The abscence of hugs seems the foremost symbol of the time we have been through in this pandemic. The deep longing for a time when we can touch and show affection for the people dearest to us has also seeped into the music of today.
Dan Clews’ new single is called Hugsong, Ingrid Michaelsen’s new single is called To Begin Again – and a number of albums released lately are simply called 2020. It is a year to remember, infamous in its own way, but the effect lasts well into 2021, so listen for it in many more of the releases I bring to you in this month’s blog list. The pandemic is everywhere, mostly in a good way.
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. AND – by clicking on the title of the single, you will go directly to it.
To lighten the mood of the time we’re in, let’s start with the whimsical, light-headed but clever music from Norwegian singer/songwriter Rikke Normann. This is her fifth album, and I highly recommend the other four. This is an artist who does her own thing, this album is filled to the rim with playful music with personality.
Moving on to Ledfoot, the contrast to Rikke Normann couldn’t be greater. Black Valley is dark and somber, still beautiful and poetic. Ledfoot’s music is labelled dark metal by some, but to my ears we are resting in the land of blues and americana – at least on the tracks that I have picked for my playlist this month.
Staying in the land of sombreness, Lana Del Rey is out with a new album, and reviewers are as usual over the moon. One reviewer said Del Rey’s music constitutes its own genre, and he is in many ways right. Yes, there are remnants of country and americana here, but nobody can imitate her, though many do try. I am not her greatest fan, but I do listen and I do enjoy the David Lynch-like mood she is creating with her music.
Lydia Luce is more up my alley, and her album Dark River is among the most pleasant surprises this far in 2021. The songs are lush, yes, a bit dark at times, even some tracks with over-the-top arrangements, but the overall impression is one of grandness, perfectly crafted melodies performed with true passion.
Swedish jazz singer Bo Sundström has pleased swing jazz fans for years with the music of Bo Kaspers Orkester. Now he is out with a solo LP, mostly Swedish translations of standards, but performed in his inimitable style, which ought to please more than Swedish speakers. I’m not all that delighted with some of his choices of songs. Nevertheless, with a sometimes surprising translation, he has added a new dimension to some of the more tattered songs from the jazz standards songbook.
The indie rocker Steve Knipe, performing as Adult Mom, brings a very personal touch to this month’s playlist music. Some of the lyrics are giving us perhaps too much information about her life and her urges and experiences, much like last month’s Sarah Mary Chadwick. But this is more upbeat and more rock’n’roll, there is a sunny disposition behind the sarcasm and the rich language.
Tom Grennan is one of the most popular artists in the English-speaking world right now. His new album, Evering Road is an impressive collection of personal songs, contemporary in sound, but without being predictable and without bite. There is a lot of energy in his voice, a bit too much at times, bordering on shouting, but I owe it to passion and let it go.
Loren Nine from the Netherlands is another huge and pleasant surprise of 2021. You have already listened to a few singles from her current album, Lillies and Dragonflies, so maybe you have noticed her, too. The album is brilliant, and although I cannot promise a bright future for the Dutch artist, at least I hope for one. This is singer/songwriting at its best, rich and heartbreakingly beautiful songs, one gem after another.
There is something teasing about Valerie June, as if she’s saying: Try and pin me down! You can’t! And you can’t. Every track takes you in a slightly new direction, is it blues? Is it soul? Is it retro Motown? What holds it all together is Valerie June’s distinctive voice. Which is also hard to pin down.
Mia Doi Todd isn’t that much easier to pin down. The cover of her latest album, Music Life, draws me back to classic periods of history, and in a way the music takes me back to something all-encompassing and timeless. The lyrics, however, are concerned with career and motherhood and similar down-to-earth topics. Todd’s sweet, full, slightly operatic voice is fascinating and fits the music well. Which makes sense since she wrote it.
Wow! This next album has really taken me by storm, from the first track I listened to. I have not been familiar with Swedish crooner Jay-Jay Johansen, but this is in fact his 13th album. The music has a fascinating hypnotic feel to it, takes me easily back to Massive Attack of the 1990s, and for very good reason: Johanson has been associated with the trip hop genre since he started his career around then. This is smooth, clever and pure delight to listen to.
And while you are in hypnosis mode, move to Australian band The Paper Kites and their many collaborators, and you’ll find a new album that will keep you calm and serene. There is a different vocalist singing duets with lead vocalist Sam Bentley on every track, a nice touch making each track unique.
This mainstream jazz album is full of life and bursting with energy, still the story behind it is considerably darker. Swedish pianist Jørgen Emborg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s last year, which would end most musical careers. But Emborg didn’t want to give up, he invested in a piano bench with backrests and thus made it possible to continue controlling his instrument to such a degree that he could record. Many wonderful instrumentalists contribute to this foot-tapping collection.
I must admit that I find much Italian pop quite tedious, perhaps because the artists seem to copy each other and create the same vocal style. Ermal Meta, however, is somewhat his own man, not because his voice is that different from many other male Italian singers, but he dares to go out on a limb and widens the Italian pop music genre. His latest album Tribú Urbana is pleasant to listen to, and even though I can’t enjoy the lyrics, I understand from reviews that these are concerned with relationships and love, even forbidden love.
I have already revealed that Dan Clews is included with his lovely Hugsong in this month’s single list. I can also reveal that Janet Kay’s Silly Games is included. If you have watched Steve McQueen brilliant TV series Small Axe, you will instantly recognize this classic reggae hit. I have also included a few covers performed in the Norwegian TV series «De neste» in which aspiring young artists cover older artists’ hits. Some of the covers are better than the originals. Included is also an example of mashup, the YouTube trend of mixing two famous songs together. And – many more.
An experimental album from crooner Neil Diamond? Yes, he was more than the artist behind Song, Song Blue and Cracklin’ Rosie. (although Cracklin’ Rosie is on Tap Root Manuscript ). In fact, this LP from 1970 also included inspirations of world music long before other artists (like Paul Simon) started experimenting with non-Western music. Diamond did this without losing his ability to create the simplest of melodies. I was 14 years when I for an unknown reason bought the album. I couldn’t believe my ears, how was it possible for a hit maker like Diamond to skip from simple childrens’ songs to African fairy tales and then to music played by a symphony orchestra on the same album? It was also the first time I heard an album on which themes from one song suddenly appeared in another.