Gone are the days of ”She Loves You”, ”Fever” and other short titles accurately reflecting the content of the song. These days I seem to come across one weird and wonderful song and album title after the other, and in this edition of the blog there are more peculiar and tempting titles than ever. But then there are more titles to choose from than ever, too – 119 new songs are added to an already voluminous list. Consider it a pre-Christmas gift; the real Christmas gift comes in a few weeks’ time when The Best of 2017 is ready for consumption.
The updated list? You find it here….
The masters of weird titles must surely be Sparks, the American band that has resurrected after decades away, and with the exact same type of peculiar and entertaining music some of us remember them by. Their album, Hippopotamus, can be a mouthful and an earful for the unsuspecting listener, but I have given you a low-energy spark with my selection, then you can go for a higher voltage if you like it.
Dance a Crooked Calypso with Paul Heston & Jacqui Abbott. Don’t know how? Their new album will teach you. Heston and Abbott flirt shamelessly with pop clichés, but they do it without too many banalities. Left are catching songs that you seemed to have heard before, but I doubt you have.
Some of the songs on Van Morrison’s new album I am sure you recognize, though. Van stays in familiar territory on Roll with the Punches, blues, soul and ballads the way you want it from The Man, no surprises, but comfort and safety for both artist and listener.
You ought to recognize some songs from Marc Almond’s new album as well. The melodramatic sobs in Almond’s vocals is sometimes a bit over the top, but his renditions of old classics are mostly wonderful, celebrating a great time in pop music. Shadows and Reflections is a great and accurate title, because that’s what it is.
Ane Brun has gone one step further. Her album Leave Me Breathless is also a tribute to yesterday’s catalogue of classics, but she has in many ways used the songs as inspiration and almost created new songs out of some of the soppiest songs of the 80s. The result is remarkable, very touching and emotional.
On of the most amazing new albums of the year is Stop Talking by Chris Price. Not since Harry Nilsson, John Miles and their likes have I heard more astonishing new pop music from a fairly new artist. Price is only 33 years old and have only made a few albums before this. There are virtually no songs on this album that are uninteresting and run-of-the-mill, and I had a hard time choosing what to play for you. . Together with old hacks like McVie and Buckingham, Chris Price has invigorated pop music in 2017, but being new at the game makes it just that more impressive.
Robert Plant is also an old hack, and it is less of a surprise that he releases a great album, even as late in life as in his late 60s (He turns 70 next year). Carry Fire is a powerful album from a confident and wise artist, who wants to share both his lyrical and musical wisdom with his audience. This is an artist that cares, so listen well.
On to two American bands that radiate a similar confidence. The War on Drugs offers the softest touch of the two, inspired by country but still safely placed in rock territory. There is true passion in the songs, and a vulnerability in Kurt Vile’s voice that always catches my ear. I have to admit I listen less and less often to bands, but The War on Drugs, and their new album A Deeper Understanding, push me back in band territory.
That’s where I meet The National, another band that never ceases to please me, although a new listener might find the songs a bit introvert. I don’t expext The National to be the greatest crowd pleasers live, but they certainly please me with their dark and eerie but oh so beautiful songs. Their new album Sleep Well Beast, is maybe less accessible than previous albums, so if you are in doubt, go to their back catalogue for even greater, darker pleasures.
From dark introvert to sweet introvert, two albums that touch emotional strings through two great vocalists: Susanne Sundfør started out as a singer and pianist. Now she is back behind the piano, and her voice is at the forefront of the songs again, after a period of flirting with other formats (successful flirts, I might add). Music for People in Trouble is a magnificent album with songs with strong emotional cores.
Fire on the Floor showcases another brilliant voice, Beth Hart. Like Sundfør, you can’t peg her into one particular genre, but she seems to be more at home with the blues than with anything else. She is supposedly better live than in the studio, and I look forward to testing that later this month when I am given the chance to attend one of her concerts.
I have attended quite a number of concerts with Molecules as well, primarily because my daughter Karoline Wallace is the vocalist and her partner Petter Asbjørnsen the bass player. Believe me, listening to Molecules is something I do with pleasure. Yes, it might be labelled modern jazz, but the playfulness, the musicality, the flirt with rhythms and melodies, make much of the music accessible for people outside of the small modern jazz circle. Their album Louder than You, with Norway’s brilliantly inventive pianist Erlend Skomsvoll, has received rave reviews from jazz reviewers.
A different genre, altogether (and I hope the range of genres in the list is one of the reasons so many choose to listen and continue to subscribe) is country, and Shelby Lynne, one of my longstanding favourites. She is out with a new album together with her sister, Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet. A duet album like this will always include some compromises; Moorer is more of a traditionalist than Lynne; but I still enjoyed both the familiar Lynne material, and some of the songs they had obviously concocted together.
On to two artists that have in common how well they have come of age. Jake Bugg became an overnight sensation a few years ago, with his slightly trembling voice , moody look and catchy songs. Now he is back with an exquisite album, Hearts that Strain, and all my scepticism is burnt away from the first track. The album was recorded in Nashville, and you can hear the influence of musicians who know how to communicate and have done it for a long time. Bugg is more than a one-hit wonder.
And so is Miley Cyrus, from Disney princess to fullblown adult artist. I loved her previous album Bangerz as well, but Younger Now places her on the map of artists that are here to stay. She no longer caters to her teenage audience only, if at all? Here are strong vocals, influences from all over the place, including a duet with Dolly Parton, would you believe. The album is a true treasure chest.
Phoebe Bridgers is a new and more introvert singer songwriter. Her first album is definitely worth listening to, haunting and sorrowful songs, performed with Bridgers’ laid-back vocals, leaving room for the lyrics and the musicality in each song. Like som many new artists, Bridgers got attention when her songs were picked for soundtracks of TV series and commercials, but Stranger in the Alps shows that this was just stepping stones on her way to a musical career.
I am closing the last regular blog entry in 2017 with three Norwegian artists. Silje Nergaard rose to international prominence with her collaboration with Pat Matheny, two decades ago. Since then she has released albums and toured with her user-friendly jazz, making friends way outside the jazz community. Now she moves into electronica (not very far, though) and the result is a mix of some easily forgettable songs and some very strong tracks, some of the best songs she has recorded in years. Obviously you will find the latter songs in the playlist. The album is called For You a Thousand Times.
Regular readers will remember that I am quite taken with the music of young artist Aurora. Now another Norwegian female artist delves into a similar landscape with a similar mild but insisting voice. Ine Hoem’s Moonbird is a strong album with a surprising number of memorable tracks. Hoem jumps between genres, but she places herself clearly among new artists with an electronic heart.
Finally, when you have listened to the wonderful and varied music of all the above performers, draw you breath, put your feet up, close your eyes, and listen to Bugge Wesseltoft’s grand piano music. On his new album Everybody Loves Angels, he plays both old favourites like Morning has Broken, as well as pieces influenced by old hymns. The music is inimitably Wesseltoft, nobody plays grand piano like him, nobody can find little gems in forgotten songs and raise them up to be enjoyed once more like he does.
The Wave Pictures, Tom Paxton, Sophie Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Daymé Arocena, Jenn Grant, Greni, Laura Marling, Depeche Mode and Alison Kraus, leave us to make room for the 119 songs from 19 albums.
And – please come back for the final list of the year – The Best of 2017.