The Modern Crooners

We are starting off the new year with a number of great voices, many of them imitating the crooner and torch singer style of the 50s and 60s. Still, the music is definitely neo-crooning, made for this time and age, while being inspired enough by times gone by to kindle a sense of nostalgia in the listener.

To the updated playlist in Spotify

Hugh Coltman Photo: Sophie Leroux

Hugh Coltman
Photo: Sophie Leroux

England flagHugh Coltman has taken inspiration from one of the greatest crooners of all time, Nat King Cole. Coltman has got the same rasp in his voice as Cole, but I feel he is adding his very own touch both to the songs and to Shadows. He grew up with these songs; his mother played them over and over again, and although Coltman has done more pop than jazz standards in his career, you can hear this is music that he almost innately understands.

Nouvelle Vague Photo: Business Wire

Nouvelle Vague
Photo: Business Wire

Flag_of_France.svgOne of the groups Coltman has been associated with is French Nouvelle Vague, and it so happens they have released a new album as well, I Could Be Happy. This is more of a project than a group, doing mostly cover songs of other artists. But Nouvelle Vague definitely do it their very own way, sometimes quite obscure, but often really entertaining and naughty and wonderfully melodic.

Michael Bublé

Michael Bublé

Canada FlagMichael Bublé released a new album at the end of 2016, Nobody But Me, and I can’t avoid being charmed by his nonsensical  and predictable pop songs. At the same time I am annoyed by the fact the Bublé is one of the few singers today that can interpret some of Sinatra’s best songs impeccably (at least as close as you can get). Why doesn’t he stick to what he does best? Luckily, a number of Sinatra classics is on the album, and Bublé shows off what he can do when taking the chance.

Howe Gelb

Howe Gelb

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I don’t know whether Howe Gelb is trying to look to the future on his new album, Future Standards. The music is clearly inspired by the same music that inspired Coltman and Bublé, but Gelb is a different crooner altogether, sounding more like Lou Reed than Frank Sinatra. And most of the music is contemporary. There are some unnecessary nonsensical songs on Future Standards as well, but the rest (all of the ones in the new blog list) are definitely worth a listen to on this intimate and different album.

England flagA completely different take on crooning is offered by Vaults, an English electronica trio who has found sudden fame performing last year’s Christmas song for the John Lewis advert (video above) , a cover of Randy Crawford’s old hit, Some Day I’ll Fly Away. The album Caught in Still Life as a little bit all over the place, but I enjoy listening to Blythe Pepino’s tough and convincing voice, and the best picks are really exquisite and timeless, including the advert song.

Scotland.svgEmili Sandé was an overnight sensation in 2012 when she released her debut album Our Version of Events. Her long awaited second studio album, Long Live the Angels, arrived recently.  Sandé was truly a breath of fresh air in 2012, now she operates more in the same territory as singers like Mariah Carey and Adele, but without a personal touch to match. Both the songwriting and the production are superior, though, so I might get over the initial disappointment.

Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel

Flag_of_Denmark.svgA singer with a haunting voice, Agnes Obel, also reached sudden fame in 2010, winning five awards at the Danish Music Awards in 2011. She has always been considered an artist’s artist, and her new album, Citizen of Glass, does little to reach out to a wider audience. I am nevertheless certain you will be intrigued by Obel’s music. The choice of instruments, the constant change and musical surprises, excite the listener. And there is a beauty in the eerie vocals that give me goosebumps.

Tor Miller

Tor Miller

USA flag22 year-old Tor Miller is a more traditional crooner, but he doesn’t stay true to crooning on his many-faceted debut album, American English. This is a singer experimenting, both with his vocals and with the choice of material. His love for the 70s prevails, though, and there are bits of both Billy Joel, Elton John and David Bowie to be found in the background. I found a number of songs that I love on American English, the rest I left alone.

Thom Hell

Thom Hell

Norway flagAs a McCartney fan, it is nearly impossible not to be impressed by one of his more successful disciples, Thom Hell. Still, only part of his new album, Happy Rabbit, succeeded in exciting me. While Paul McCartney has a range in his music that never ceases to surprise and delight, Thom Hell sticks to the quiet, laid-back version of 70s and 80s post-Beatles music. The whole album looks back, both in lyrics and in music; even the production sounds as if it could have been produced decades ago. There is nothing bad about nostalgia, but Happy Rabbit offers a slight overdose.

Lori Cullen

Lori Cullen

Canada FlagThere is nothing wrong being inspired by other artists, and jazz singers tend to rely on a songbook of standards when picking their material. Lori Cullen has gone one step further, and let two of her fellow countrymen, her husband Kurt Swinghammer and composer/singer Ron Sexsmith , produce and write her new album, Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs, from start to finish. Cullen’s lovely, airy and summerwind-swinging voice fits the songs like a glove. There is a real danger of a slight overdose here as well, but the dose left in the list should be enough to cure any melancholy you might feel .

USA flagNataly Dawn’s voice has a similar effect on me, and I have been a great fan of her band Pomplamoose’s YouTube channel for years, where the duo performs mostly covers. On Haze, the material is unknown to me, so I must assume this is homespun. Some of it is enjoyable, other parts of the album are easily forgotten. The production is a bit sparse, sounding like most of the material from Pomplamoose, enthusiastically thrown together on the spot. But this is also the charm of Haze. Which incidentally was financed in great part by crowd financing.

Pretenders

Pretenders

USA flagChrissie Hynde is back, performing as Pretenders, with a new album out, Alone. There is still a lot of attitude both in the singing and the songs, so if you used to love Pretenders, the love will surely be rekindled. Time has obviously been standing still since the last album, god knows how many years ago. Why change a recipe for something that tastes so good?

