New albums and singles are coming out in droves, now that artists can leave their recording bedrooms and climb back into proper studios. Still, music hasn’t changed a lot over the pandemic. In fact, many of this month’s artists have rather looked back for inspiration than forward. Listening through the playlist I hope you will conclude that is not necessarily a bad thing.
I have made one major change in this blog post: Instead of offering a link to the whole album reviewed (which I understand few of you used) I have picked and linked to one sample track from each album.
Sample Track: Lost Horizon
Brian May of Queen fame is out with a «new» album, actually recorded in the early 1990s and re-mixed and released this year. It does show what Brian May contributed , and still contributes, to the sound of Queen, both as a songwriter and not least as guitarist.
Sample Track: County Fair
John Grant is one of the Jekylls and Hydes of the music business, with clearly two sides to his musical persona. His, let’s call it Jekyll-side, really appeals to me, melodic pop/rock with broad strokes, soft while powerful- But John Grant is also into experimental rock and synthpop, a musical world in which he loses me, mostly. Reading about his life with his unfair share of misery, illness and drug abuse could indicate to an amateur psychologist that there is a musical parallel here. Still, this is is best album since «Queen of Denmark» in 2010, (which again was one of the best albums this century, in my humble opinion). I have picked the best bits, but if you want to experiment like John, listen to the whole album.
Sample Track: Soulfully High
Marie Noreger is a new voice, out with an EP of soothing R&B tracks. This is obviously an artist to be reckoned with, her distinct voice is created for this kind of laid back, atmospheric music.
Sample Track: Meet Cute
When Amazon Prime Video introduced this anthology series two years ago, we were given a two-in-one deal: a heartwarming television series based on the New York Times column Modern Love , and a simply brilliant album of modern pop songs. With the release of Season 2 we again were served a warm and life-affirming TV series, but the second soundtrack album doesn’t hold the same quality as with season 1. Still, there are quite a few memorable tracks here from artists like Nerina Pallot and John Burne.
Sample Track: Sail On, Sailor
Versatile Californian band Los Lobos was formed in the early 1970s. Now these experienced musicians have looked back at songs written even earlier, and by other artists. The album has become a homage to both a time and to their native state, but also to their humble beginnings: Los Lobos started out as a cover band before they started creating their own special sound.
Sample Track: Terrible Thing
The Killers’s Human has become a rock classic, a hymnlike song whose lyrics can still keep any group of fans busy for hours discussing what the song is actually about. There won’t be a similar discussion about the songs on Pressure Machine, their latest album. All songs are like polaroid photographs of rural America, most of these introduced by sound recordings of people living there. Each song is like a short story, some of them incredibly moving. This is what a John Steinbeck musical might sound like.
Sample Track: If Only You Were Mine (duet with Barry Gibb)
Barbra Streisand has managed to reach number 1 on the American charts six decades in a row, a record that I expect will be standing for a while. At 79 she is an American icon, as is her voice. She released an album in 2012 called Release Me, and this is the follow-up, with songs of Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Barry Gibb, Paul Williams, Randy Newman, Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Harold Arlen, and Carole King. So don’t complain about the quality of the song writing. Even Kermit the Frog appears on the album in a duet with the diva.
Sample Track: All I Need
Jake Bugg’s career started with a bang in 2012, with his self-titled album that reached number one in the charts and being nominated to every conceivable music prize. His nasal, sharp and distinct voice was easily recognizable, and song after song drifted through the airwaves and into our lives. The three next albums were not as unanimously well recieved, although his popularity remained high. Now his fifth album is out, a very radio-friendly album, but still interesting and diverse.
Sample Track: Shouldn’t Matter But it Does
John Mayer is a similar artist to Bugg in that he appeals to a radio MOR audience. Still there is something more true and expressive in what Mayer offers on his eight album, Sob Rock. The lyrics sounds slightly insipid, like silly love songs, but put to melodies that just stick in your head, so I forgive. I suggest you do, too. This is seductive pop music at its best.
Sample Track: The Path
Lorde started out much in the same way as Jake Bugg, as an instant success. It was the single Royals that did it, mostly, and the fact that she was this innocent-looking girl from New Zealand, the country’s first megastar. But it has been difficult to continue at the same success level – it most often is. Also because Lorde didn’t want to be moulded into another Top 20 songstress with a great voice. This is also apparent on her new album. She goes her own ways, with a very laid-back soundscape, maybe too esoteric for those that became fans from the start.
Sample Track: Diamond Studded Shoes
There is very little laid-back about singer Yola and her second album, Stand for Myself. This is a collection with lots of power, from a woman with a message and a mission. She is clearly inspired by music from the 1970s and 80s, not that it sounds dated in any way, this a modern, sophisticated, album that will make you feet tap and your heart race.
Sample Track: You’re Not Special, Babe
Orla Gartland’s debut album is breathtaking, so full of musical twists and surprises, and still such a delight to listen to. Woman on the Internet is so inventive and clever, without being gimmicky in any way. Gartland is an artist that speaks her mind, and it seems the people around her let he do just that. I hope it stays that way.
Two pieces of news: 1) ABBA is back!! and 2)Now you can watch the singles as music videos, when available. If not available, listen to the Short List or click on title.
American Tune – Stacey Kent & Art Hiraha
Carry You Home – KAMARA
Don’t Shut Me Down – ABBA
I Still Have Faith In You – ABBA
Louie Bag – Yebba & Smino
The Motions – Daniel Romano
Renegade – Big Red Machine
When You’re Not Around – Thom Hell
At the Edge of the World – Marisa Anderson & William Tyler
Can’t Let Go – Robert Plant & Alisaon Krauss
Crowd in the Middle – A Million Pineapples & Team Me
The Manhattan Transfer has been among my favourite bands for decades. I have seen them live six times, in three countries, and while the group is just an amazing live act, thankfully the four perform equally well in a recording studio. Their musicality knows no boundaries, nobody comes even close to the way they harmonize, and I suspect few bands have managed to merge jazz and pop as well as the four members did. Pastiche is the closest the group ever came to a pop album (even though their best jazz number of all times, Four Brothers, is on it), and many of their jazz fans were slightly offended. It isn’t their very best album, I admit, but it demonstrates their music power even when performing simpler material.
It is also fair to mention that when I speak of «the four», there has been two editions of The Manhattan Transfer, with Tim Hauser as the only member of both. Still, all members without exception have been brilliant performers.