A good friend, who was so into marching band music that it bordered on being unhealthy, claimed that it was no use looking for newly composed music, because «all the best marches have already been written». I am not that much into marches that I can substantiate his claim, but I can understand his feelings. It sometimes feels like all great music has indeed been written. Artists are often rerecording music of the past, sometimes improving on previous versions; new compositions seem to lean on, even copy, what’s already composed. And when artists who flowered in the magical 60s and 70s keep recording, their new music rarely reaches the same level of magic. It’s still good, but not as good as it used to be. Is it us or is it them?
I am not going to argue this point as avidly as my friend did, but there are examples of all of the above in this month’s blog post and playlist, the first of 2021: A new take on Franz Schubert, on the American classics and on Portuguese Fados, as well as attempts to prolong a career by leaning on old formulas – and Paul McCartney, perhaps the greatest composer of our era, to prove the last point. Still, I am not in any way depressed by the thought that popular music’s golden age may be behind us. I thoroughly enjoy much of what is currently being composed and produced and rerecorded. And all the old «marches» are still there, available to listen to whenever I choose. Best of both worlds, in other words.
How to listen:
Petter’s Short List contains excerpts of the albums and singles reviewed in the current blog entry. Click here.
But you can also listen to Petter’s Long List, which contains all music reviewed this far in 2020 and 2021….. Click here.
And – by clicking on the album covers in the blog, you will be taken directly to that particular album in full..
It may feel weird to start the first blog post in 2021 with a recording from 2016, but this live album by one of contemporary music’s greatest musicians was realeased in 2020, and I have previewed a track in the singles section of a previous blog post. I listen to this album with awe – but also with sadness, because it will most likely by Keith Jarrett’s last release. He had a stroke recently, and his left side was partially paralyzed, so no more piano playing.
Some artists are national treasures, Norwegian troubadour Lillebjørn Nilsen is one of them. I know I have readers and listeners on three continents who may not appreciate something as parochial as this album, a tribute to Nilsen on his 70th birthday, but I think that even though you may miss the intelligent and heart moving lyrics in Norwegian, you may still appreciate his craft as a composer. I am a lucky bastard, I can appreciate both.
The virtuoso guitarist Lee Ritenour has recorded 45 albums in his sixty year career, still this is his first solo guitar album. All alone he marvels with his collection of guitars, only a fraction of which is found on the sleeve. This is a calming low-key album that grows on me with every listen.
Fairport Convention rarely do outside projects, the exception is their work for Alan Simon’s rock operas, like Excalibur. Now a selection of these songs has been made available on a new album, Fame and Glory. It is a bit different from what you would expect from the British folk rock band who celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2017 (!). It is still folk rock, though, and still worthwhile to listen to, even if they are not at their peak.
«I am a pianist first and foremost», says Natalie Duncan on the release of her album Free. I find her an equally brilliant singer and composer, blending soul, jazz and r&b and excelling in all of them.
Matt Bianco became an overnight success with Get Out of Your Lazy Bed in 1984, and never really made it back to the top of the charts. Matt Bianco is a band, not a person, and was formed by the vocalist Mark Reilly with his lazy, gliding voice, easily recognizable on their new album. The hits are not there anymore, but their style of pop jazz still gives me a thrill. The Dutch big band New Cool Collective adds to the thrill.
It must have been the most daunting of endevours, to take on the catalogue of Portugal’s national treasure, Amália, whose death triggered a three day national mourning. But who else than Mariza could do it, and do it well? If you’re into fado, this is your moment. If you have yet to be introduced to this lamentful, painfully beautiful singing style, this is your moment.
The much awaited McCartney III is here. It is good, at times great. It is interesting, historically significant, impressive. But it isn’t Ram, Or McCartney I or Band on the Run. Or remotely close to any of the Beatles albums. Should it matter? Perhaps not. Paul has given the world the best catalogue of any pop composer in history, so there’s nothing more to prove. Just have fun. We’ll be here to listen as long as he keeps recording.
Israeli songstress Kama Vardi has released her third album, a truly international pop album with sweet, catchy tunes, devoid of much Middle Eastern influence. There is a connection between the songs, stories related to a break-up that Kama went through.
One of the most recognizable voices in pop music continues to cherrypick standards from the American songbook. These three songs are left-overs from last year’s album, and it beats me why none of these made the first cut. His rendition of Over the Rainbow is rich and brilliant, with more chords in the chorus that I have every heard before, enriching this classic even further.
Now on to three albums that an algorithm probably wouldn’t have picked for you. But hopefully some of you still find them worth listening to:
If you are bored with C-D-E-F-F-G-B-C and are looking for a new musical scale to express yourself, perhaps you can learn a note or two from qawwali music master Ustad Saami whose 49-note scale should be a mouthful for most of us. But out of it comes calm, hypnotic music that challenges your Western ears. I find it mesmerizing, perhaps you do, too.
As a compete amateur classical music listener, I have always been impressed by professionals who can distinguish between a brilliant and a slightly-less-brilliant recording of a piece. With Schubert in Love even I can have an opinion, because Rosemary Standley and her co-musicians deviate a LOT from what you expect Schubert ought to sound like. And I love it, love how they add rhythm that ought to have been there all along, they improvise and change and twist, and still show Schubert all the reverence his music deserves.
My daughter Karoline is out with a new solo album, so how could I leave that out? Especially when I appear on the album myself (it is my piano playing you hear in the background of this track) ? Well, Karoline’s music is hard to categorize, she refuses to stick to a genre, and she refuses to let the listener lean back and tune out. With her music you either tune in and be challenged and hopefully overwhelmed, or you don’t enter her rich and sophisticated musical world. If you like what you hear, listen to the whole album. (And yes, I am very proud of her – and equally of my oldest , Benedikte, who has designed the sleeve together with her partner Magnus Skarphedinsson.)
I have not always been a fan of Diana Krall’s breathy and husky singing and her mellow piano playing. The lack of energy in her performance is obviously an acquired taste, but I recognize that she is an accomplished artist, and in small doses I can lean back and enjoy. On her latest album she offers some interesting takes on among others How Deep is the Ocean and Almost Like Being in Love.
Some interesting new singles are out in December and January, with a promise of more to come. Among the choice cuts in this month’s playlist are new songs from Sivert Høyem, JP Saxe & Julia Michaels and Travis, a few re-recordings of classics by Kristina Train, Pomplamoose and Club des Belugas – and a single from the next Secretary of State in the U.S., Antony Blinken. What could signify a change of style in the White House more than having a rock singer as the country’s foremost diplomat?
Blue – Loren Nine
Devotional – Sivert Høyem
Douce France – Pomplamoose & John Tegmeyer
Get Together – Kristina Train
Give the People What They Want – PJ Morton & Yola
Infinitissimalement – Gillian Hills
Kissin’ in the Cold – JP Saxe & Julia Michaels
lavender and heaven – iris
A Little Love – Celeste
Mad About You 2020 – Hooverphonic
Minnesota – Mick Flannery & Anaïs Mitchell
Mondo Mas – Club des Belugas
Na Pamięć – Alicja
Nina’s Song – Travis
Run Away – Sivert Høyem
Son – ISAK
That’s My Style – Club des Belugas & Maya Fadeeva
Thirteen – Bedouine & Waxahatchee
Without Ya – Ablinken
When MAM Records released Himself in one of the best years in pop music history, 1971, and introduced Gilbert O’Sullivan to the world, we were introduced to a peculiar blend of music, lending inspiration from music halls to rock’n’roll, with a strangely rhythmic piano playing and a nasal singing style at the centre. But the songs were brilliant, playful, lushly arranged and with whimsical lyrics packed with word plays. I was quite influenced by O’Sullivan when I tried to write music myself, I remember. Listening to the album again now, I am reminded how brilliant some of the songs are. Unfortunately, Gilbert O’Sullivan never managed to quite copy the quality of his first album. His second, Back to Front was also good and included perhaps his greatest hit, Clair, but after that it was more of the same, only less of the surprise and quality that his two first albums brought to the world.