Saint Motel also sticks to a favoured recipe, bringing us more happy pop, bursting with energy and rarely dipping very deep. Still, saintmotelevision offers sophisticated pop that gets my toes moving, particularly when the band pours their brass section over the tracks and steals shamelessly from 80s groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and Commodores.

Arborist

Arborist

St_Patrick's_saltire.svgThen on to a very different band from Northern Ireland, Arborist. If Saint Motel got you out of your chair, Arborist will surely get you down again and in touch with your emotions. Their album Home Burial, offers music more in line with Fleet Foxes, atmospheric rock, lovely harmonies, horns that float like oil over the tracks, leaving a warm glow in every note.

Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew

Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew

Australia flag flag_of_portugalFinally, an unlikely combination of artists, former punk musician Scott Matthew from Australia and composer Rodrigo Leão from Portugal, who has released the album Life is Long. Some of the songs and some of the vocals can be a bit much at times, a bit grandiose, but the album gets better with every listen, and fits in perfectly in a blog entry about crooners.

Left With Pictures, Christine & The Queens, Waldeck, Hamilton the Musical, Michael Kiwanuka, Alan Price, Bob Dylan, Lake Street Drive, Ole & SIlje Huleboer and Ellen Jewell have all been in the blog list since mid-September. Enough is enough.

See you in a few weeks with a number of new tracks. I don’t know which it will be. You don’t know which it will be. How exciting is life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Best 2016 Albums

Don’t just take my word for it. Below are my 10 favourite albums of 2016. But as an avid reader of my blog, you already know what I think of these fabulous albums. So this year I have added excerpts from other reviewers who also happen to love these albums.

But reviews are opinions. Shape your own, listen to the albums and see if you agree with my (and the reviewers’) annual report.

I have made a playlist with all songs from all 10 albums: Click here for playlist. To listen to individual albums, click on album title.

I wish you all a happy new musical year, hope you will be back to listen to new tracks that I have carefully dug out for your listening pleasure, in 2017.

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as-long-as

AS LONG AS (EP) – Billie Marten

Marten is a welcome change of pace voice in a crowded singer songwriter landscape. Her ability to tell these sorts of sad, tragic, emotional stories is really remarkable. Her talent is really still emerging, which is shocking in and of itself. I’m genuinely looking forward to hearing where she goes from this EP. But there’s no need to rush; I’ll listen to this album several times over. Of course the four songs don’t feel like enough, but they whet my appetite for more from this exquisite songstress.

Greg Jones, Ear to the Ground.

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the-blue-hour

THE BLUE HOUR – Frederico Albanese

An Italian composer resident in Berlin, he is a master of the piano but a student of popular music’s many and varied turns. The result is a lyrical, rhythmic and emotive modern classical sound that enthrals to the last….Albanese joins a select group of modern classical artists able to offer so very much without the need for words.

Gareth James, Clash

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PASS IT ON – Douwe Bob

Pass it on is a collection of surprisingly profound songs, the near perfect second release of a great talent.

Randy Timmers, OOR

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LIONESS – Sivert Høyem

Ever since Madrugada (Høyem’s band) released the album «The Nightly Disease» the night has been associated with Sivert Høyem… Yet it is the light that characterizes this album, and it far warmer than on HØYEM’s previous solo albums. It is striking how melodies and seemingly uncomplicated arrangements define the direction of the album.

Mode Steinkjer, Dagsavisen 

 

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REMEMBER US TO LIFE – Regina Spektor

Despite widening the playing field a bit, Remember Us To Life is simply Regina doing what she does best. She’s always had a knack for writing both flashy and tender pop melodies, but on her latest album she knocks each number clear out of the park. It’s a delightful smorgasbord of all things Regina, complete with the richest selection of music she’s ever offered up on a single album. The various styles and flavors at hand here make for one hell of an indulgence. And dammit, I don’t remember the last time it felt this good to indulge.

Atari, Sputnik Music

5

all-my-demons

ALL MY DEMONS GREETING ME AS A FRIEND – Aurora

Fears and sorrows hold a radiant gleam on “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend,” the rapturous debut album by the 19-year-old Norwegian singer and songwriter Aurora…. “Conqueror” is the pop bait for a more introspective album, full of thoughts about solitude, loss, mortality and the tenacity — signaled by the music as much as the words — to endure them. Aurora, whose last name is Aksnes, has a high, pure voice imbued with a serene conviction that can seem childlike or ageless, hinting at fellow Scandinavian singers like Lykke Li and Björk; her melodies hint at Celtic and sometimes Asian music. Her voice also lends itself to the endless layering that becomes both her shield and her consolation… Aurora’s producers and songwriting collaborators, primarily Odd Martin Skalnes and Magnus Skylstad, build crystalline electronic edifices completed by her many vocals: celestial choirs, rhythmic interjections, gangs of unison reinforcements.

Jon Pareles, New York Times

4-10the-theory-of-joy

THE THEORY OF JOY – Ian Shaw

Jazz singers magnify the character tics of everyday life – tell-tale inflections that reveal a backstory, offbeat emphases, the catch in a voice of a hidden regret, all the mannerisms that bring favourite singers as close as partners or friends… Ian Shaw doesn’t record as often as he should, as is confirmed by this collection of favourite songs and three originals. Though he knows many idioms, and is as likely to echo Stevie Wonder as Carter or Murphy, Shaw is in his most suitable element here, with a sharp-eared and sensitive jazz trio led by the excellent pianist Barry Green. Blossom Dearie’s You Fascinate Me So mingles the singer’s candidly talkative delivery and graceful falsetto flights. Bowie’s Where Are We Now? poignantly captures bruised resolve in swerving long notes, All This and Betty Too includes a respectful impression of Carter’s sound and speed, Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is bluesily intense. It might occasionally sound like lounge jazz to a very casual listener, but you don’t have to bend an ear very far to detect its character and class.

