….and the departure of one.
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 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’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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .