

But this is an album with things to say about modern life as well as death. The most compelling songs have a state of the nation sweep, in particular addressing failures of religions that preach love but deliver conflict. The title track, propelled by a threatening bass figure, is delivered as a statement not a question, fuelled by a deep pessimism only leavened by empathy for the downtrodden and Cohen’s pitch black wit.

I am not sure it could get any darker than this but there is redemptive beauty to be found in someone facing the inevitable with defiant humanity.

Neil McCormick, The Telegraph

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mundo

MUNDO – Mariza

Even if you don’t understand a word of Portuguese, the enormity of Mariza’s gift is immediately and intoxicatingly evident upon first hearing. Armed with an alluring voice and arresting charismatic presence, Mariza is one of the great exponents of the Portuguese fado music and much more than that….

This wonderfully executed and produced album exudes careful craft and consideration. … The beauty and relevance of Mariza’s work truly lies in the subtle details she brings to fado music. As a result, there is a nice conjunction of joy and sadness, yearning and hope, which draw equally from the traditional and the modern.

Mundo is an album that sounds like a world of music in itself. What makes this album outstanding is its inner flame. For most of the songs Mariza sings with a newly found maturity and she never oversells a lyric for effect. The careful structures and the lively and tight performances give that feel of a nearly perfect record. Mundo is a sensually charged, wonderful album that is truly a work of art.

Nenad Georgievski, All About Jazz

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joanne

JOANNE – Lady Gaga

When evaluating a new work by a famous artist or band, I often imagine how it would sound from behind a veil of ignorance, without the taint of prejudice and, maybe, with some degree of generosity. If this were the debut album from a promising rock band, with Stefani Germanotta as its fabulous lead singer, I suspect Joanne would be hailed for its audacity. It goes from punchy (“Diamond Heart” and “A-YO”) to lovely (“Joanne”) and back again at a breathless clip. The album reaches full thump on its middle dance-rock trifecta (“John Wayne”, “Dancin’ in Circles”, and “Perfect Illusion”) before careening into softer, and odder, directions. “Million Reasons” is a gorgeous country-western ballad, which gives way to the bouncy two-step of “Sinner’s Prayer”. Jazz hands lift the euphoric “Come to Mama”. Florence Welch shimmies into the easy sisterhood throwback “Hey Girl”. Joanne concludes with the devastating, if inscrutable, “Angel Down”.

Back to reality, and full context, Joanne still represents a striking course correction for Lady Gaga. By abandoning the dance club for the dive bar, she may have tossed aside her status as a pop star once and for all. But Gaga has emerged as something better and truer. Stefani Germanotta is a theatrical rock goddess. And, baby, she was born that way.

Peter Tabakis, Pretty Much Amazing

And – as an extra treat, here are previous number ones:

2013:

i-awake

I Awake – Sarah Biasko

2014:

rosanen-cash-the-river-the-thread

The River & The Thread – Roseanne Cash

2015:

Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the Best 2016 Music (but not all…)

It’s the time of reckoning. To distinguish the remembered from the simply pleasurable. 2016 was a wonderful year for new music. You wouldn’t believe it from listening to most radio stations or algorithmic Spotify lists, but it is true. In a few days I will present you with my Top 10 choices for the year. To warm you up, here are 15 brilliant albums that also caught my attention, albums I have played over and over again, with excerpts from my reviews. Click the album title and you are delving straight into the albums.  So, in alphabetical order:

alone_in_the_universe_-_elo

John Lennon said that Electric Light Orchestra and Jeff Lynne made music the way The Beatles would have done had they continued. Listening to Alone in the Universe, recorded in 2014 and 2015, one can easily sympathize with Lennon’s statement. There is a lot of The Beatles in here, although lyrics and some of the melody lines are not near being as sophisticated as the Fab Four. Still, this is a great album from 68-year-old Lynne. He shows off songwriting techniques of the highest quality and the greatest enjoyment. After having listened through the album once,

rihanna_-_anti

Rihanna is already a classic recording artist in her own right and seems to have been around for a very long time. She started recording at 17, so that might explain it. Her newest album, ANTI, is a big surprise, she seems to have sent Swedish pop machine people on the first flight home, and have recorded a sophisticated, different, interesting album, with a soundscape that I am sure a lot of her advisors have warned her about. The way she takes her voice way out of her comfort zone in Higher, proves the point.

hamilton

Hamilton is a new Broadway musical about one of the founding fathers of the U.S., Alexander Hamilton, written by rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show was an immediate success on Broadway, and will now be staged both in Chicago and London, England. The music is a peculiar and fascinating mix of hip-hop inspired songs and music you would expect to find in a musical these days. The funny thing, it works.  I can’t wait to see it on stage.

