The final regular blog entry of the year – before the 2016 TOP 10 coming soon!! – includes classics from Bacharach, French chansons from Oregon, indie music from India and forbidden songs from across the globe. So get your ear plugs ready, read the tantalizing menu below and indulge!
The classics from Burt Bacharach and Hal David are performed by silky voice Rumer, the easy listening sensation from 2010. Her tribute to Burt and Hal is a bit too respectful and too true to original versions, but the album This Girl’s in Love is a reminder of how brilliant many of these songs are. The music fits Rumer’s voice like the silkiest of gloves.
Pink Martini from the unlikeliest of places, Oregon, is back with an album, Je dis oui!, that copies everything the band has given us before, international songs performed as one would on a Parisian cabaret stage. I wish the album had been a bit less more-of-the-same, but on the other hand, I do enjoy their shameless flirtation with music from other worlds and times.
Madeleine Peyroux is another artist looking back for inspiration, and perhaps the one that succeeds the best. Secular Hymns is an album that swings and finger snaps from first to last track, with jazz and blues of the uncomplicated kind on the menu, uncomplicated for the ear, but sophisticatedly performed by Peyroux and her able musicians.
Norah Jones’ newest album, Day Breaks, makes it plain where this versatile singer and pianist wants to belong. Pop is solidly left behind in favour of piano jazz, and it is a good choice, I believe. I do wish, though, that there were more tracks that stand out. It is intimate and sweet enough, but more variation would have strengthened the album. Still, I did not have any problems picking four varied and enjoyable tracks that on their own disprove all my criticism.
Billie Marten’s debut EP was in my list earlier this year, and I was really taken with both her vulnerable voice and the harrowing lyrics, revealing torment but also hope and beauty. I was a bit disappointed when her album, Writing of Blues and Yellows came out last month. Yes, some of her best songs till now are on it, including “Teeth”, maybe her most exposing song to date, but there are too many less significant tracks there, and I end up longing for more variation. The tracks I have picked will nevertheless leave you wanting more, I hope, so go back to the EP if you agree.
Moddi portrays a similar 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.
Sometimes it helps to get a disruptive producer into the studio, when artists find themselves going on repeat for too long. Dawes did just that with We’re All Gonna Die. I have liked the band from North Hills, California, but must admit I found them a bit monotonous in the long run. Enter Blake Mills, and there is suddenly a lot of creativity and surprise around, and monotony is nowhere to be found.
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 as with Moddi’s album, it all comes together as one on Ocean.
Another album that truly stands out this week is Remember us to Life from Russian-born New Yorker Regina Spektor. Her piano ballads are better than ever before, with luscious orchestra arrangements enhancing her songwriting even further. Why we haven’t heard more of these brilliant songs in the public realm is beyond me. Perhaps it reveals the total lack of variation and dissimilarity in the majority of contemporary music that radio stations and audiences embrace these days. I hope you will recognize brilliant and important songwriting when you are introduced to it, as you are with this magnificent album. The underlying theme of my blog is that there is so much good music out there that you are rarely exposed to. I hope this proves my point.
Composer and pianist Yann Tiersen came into the limelight with the wonderful movie, Amélie from Montmatre, even though he did not compose all music for the film. He easily could have, for on EUSA he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt what a great composer he is. Some of the pieces on the album remind me of Erik Satie and Chopin, but with a modern feel to them.
Deacon Blue from Scotland has been at it since the early 1990s, existing on the outskirts of the world habited by bands like Coldplay, Keane and Travis, without really reaching international fame. They disbanded, then came together again, enjoyed successes along the way, hanging in there and never giving up. Their latest album, Believers, could be seen as a tribute to patience., and I am glad to have them back, because this is a rich and well-crafted collection of songs.
Beady Belle may also be seen as a study in patience. The band has produced smooth and refined jazz since the late 1990s, without really getting the attention the band deserves. Now Beate Lech goes alone but keeping the name. On the latest album, On My Own, she is contradicting the title, working with among others keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, and resurrecting Beady Belle as an even more interesting source of accessible jazz.
Allen Toussaint, Laura Mvula, Ronnie Spector, Brian Adams, Hollie Stephenson, Eric Clapton, ABC, Robert Ellis, Judith Owen, Paul Simon, Cat’s Eyes, Benjamin Clementine and Louse Le May leave us at the end of the year, refreshing the list for those of you who need a bit of new stuff to shuffle between.