John Fordham, The Guardian

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you-want-it-darker

YOU WANT IT DARKER – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s 14th studio album is a bleak masterpiece for hard times from pop’s longest-serving poet. At 82 years old, what is truly extraordinary about Cohen is not that he is still making albums but that they are as rich, deep and potent as ever. If anything, his ruminations on life gain added poignancy and urgency with passing time.

Something between defeat and defiance has crept into his tone, which has dropped to a half-spoken bass whisper, a grumble and sigh filtered through a weary frailty that makes his pearly couplets shine even brighter.

The musical setting, by Cohen’s talented singer-songwriting son Adam, is perfection, an organic bed of elegantly twanging guitar lines, humming organ, melancholy piano and aching violin, following stately chord progressions framed by the warm, female vocal harmonies that have become a Cohen trademark.

But this is an album with things to say about modern life as well as death. The most compelling songs have a state of the nation sweep, in particular addressing failures of religions that preach love but deliver conflict. The title track, propelled by a threatening bass figure, is delivered as a statement not a question, fuelled by a deep pessimism only leavened by empathy for the downtrodden and Cohen’s pitch black wit.

I am not sure it could get any darker than this but there is redemptive beauty to be found in someone facing the inevitable with defiant humanity.

Neil McCormick, The Telegraph

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mundo

MUNDO – Mariza

Even if you don’t understand a word of Portuguese, the enormity of Mariza’s gift is immediately and intoxicatingly evident upon first hearing. Armed with an alluring voice and arresting charismatic presence, Mariza is one of the great exponents of the Portuguese fado music and much more than that….

This wonderfully executed and produced album exudes careful craft and consideration. … The beauty and relevance of Mariza’s work truly lies in the subtle details she brings to fado music. As a result, there is a nice conjunction of joy and sadness, yearning and hope, which draw equally from the traditional and the modern.

Mundo is an album that sounds like a world of music in itself. What makes this album outstanding is its inner flame. For most of the songs Mariza sings with a newly found maturity and she never oversells a lyric for effect. The careful structures and the lively and tight performances give that feel of a nearly perfect record. Mundo is a sensually charged, wonderful album that is truly a work of art.

Nenad Georgievski, All About Jazz

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joanne

JOANNE – Lady Gaga

When evaluating a new work by a famous artist or band, I often imagine how it would sound from behind a veil of ignorance, without the taint of prejudice and, maybe, with some degree of generosity. If this were the debut album from a promising rock band, with Stefani Germanotta as its fabulous lead singer, I suspect Joanne would be hailed for its audacity. It goes from punchy (“Diamond Heart” and “A-YO”) to lovely (“Joanne”) and back again at a breathless clip. The album reaches full thump on its middle dance-rock trifecta (“John Wayne”, “Dancin’ in Circles”, and “Perfect Illusion”) before careening into softer, and odder, directions. “Million Reasons” is a gorgeous country-western ballad, which gives way to the bouncy two-step of “Sinner’s Prayer”. Jazz hands lift the euphoric “Come to Mama”. Florence Welch shimmies into the easy sisterhood throwback “Hey Girl”. Joanne concludes with the devastating, if inscrutable, “Angel Down”.

Back to reality, and full context, Joanne still represents a striking course correction for Lady Gaga. By abandoning the dance club for the dive bar, she may have tossed aside her status as a pop star once and for all. But Gaga has emerged as something better and truer. Stefani Germanotta is a theatrical rock goddess. And, baby, she was born that way.

Peter Tabakis, Pretty Much Amazing

And – as an extra treat, here are previous number ones:

2013:

i-awake

I Awake – Sarah Biasko

2014:

rosanen-cash-the-river-the-thread

The River & The Thread – Roseanne Cash

2015:

Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the Best 2016 Music (but not all…)

It’s the time of reckoning. To distinguish the remembered from the simply pleasurable. 2016 was a wonderful year for new music. You wouldn’t believe it from listening to most radio stations or algorithmic Spotify lists, but it is true. In a few days I will present you with my Top 10 choices for the year. To warm you up, here are 15 brilliant albums that also caught my attention, albums I have played over and over again, with excerpts from my reviews. Click the album title and you are delving straight into the albums.  So, in alphabetical order:

alone_in_the_universe_-_elo

John Lennon said that Electric Light Orchestra and Jeff Lynne made music the way The Beatles would have done had they continued. Listening to Alone in the Universe, recorded in 2014 and 2015, one can easily sympathize with Lennon’s statement. There is a lot of The Beatles in here, although lyrics and some of the melody lines are not near being as sophisticated as the Fab Four. Still, this is a great album from 68-year-old Lynne. He shows off songwriting techniques of the highest quality and the greatest enjoyment. After having listened through the album once,

rihanna_-_anti

Rihanna is already a classic recording artist in her own right and seems to have been around for a very long time. She started recording at 17, so that might explain it. Her newest album, ANTI, is a big surprise, she seems to have sent Swedish pop machine people on the first flight home, and have recorded a sophisticated, different, interesting album, with a soundscape that I am sure a lot of her advisors have warned her about. The way she takes her voice way out of her comfort zone in Higher, proves the point.

hamilton

Hamilton is a new Broadway musical about one of the founding fathers of the U.S., Alexander Hamilton, written by rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show was an immediate success on Broadway, and will now be staged both in Chicago and London, England. The music is a peculiar and fascinating mix of hip-hop inspired songs and music you would expect to find in a musical these days. The funny thing, it works.  I can’t wait to see it on stage.

henda-i-vaeret-lp-4

I apologize to my non-Norwegian readers, but I have to add a band that sings only in Norwegian, and with lyrics that are as important as the music, No 4. This all-girls group’s first album is a delight, though, and I suspect the harmonies and melodies can please non-Norwegian listeners as well. The jazzy, swing-infused, harmony-strong album, Henda I været (Hands in the air) is filled to the brim with sophisticated lyrics and melodies to go with it.