henda-i-vaeret-lp-4

I apologize to my non-Norwegian readers, but I have to add a band that sings only in Norwegian, and with lyrics that are as important as the music, No 4. This all-girls group’s first album is a delight, though, and I suspect the harmonies and melodies can please non-Norwegian listeners as well. The jazzy, swing-infused, harmony-strong album, Henda I været (Hands in the air) is filled to the brim with sophisticated lyrics and melodies to go with it.

hold-your-mind

A singer with a very special voice is Bess Atwell, one of the prettiest voices I have heard in a long time, tender and tough at the same time. The material on Hold your mind is also excellent, a mixture of pop and folk, terrific melodies performed in her inimitable style. This is clearly one of this year’s pleasant surprises.

hollie-stephenson-album

David Stewart of Eurythmics fame found Hollie Stephenson, a London teenager who had fallen in love with the music of Billie Holiday when she was three. He met with her and her family and went on to produce her first album, simply titled Hollie Stephenson. It didn’t take long before reviewers and listeners labelled the 18-year old the new Amy Winehouse. And yes, there are clearly similarities and unconcealed inspiration. Still, Hollie Stephenson is clearly a talent in her own right, both as a songwriter and as a vocalist.

honeymoon

The mystique of Lana del Rey’s voice and the cold, distant arrangements make Honeymoon the most mature album from her yet. The album is already a chart topper all over the world, and ideally shouldn’t have been in my blog list, but I can’t resist playing her, mostly because her musical roots from the 70s and 80s are so evident.

max-jury-album

Let’s move on to Max Jury from Des Moines, Idaho. His self-titled album, Max Jury, is a thorough piece of pop with roots, with lots of promise for the future for this young artist. “Great American Novel” is one of this year’s greatest songs, if you ask me.

parekh-singh-ocean

Indian duo Parekh & Singh is one of this year’s surprises. I may be prejudiced, but I just didn’t expect anything like this from an indie band from Kolkata, India. This is a truly a varied and wide-ranging album, with true sophistication on every track. Musicians from every corner of the earth must have inspired Parekh & Singh, but it all comes together as one on Ocean.

oh-desire

Jonathan Jeremiah is mimicking the Doors, but his deep voice is definitely not belonging to a resurrected Jim Morrison. Oh Desire is a wonderfully cool album, jazz, soul and soft rock in an enticing mix, all tied together by Jonathan Jeremiah’s voice. Why the single from the album, Arms, is not played to death on the radio is beyond me.

polyester-skin

I am fascinated by Danish Jacob Bellens’  latest album, Polyester Skin, an intelligent and brilliant collection of pop songs, performed by a vocalist with a rare and moving voice. This album deserves to be wider known, so spread the word. Start with Untouchable and listen to the eerie and haunting keyboard intro before we glide into Bellens’ equally haunting voice.

robert-ellis-album

I was lucky to catch  Robert Ellis in concert in Oslo in 2014, right after the release of his first album. Now his second is out, simply called  Robert Ellis. This time he is even more adventurous, with sultry string arrangements and almost symphony-like arrangements to some of the songs. This is truly a self-confident album, and with good reason. Robert Ellis is clearly among the best new artists of his generation, a fine storyteller and, I dare to predict, a star on the rise.

stranger_to_stranger_cover

There was a time when any artist beyond thirty was a contradiction in terms. No more. Paul Simon does not give us the same brilliance as he did on Bridge over Troubled Water 46 years ago, but the sophistication of Stranger to Stranger, the beauty of the harmonies, the sheer rhythm of the words, are still better than what most other contemporary artists of any age can give us. It is just a different phase in an artist’s life we are listening to, not a burnt out genius.

twin-danger-album

I am very fond of jazz, not all of it, but Ella Fitzgerald and her cocktail jazz contemporaries are among my life’s greatest joys. I have been reluctant, however, to add too much jazz to my list; this is a pop and rock list more than anything and I don’t want to put anyone off. But I can’t resist serving up the wonderful New York duo, Twin Danger and their album Twin Danger, for you. They want to sound as if Frank Sinatra was in The Clash, not sure if I agree, but hey, if it arouses your interest… Vocalist Vanessa Bley and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman write and perform as if all their songs are classics already. Perhaps that’s they way classics were made back when one made classics.

unsongs

Moddi portrays a vulnerability on Unsongs, but not necessarily on his own behalf. This is a collection of censored and forbidden songs from all over the world, which I know sounds like a very politically correct project. The result, however, is lovely, if we can use such a word for music born out of so much pain. Moddi manages to make great music out of the songs, tie them all together, turning Unsongs into a complete and considerable piece of work.