The new Amy Winehouse and Kate Bush have been found, and the old Eric Clapton and Paul Simon have found themselves anew. True or not, I’ll let you decide after faving listened to exciting new tracks in my blog list. (Yes, this is the link directly to the list!)
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. (Yes, this is the link directly to the full album!) 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. The album is at times a bit bland, too many songs sound the same, but no doubt this talent will bloom, and the seven tracks I have left you with are all highly enjoyable.
Louise Le May is similarly hailed as the new Kate Bush and this time I really must disagree. She does not have any of the theatrics of Ms Bush, and the honey sweetness of her voice reminds me of many other female singers before Kate Bush comes to mind. Her writing is more along the line of that we expect from Brian Wilson. It is also far more interesting that Louise Le May waited until her 40s to make her debut album, A Tale Untold. This might be too sweet for many of you, but give the six tracks a go, you might just be enthralled.
The list keeps growing of old guys still churning out music of the upmost quality. 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.
The same goes for Eric Clapton. His new album, I Still Do, offers a politically incorrect mix of blues and sappy, lovely love songs inspired by Hollywood. It is if he is grinning at us, saying unapologetically: “This is what I am, this is what I do, this is what I like. And I do as I please.” Thank god for that; I enjoy his dirty blues riffs as much as his suave voice on the old Broadwat classic “I’ll be Seeing you”. What a joy.
Canadian Bryan Adams seems to be letting go, too, although his album Get Up sounds a lot like previous albums from the rusty-voiced singer. Still there is something reckless in his choices of tracks, a bit more playful, a bit less tailored to fit the playlists of AOR radio stations. We detected a similar heedlessness from Rihanna earlier this year, perhaps the genre police is slowly loosing their grip on some of the most talented artists of our time? Nothing could please me more.
71-year old Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes fame, has recorded an album, English Heart, with cover songs of British 60s classics. Her voice is very distinctive, the roughness sometimes standing in the way of my enjoying her cover versions, but some of them are truly interesting to listen to, like The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” and the Rolling Stones’ “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls”. On the latter song the rest of The Ronettes joins her.
Some of you may remember the 80s album The Lexicon of Love by British group ABC. Now they’re back with a follow-up, simply called The Lexicon of Love II. How impertinent is that? The production sounds like it was recorded the week after the original album, but that’s one of the reasons it is in fact working. The songs are as pompous and honey-dripping as on the original, with strings and 80s synths scattered on top, turning the album into a rich dessert to the 80s main meal.
Allen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans producer, composer and pianist, died last November, and a posthumous album, American Tunes, is just out. Toussaint was involved in all kinds of music, but on this recording he is surprisingly mellow, with an almost classical touch both to song choices and the production in itself. He died suddenly while on tour in Spain, and should have been performing with Paul Simon a few days later. The title track is of course written by Simon, one of his best songs ever, and beautifully covered by Toussaint.
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.
Laura Mvula was labelled a star on the rise following her magnificent debut album. Now she is back with her second album, The Dreaming Room. Listen to any track and you will know instantly that this is Mvula, so distinct is her style; so recognizable are her harmonies and method of song writing, so difficult is the music to pigeonhole. Not all songs are brilliant, sometimes she sounds repetitive, but the ambition of this album is nevertheless to be admired and enjoyed. As with Ellis, we haven’t heard the last from Mvula yet.
The Canadian-English duo Cat’s Eyes, takes some time to comprehend. Treasure House is a strange mix, mirroring the equally strange mix of soprano singer Rachel Zeffira and British bad boy rocker Faris Badwan. Some of the songs are bordering on the indifferent and apathetic, others, particularly the ones I have picked for you, are soothingly beautiful and beautifully smooth. Cat’s Eyes is an acquired taste, no doubt, but I liked them better the second or third time than the first, so be patient.
There is opera lurking in the background of Judith Owen’s career, too, at least in her genes, as her mother is an opera singer. With Somebody’s Child we glide into the American Songbook tradition, although most songs are brand new. As with Ellis, Owen tells stories with her voice, and she gets you to listen to what she has to say. There is a bit of Judy Collins and Carole King in her vocals, but Judith Owen is clearly a genuine artist and doesn’t need to be compared.
As usual we have to kick out a few artists to make room for new talent. This time we say goodbye to David Bowie, Federico Albanese, The Anchoress, Erik Truffaz Quartet, No 4, Sivert Høyem, Marte Eberson, Eleanor Friedberger, Suede, Sia and Villagers. No doubt some of these will be back in the Best of the year list in December, don’t you think?