hold-your-mind

A singer with a very special voice is Bess Atwell, one of the prettiest voices I have heard in a long time, tender and tough at the same time. The material on Hold your mind is also excellent, a mixture of pop and folk, terrific melodies performed in her inimitable style. This is clearly one of this year’s pleasant surprises.

hollie-stephenson-album

David Stewart of Eurythmics fame found Hollie Stephenson, a London teenager who had fallen in love with the music of Billie Holiday when she was three. He met with her and her family and went on to produce her first album, simply titled Hollie Stephenson. It didn’t take long before reviewers and listeners labelled the 18-year old the new Amy Winehouse. And yes, there are clearly similarities and unconcealed inspiration. Still, Hollie Stephenson is clearly a talent in her own right, both as a songwriter and as a vocalist.

honeymoon

The mystique of Lana del Rey’s voice and the cold, distant arrangements make Honeymoon the most mature album from her yet. The album is already a chart topper all over the world, and ideally shouldn’t have been in my blog list, but I can’t resist playing her, mostly because her musical roots from the 70s and 80s are so evident.

max-jury-album

Let’s move on to Max Jury from Des Moines, Idaho. His self-titled album, Max Jury, is a thorough piece of pop with roots, with lots of promise for the future for this young artist. “Great American Novel” is one of this year’s greatest songs, if you ask me.

parekh-singh-ocean

Indian duo Parekh & Singh is one of this year’s surprises. I may be prejudiced, but I just didn’t expect anything like this from an indie band from Kolkata, India. This is a truly a varied and wide-ranging album, with true sophistication on every track. Musicians from every corner of the earth must have inspired Parekh & Singh, but it all comes together as one on Ocean.

oh-desire

Jonathan Jeremiah is mimicking the Doors, but his deep voice is definitely not belonging to a resurrected Jim Morrison. Oh Desire is a wonderfully cool album, jazz, soul and soft rock in an enticing mix, all tied together by Jonathan Jeremiah’s voice. Why the single from the album, Arms, is not played to death on the radio is beyond me.

polyester-skin

I am fascinated by Danish Jacob Bellens’  latest album, Polyester Skin, an intelligent and brilliant collection of pop songs, performed by a vocalist with a rare and moving voice. This album deserves to be wider known, so spread the word. Start with Untouchable and listen to the eerie and haunting keyboard intro before we glide into Bellens’ equally haunting voice.

robert-ellis-album

I was lucky to catch  Robert Ellis in concert in Oslo in 2014, right after the release of his first album. Now his second is out, simply called  Robert Ellis. This time he is even more adventurous, with sultry string arrangements and almost symphony-like arrangements to some of the songs. This is truly a self-confident album, and with good reason. Robert Ellis is clearly among the best new artists of his generation, a fine storyteller and, I dare to predict, a star on the rise.

stranger_to_stranger_cover

There was a time when any artist beyond thirty was a contradiction in terms. No more. Paul Simon does not give us the same brilliance as he did on Bridge over Troubled Water 46 years ago, but the sophistication of Stranger to Stranger, the beauty of the harmonies, the sheer rhythm of the words, are still better than what most other contemporary artists of any age can give us. It is just a different phase in an artist’s life we are listening to, not a burnt out genius.

twin-danger-album

I am very fond of jazz, not all of it, but Ella Fitzgerald and her cocktail jazz contemporaries are among my life’s greatest joys. I have been reluctant, however, to add too much jazz to my list; this is a pop and rock list more than anything and I don’t want to put anyone off. But I can’t resist serving up the wonderful New York duo, Twin Danger and their album Twin Danger, for you. They want to sound as if Frank Sinatra was in The Clash, not sure if I agree, but hey, if it arouses your interest… Vocalist Vanessa Bley and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman write and perform as if all their songs are classics already. Perhaps that’s they way classics were made back when one made classics.

unsongs

Moddi portrays a vulnerability on Unsongs, but not necessarily on his own behalf. This is a collection of censored and forbidden songs from all over the world, which I know sounds like a very politically correct project. The result, however, is lovely, if we can use such a word for music born out of so much pain. Moddi manages to make great music out of the songs, tie them all together, turning Unsongs into a complete and considerable piece of work.

Songs and Unsongs

The final regular blog entry of the year – before the 2016 TOP 10 coming soon!! – includes classics from Bacharach, French chansons from Oregon, indie music from India and forbidden songs from across the globe. So get your ear plugs ready, read the tantalizing menu below and indulge!

Click to go to the updated playlist

Rumer Photo: Vanessa Maas/Intertopics/Eyevine

Rumer
Photo: Vanessa Maas/Intertopics/Eyevine

England flagThe classics from Burt Bacharach and Hal David are performed by silky voice Rumer, the easy listening sensation from 2010. Her tribute to Burt and Hal is a bit too respectful and too true to original versions, but the album This Girl’s in Love is a reminder of how brilliant many of these songs are. The music fits Rumer’s voice like the silkiest of gloves.

Pink Martini

Pink Martini

USA flagPink Martini from the unlikeliest of places, Oregon, is back with an album, Je dis oui!, that copies everything the band has given us before, international songs performed as one would on a Parisian cabaret stage. I wish the album had been a bit less more-of-the-same, but on the other hand, I do enjoy their shameless flirtation with music from other worlds and times.

Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux

USA flagMadeleine Peyroux is another artist looking back for inspiration, and perhaps the one that succeeds the best. Secular Hymns is an album that swings and finger snaps from first to last track, with jazz and blues of the uncomplicated kind on the menu, uncomplicated for the ear, but sophisticatedly performed by Peyroux and her able musicians.

