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.
Hugh 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.
One 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 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.
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.
A 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.
Emili 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.
A 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.
22 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.
As 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.
There 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 .
Nataly 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.
Chrissie 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.
Then 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.
Finally, 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!