I am starting the year with an offering of music looking both forwards and backwards, to infancy and old age. There is so much great new music out there, but I know it is getting harder to find than ever, since both radio stations and streaming services alike are focusing on a very narrow choice of new music. I hope that’s why you come to my list, or maybe other similar lists, to find new music that deserves to be considerably more widespread than it is, but doesn’t reach you through regular channels.
You find the whole album if you click on the album titles in the reviews. For my updated list with all new songs reviewed, plus previous reviewed tracks, click here.
Let’s start with two of the oldest and wisest in the music business, first Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra. John Lennon said that ELO 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, I was already humming to some of the songs, as if I had owned the album since the 1970s.
The second old wise man is Jools Holland, although he is still to be considered young after 57 years on the planet. He has been around forever, though, as a pianist, one of the best television hosts in the UK, and as a successful big band leader. Most contemporary artists of peerage have performed with him. He started out as a pianist in Squeeze, one of my favourite bands of all time (and in this list at the moment with their newest album). Holland has recorded an album with Ruby Turner, in the vicinity of big band and gospel. It is unfortunately not his best, mostly because the range of music is limited and fast becomes repetitive. I have added enough to keep the interest up, and if you want more, go to the whole Ruby & Jools album.
One reviewer said about the new album from Mozambiquean born Mariza that it is only the Portuguese language that stands between her and worldwide fame. I still think that Fado-inspired music will appeal only to a minority of music lovers, but Mundo is an album that should bring the genre to a wider audience, despite the language barrier, Here are songs that are heartbreakingly beautiful, performed with a voice range and control that you seldom hear anywhere. Mariza is a true citizen of Alfama in Lisbon, where she grew up and learned to sing the Fado in the tiny cafes there. But Mundo is so much more than Fado.
Next up, two albums that focus on lullabies and nursery rhymes, not the most likely genres in pop and rock. Still, the two albums in question could prove otherwise. Bill Wells has joined forces with Yo LaTengo (another list regular), and made arrangements of famous children’s rhymes that deviate quite a bit from the original. Some of the songs on Nursery Rhymes don’t do much for me, but in between there are new and truly surprising and enjoyable takes on the familiar. Bill Wells has done the trick before with Christmas songs, so what’s next?
I am quite fond of the very musical Wainright family, many generations of musicians that have all been regulars in my blog. Now the two half sisters Martha and Lycy, Loundon Wainwright’s daughters, have recorded Songs in the Dark, mostly made up of nursery rhymes. The sisters are truer to the originals than Bill Wells, which make the album a bit unexciting at times, but again there are gems hidden in between, and all of them are now in my collection for you to enjoy.
I’ll continue for a bit longer presenting albums in pairs: now on to two Western European singers with backgrounds from Africa. Swedish Sinabo Sey, with a father from Gambia, got a monster hit two years back with Younger, particularly a remix version by Norwegian Kygo. Her long awaited album, Pretend, didn’t disappoint, and her soulful, deep voice has taken Sweden by storm, introducing her as a great songwriter as well.
From Younger to Older, if you have stuck with my list for a very long time, you will recall Yeael Naim as one of the earliest artists I introduced. She is of Tunisian Jewish descent, and as with Sinabo Sey, there is certain influence of the Middle East and Africa in her music, although it isn’t dominant in any way. Her new album Older (a bit cheeky when she is only 37) hasn’t reached the same success as her first album, that made her sworld famous for a limited time, basically because Apple used one of her songs in a commercial. The new album deserves better, because not only is Yeael an emotive singer, her songwriting skills are impressive, and this is good and original pop music.
American singer and model Leah Nobel sings and writes songs of a pop genre that at the outset doesn’t stick out, but is pretty and unpretentious. However, when I listen for a bit longer, there is no doubt she knows the craft of songwriting as well; most of her songs are little tales, and her voice is smooth and charming, winning me over. Her EP, Just Like Sunday, gives promises of maturity and more sweet, but poignant music coming in the future.
A young singer, who cites Ram by Paul McCartney as one of his inspirations, deserves to be listened to. His first album, simply called Son Little, Aaron Livingston’s artist name, offers a number of songs with an old-fashioned r&b feel to them. I am being taken back to Sam Cooke’s universe, which isn’t the worst world to delve back into.
Finally, and the third Californian in a row, Lana del Rey and her David Lynch-like musical universe. The mystique of her 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.
Some artists have served the list long and well and retire from today: Billy Wyman, James Taylor, Simply Red, Gill Landry, Florence + The Machine, Kathryn Williams, Ash, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Kacey Musgreaves, Tennis, Simi Stone, Richard Thompson, Nev Cottee and Alpine.