USA flagNorah Jones’ newest album, Day Breaks, makes it plain where this versatile singer and pianist wants to belong. Pop is solidly left behind in favour of piano jazz, and it is a good choice, I believe. I do wish, though, that there were more tracks that stand out. It is intimate and sweet enough, but more variation would have strengthened the album. Still, I did not have any problems picking four varied and enjoyable tracks that on their own disprove all my criticism.

England flagBillie Marten’s debut EP was in my list earlier this year, and I was really taken with both her vulnerable voice and the harrowing lyrics, revealing torment but also hope and beauty. I was a bit disappointed when her album, Writing of Blues and Yellows came out last month. Yes, some of her best songs till now are on it, including “Teeth”, maybe her most exposing song to date, but there are too many less significant tracks there, and I end up longing for more variation. The tracks I have picked will nevertheless leave you wanting more, I hope, so go back to the EP if you agree.

Norway flagModdi portrays a similar vulnerability on Unsongs, but not necessarily on his own behalf. This is a collection of censored and forbidden songs from all over the world, which I know sounds like a very politically correct project. The result, however, is lovely, if we can use such a word for music born out of so much pain. Moddi manages to make great music out of the songs, tie them all together, turning Unsongs into a complete and considerable piece of work.

Dawes

Dawes

USA flagSometimes it helps to get a disruptive producer into the studio, when artists find themselves going on repeat for too long. Dawes did just that with We’re All Gonna Die. I have liked the band from North Hills, California, but must admit I found them a bit monotonous in the long run. Enter Blake Mills, and there is suddenly a lot of creativity and surprise around, and monotony is nowhere to be found.

flag_of_indiaIndian duo Parekh & Singh is one of this year’s surprises. I may be prejudiced, but I just didn’t expect anything like this from an indie band from Kolkata, India. This is a truly a varied and wide-ranging album, with true sophistication on every track. Musicians from every corner of the earth must have inspired Parekh & Singh, but as with Moddi’s album, it all comes together as one on Ocean.

Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor

USA flagAnother album that truly stands out this week is Remember us to Life from Russian-born New Yorker Regina Spektor. Her piano ballads are better than ever before, with luscious orchestra arrangements enhancing her songwriting even further. Why we haven’t heard more of these brilliant songs in the public realm is beyond me. Perhaps it reveals the total lack of variation and dissimilarity in the majority of contemporary music that radio stations and audiences embrace these days. I hope you will recognize brilliant and important songwriting when you are introduced to it, as you are with this magnificent album. The underlying theme of my blog is that there is so much good music out there that you are rarely exposed to. I hope this proves my point.

Yann Tiersen

Yann Tiersen

Flag_of_France.svgComposer and pianist Yann Tiersen came into the limelight with the wonderful movie, Amélie from Montmatre, even though he did not compose all music for the film. He easily could have, for on EUSA he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt what a great composer he is. Some of the pieces on the album remind me of Erik Satie and Chopin, but with a modern feel to them.

Scotland.svgDeacon Blue from Scotland has been at it since the early 1990s, existing on the outskirts of the world habited by bands like Coldplay, Keane and Travis, without really reaching international fame. They disbanded, then came together again, enjoyed successes along the way, hanging in there and never giving up. Their latest album, Believers, could be seen as a tribute to patience., and I am glad to have them back, because this is a rich and well-crafted collection of songs.

Beady Belle

Beady Belle

Norway flagBeady Belle may also be seen as a study in patience. The band has produced smooth and refined jazz since the late 1990s, without really getting the attention the band deserves. Now Beate Lech goes alone but keeping the name. On the latest album, On My Own, she is contradicting the title, working with among others keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, and resurrecting Beady Belle as an even more interesting source of accessible jazz.

Allen Toussaint, Laura Mvula, Ronnie Spector, Brian Adams, Hollie Stephenson, Eric Clapton, ABC, Robert Ellis, Judith Owen, Paul Simon, Cat’s Eyes, Benjamin Clementine and Louse Le May leave us at the end of the year, refreshing the list for those of you who need a bit of new stuff to shuffle between.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pleasantness of Sound

Did you there’s a word for it? Euphony. The opposite is cacophony. Now, there’s may be lots of excitement to be found in cacophonic music, but when we’re busy, stressed, tired or in a bad mood, euphonic music might do the trick to change that. There’s a lot of euphony in my blog list already, and with the 83 new tracks introduced to you today, the level of what we Norwegians call “vellyd” is definitely going up.

Here is a link to the updated blog list.

Flag_of_Denmark.svgWe only have to go to neighbouring Denmark to find the first example. Yellowbellies normally refer to people from Lancashire in England, but Yellowbellies are definitely Danish, and have been at it since 1996, but it is with the two albums since 2013 they have been getting the attention they deserve. The Danes have an affinity for boy bands, or rather men bands, playing their very own brand of Danish melodic pop, and Yellowbellies is a fine example, with their new album “Anywhere but here

Brad Melhau Trio

Brad Melhau Trio

USA flagBrad Mehldau and his trio have produced accessible jazz for a long time, with both newly written material and jazz standards on the rich and varied menu. Their new album, Blues and Ballads, is filled to the brim with lovely, lazy swing piano jazz, and Mehldau’s lean back piano playing can make you soar over the roof tops. Give it a try, it works. A instrumental version of one of my favourite tunes of all time, Little Person by Jon Brion, is the highlight for me.

Veronika Harcsa of Club de Belugas

Veronika Harcsa of Club de Belugas

250px-Flag_of_Germany.svgAnd when you’re into the rhythm, let old favourite Club des Belugas take over. It has to be said that their new double album, Nine, is a bit disappointing overall, but in between the band soars to new, or at least to old, heights. It is hard to sit still when Club Des Belugas really start to swing. On Nine the band also experiments with lots of remixes of other artists’ music, and with some classical music, but it is the Latin rhythms that work best.

Angela McCluskey

Angela McCluskey

Scotland.svgIn the same vein as Club des Belugas we find Scotland’s Angela McCluskey’s music. She immigrated to California and performs there for the most part. The Roxy Sessions, her new album, offers a wide mixture of music, from music hall-inspired music to sultry Brazilian-inspired tunes.

 

 

Conor OberstUSA flag

Conor Oberst is recognized by his trembling voice and the solemnity of his lyrics and his performance. I loved his previous album, and was surprised to hear how stripped down and sad sounding Ruminations is. And somebody gave him a mouth harmonica for Christmas. BAD mistake! Still, the American singer offers indie pop well worth listening to, and I have picked six impressive tracks that I am sure will go down well with regular listeners to my blog.

King Creosote

King Creosote

Scotland.svgStaying with instruments that should never ever be given away at Christmas, the bagpipe King Creosote is using on Astronauts meets Appleman is less obtrusive than Oberst’s mouth harmonica. The music on his new album is very difficult to pin down; the only ting tying the songs together is King Creosote’s constrained voice. He sounds as if he is suffering when singing, but it somehow creates an effect worth listening to. His last album was a homage to his home country, this time the lyrics are considerably more introvert.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Canada FlagOn to an artist whose voice is everything but constrained: Leonard Cohen’s last album recorded before he sadly left us a few weeks ago, is without doubt among the best albums of the year. I started to listen to You want it Darker before Cohen died, and was mesmerized by both the lyrics from an old man at the end of his life, and the heart achingly beautiful songs, performed with a presence rarely found these days. Listening to the album again after Cohen died, added a different level for this listener – in just the same way David Bowie’s last album did earlier in the year.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

USA flagBut Cohen’s album isn’t the only truly great new release this autumn. Lady Gaga has grown up, just like Rihanna earlier this year, and released an album that has annoyed many reviewers who clearly wanted her to go along the pop path she was on. But the Lady is a brave artist, and recorded Joanne, transcending genres and re-inventing herself as an artist. I hope many of her avid fans stays on the new path with her, and others now come on board the Lady Gaga train. Because this train is worth travelling on. There is truth and compassion in every song and every performance, and it is bloody great pop music. Euphony!

  England flagBut Gaga isn’t the only lady in the bunch. Lady Nade is a British soul and jazz singer in the Nina Simone tradition. It takes time to get used to her dark and slightly shivering voice, but you cock your ears and listen, no doubt this is something out of the ordinary. Her new album, Hard to Forget, has the occasional forgettable song, but there’s a lot of gold here.

  England flagAnother female singer with a very special voice is Bess Atwell, one of the prettiest voices I have heard in a long time, tender and tough at the same time. The material on Hold your mind is also excellent, a mixture of pop and folk, terrific melodies performed in her inimitable style. This is clearly one of this year’s pleasant surprises.

Alysha Brilla

Alysha Brilla

Canada FlagThe Canadian singer Alysha Brilla is obviously influenced by music from more than one continent. On her fourth album, Human, there is traces of her father’s Tanzania, but also of pop-rock from the 60s and a considerable amount of Indian influence. She turns it into a delicious stew, enriched by her interesting vocal performance that somehow fits any genre she pounces on. There is so much energy and playfulness on this album. Love it!

Wilco

Wilco

USA flagIf Alysha Brilla could wake you up in the morning, Wilco could easily put you to sleep. I don’t necessarily mean to that in a derogative way (although let’s admit it, Wilco can be a bit boring at times). I am impressed with lead singer Jeff Tweedy’s ability to sing so laid back that you would expect him to fall over on his back at any time. The rest of the band slows down and stays as quiet as he. The result is mostly a relaxed country-induced indie music it is hard not to like. Their new album is called Schmilko.

And where Jeff Tweedy leans back, James Vincent McMurrow aims high, mostly into a controlled falsetto. I was a fan of his country folk style on his previous albums, but the R&B he does to perfection on his new album We Move, is equally worth listening to. I have said before that I am not too fond of male falsetto voices, but who would I be if I couldn’t make an exception for brilliant singer songwriters like McMurrow?

   Flag_of_Wales_2.svgIan Shaw comes from a long line of musicians, with both his father and grand-father professional artists. That alone cannot explain the incredible musicality of Ian Shaw. He performs jazz with such an ease and lightness, and still with an intensity that makes him one of the most interesting jazz crooners in the world today. For those of you who are above average fond of jazz, go to both the whole album Theory of Joy; the rest of you will get you appetite wet by the selection of seven songs I have made for you.

With 83 new songs, 36 will have to go (don’t ask me to explain), and this time Tanita Tikaram, Mull Historical Society, Lucie Silvas, Jacob Bellens, Willie Nelson and Twin Danger bid farewell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content is King

Not only in my field of work, television, but also in music: without good content, talent goes to waste. I am surprised to see artists with great potential release new material, and so much of it is just not good enough, mediocre, uninteresting, uninspired. The result is that sometimes I have a hard time identifying enough tracks to justify a place in the blog list, and lots of albums with just one, two or three interesting pieces of music, end up being scrapped before I publish my updated list. Luckily, many albums offer more, and today I am introducing 14 albums with four or more terrific tracks for your enjoyment. Still, some of these artists are considerably better than the majority of their material.

HERE IS THE UPDATED BLOG LIST

The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon)

The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon)

St_Patrick's_saltire.svgThe Northern Irish singer and composer Neil Hannon performs as The Divine Comedy. He is fond of music from yesteryear, and is a true magician with words. (And with melodies, for that matter) There is a lot of comedy and truth in his lyrics. Here are samples from the new album Foreverland.

Bob Lind

Bob Lind

USA flagA similar artist focusing on lyrics is Bob Lind, not as funny, but very personal, bordering on the private, lyrics written to wonderful melodies. The vocal is very intense, sometimes putting a smile on my face because it is a bit too much. Still, I love this quirky album, with an even quirkier name, Magellan was wrong.

Max Jury

Max Jury

USA flagStaying in the U.S., let’s move on to Max Jury from Des Moines, Idaho. His self-titled album, Max Jury, is a thorough piece of pop with roots, with lots of promise for the future for this young artist. “Great American Novel” is one of this year’s greatest songs, if you ask me.

Janne Schraa Photo: KUTX

Janne Schraa
Photo: KUTX

Netherlands.svgI am similarly impressed with Dutch chanteuse Janne Schraa. She has a jazz background, but her album Ponzo Light is more country and pop than jazz. There really isn’t a single bad track on the mini-LP (or maxi-EP), and her silken voice turns this into a unique listening experience.

Torun Eriksen Photo: Anders Nilsen

Torun Eriksen
Photo: Anders Nilsen

Norway flagNorwegian Torun Eriksen’s voice has a similar effect on me, albeit a very different voice from Janne Schraa’s. Her background is also from jazz, and her Grand White Silk, leaves no doubt about her love of jazz. The album is nevertheless accessible for more than jazz fans, with obvious inspiration from soul, funk and pop. Sometimes that material is a bit too experimental for my taste, but I have picked four great tracks for your enjoyment and mine.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

USA flagGregory Porter is more true to jazz than the two preceding artists, but his new album Take Me to the Alley, offers fusion of jazz and pop as well. I fully understand Porter’s need to please a greater audience with his distinctive warm and rich voice. Still, he is never better than when he performs straight jazz numbers, like Fan the Flames.

The Explorers Club

The Explorers Club

USA flagNext week I’ll be attending a concert with Brian Wilson performing the whole of Pet Sounds. I can’t wait. I can shorten the wait by listening to The Explorers Club and their new album Together. These guys really know how to imitate the Beach Boys sound to perfection. However, this would not have been enough if the band didn’t write great, new songs to go with their harmonies. However, some of the tracks are too bland, but something would be very wrong if they managed to do Beach Boys as well as Beach Boys.

Ed Harcourt

Ed Harcourt

England flagOne of my favourites, Ed Harcourt, is out with a new album, considerably meaner and rougher than before. The album is amply called Furnaces, and all mildness of previous albums have sieved away. It is more a more demanding listen than I would have expected from him, but the more I listen, the more I forgive. If you like what you hear, go to the full album. If you feel it is a bit too rough, go to Harcourt’s amazing previous two albums.

Scott Hirsch

Scott Hirsch

USA flagScott Hirsch is a true American artist, a man on the road, clearly inspired by both Americana and Dylan, still creating his own music without real borders. His instrument is the bass, and many of the tracks put more than usual emphasis on that particular instrument. Bassists are the seam in most modern music performances, and with the seam in place you can do almost anything. Just like Scott Hirsch does on Blue Rider Songs.

Leyla McCalla

Leyla McCalla

flag_of_haiti-svgSimilarly, Leyla McCalla, builds her musical universe around her principal instrument, the cello. Her Haitian background also influences the music, turning the album A Day for the Hunter A Day for the Prey into a folk album for the most part. The orchestration is nevertheless very different, with strings, banjo and Leyla’s Caribbean voice creating a unique sound.

Britta Phillips (Photo: Luz Gallardo)

Britta Phillips
(Photo: Luz Gallardo)

USA flagOn to another singing bassist, Britta Phillips from Pennsylvania, and her new album Luck or Magic. Phillips has been around a while, she knows how to accentuate, to hold back, to choose the right ingredients to lift both her own music and a number of covers. Her version of Drive by The Cars is perhaps the best track on the album.

Lawrence Arabia

Lawrence Arabia

flag_of_new_zealand-svgAnother singer looking back for inspiration is Lawrence Arabia (his real name is James Milne) from New Zealand. There is a lot of the 70s on Absolute Truth. Lawrence’s tenor voice fits the songs so well and turns them into chocolaty sweets, but with an edge. And yes, he is also originally a bassist, an obvious trend here, don’t you think?

Laleh

Laleh

flag_of_iran-svgI fell in love with Laleh’s voice the first time I heard it on a soundtrack for a Swedish TV series. Since then she has matured into one of Scandinavia’s most exciting and popular young artists. Her Iranian background is not particularly prevalent on her new album Kristaller (Crystals), and it is more r&b than before. But the lyrics, for those of you who can understand them, are still personal, uplifting and inspiring.

Lisa Hannigan (Photo: Rich Gilligan)

Lisa Hannigan
(Photo: Rich Gilligan)

Ireland.svgYou may remember the lovely female voice on Damien Rice’s albums 0 and 9. It belongs to Lisa Hannigan, and now she is out with her own album, At Swim, her third in fact. He mild and airy voice fits the music as a glove, and the Irish influences help turning At Swim into a calming listening experience.

Rihanna, Johnny Borell, Bonnie Riatt, Loretta Lynn, George Harrison tributes, The 1975, KMF, Jamie Scott, Jonathan Jeremiah, Douwe Bob, Ezra Furman, Emitt Rhodes, Selena Gomez and Emmy the Great sadly leave us to make room for the artists above. Some of these I am pretty sure you’ll get reacquainted with when we sum up the year together in two months’ time.

 

 

 

Theatrical Music

Some musicians love being theatrical as performers and writers, others go to the full extent and write music directly for the stage. Among the new tracks in my blog list you will find both – and sometimes it is hard to distinguish which is which. Not that it matters, it is all great to listen to. I promise.

Here is the updated list, with 64 new tracks: And click on album title below to listen to full albums….

Benjamin Clementine

Benjamin Clementine

England flagSinger and pianist Benjamin Clementine has been a previous guest in my list. Now the English singer with parents from Ghana is back with a full album, At Least For Now, with very personal songs, and not your average chorus and verse type of music. Each song is a journey, and the listener has now idea where it will all end. Clementine is not to everyone’s taste, he takes up a lot of space in his performance, but I think the album will fascinate most of you.

Klaus Waldeck

Klaus Waldeck

austria-26881_960_720Waldeck is an Austrian music producer who you may have heard before in my list as well. He works with different singers, this time with Le Heidi, whoever she is, and he loves to turn the burlesque into catchy pop music, as here on Gran Paradiso.

 

 

Hamilton Photo: Mark Seliger

Hamilton
Photo: Mark Seliger

USA flagOn to real stage music, Hamilton is a new Broadway musical about one of the founding fathers of the U.S., Alexander Hamilton, written by rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show was an immediate success on Broadway, and will now be staged both in Chicago and London, England. The music is a peculiar and fascinating mix of hip-hop inspired songs and music you would expect to find in a musical these days. The funny thing, it works.  I can’t wait to see it on stage.

Alan Price

Alan Price

England flagAlan Price is another great storyteller, an artist who has been around since the 1960s, then as a member of The Animals. He made House of the Rising Sun famous, helping any beginning guitar player to sound like a professional after a few hours of practice. Price has written soundtracks to a couple of famous films, like “O Lucky Man”, but we haven’t heard from him for ages. Suddenly there’s a new album released, Savaloy Dip, but beware: it was recorded back in 1974 and released for the first time now. Still, it is worth listening to, I expect it would be how the 74 year old Alan Price would record today if he got the chance. On a personal note: I interviewed Alan Price at his home a few years after this recording. He gave me two things during that interview: the pleasure of hearing him play and sing A House of the Rising Sun for only me, and he gave me the cold he was struggling with. It wore that cold as a crown for a week afterwords.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

USA flagBob Dylan is about the same age as Alan Price.  He is a frequent guest in my list, prolific as he is, this time with his new album Shadows in the Night, where he sings old classics the only way he can, like Bob Dylan. It is not all beautiful, and it is a bit strange to listen to the King of three chords sing considerably more sophisticated music. Still, it works for me, there is a sincerity here that I feel in my gut. No doubt his relationship to these old songs are strong.

Left With Pictures

Left With Pictures

England flagA band consisting of classically trained musicians from London, Left with Pictures, is back with a new album, Afterlife. I was charmed by their broad stroked music before I heard the new album, and am an even greater fan now. As with Clementine, you have no idea where a track will take you the first time you listen to it. I can’t say that about most music being made today, let’s agree on that much.

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka

England flagMichael Kiwanuka’s career took off with his previous album, Home Again. With Love & Hate he has taken a giant step into superstardom. The album is wonderful, but Kiwanuka has lost some of the insecurity and vulnerability from the first album, as he steps out into the limelight and to a greater audience. That does in no way mean that this album is weak, rather it is filled to the brim with tracks that will be with you for a long time. Kiwanuka is here to stay.

Christine and the Queens

Christine and the Queens

Flag_of_France.svgHeloise Letissier of Christine and the Queens is one the most successful exports from France the last couple of years. Heloise and her band are now touring the U.S., and their album Chaleur Humaine, shows that French music can indeed cross anglo-borders, particularly if there are English-language tracks on the albums released. As with television drama, perhaps we’ll see a wave of non-English music finding its rightful place in the international charts?

Ole & SIlje Huleboer

Ole & SIlje Huleboer

Norway flagOle & Silje Huleboer is a duo from Norway who writes and performs the sweetest and simplest of love songs, and makes no excuses for it. The fact that the songs on Sounds Good! are all in English, should open some doors outside of Norway as well. Lean back and enjoy. Yes, it sounds good.

Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive

USA flagWe’ll end with two American acts, first Lake Street Dive, a group from Boston who seems to have fallen madly in love with old-fashioned funk. Side Pony could have been recorded decades ago, with a happy, unbothered sound of the greatest funk acts of yesteryear.

Eilen Jewell

Eilen Jewell

USA flagAnd finally, an album I promised to look into a few months ago, Ellen Jewell’s Sundown over Ghost Town. The singer from Idaho continues to record sophisticated country, and although not all tracks on the album is as memorable as on her previous album, I continue to enjoy both her voice and her song writing.

We say goodbye to Ellen Jewell’s last album , and to Aurora, Billie Marten, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Elton John, Frøkedal, Lissie, Rokia Traoré, Samantha Cain and Turin Brakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New This and The Old That

The new Amy Winehouse and Kate Bush have been found, and the old Eric Clapton and Paul Simon have found themselves anew. True or not, I’ll let you decide after faving listened to exciting new tracks in my blog list. (Yes, this is the link directly to the list!)

Hollie Stephenson

Hollie Stephenson

England flagDavid Stewart of Eurythmics fame found Hollie Stephenson, a London teenager who had fallen in love with the music of Billie Holiday when she was three. He met with her and her family and went on to produce her first album, simply titled Hollie Stephenson. (Yes, this is the link directly to the full album!) It didn’t take long before reviewers and listeners labelled the 18-year old the new Amy Winehouse. And yes, there are clearly similarities and unconcealed inspiration. Still, Hollie Stephenson is clearly a talent in her own right, both as a songwriter and as a vocalist. The album is at times a bit bland, too many songs sound the same, but no doubt this talent will bloom, and the seven tracks I have left you with are all highly enjoyable.

Louise Le May

Louise Le May

England flagLouise Le May is similarly hailed as the new Kate Bush and this time I really must disagree. She does not have any of the theatrics of Ms Bush, and the honey sweetness of her voice reminds me of many other female singers before Kate Bush comes to mind. Her writing is more along the line of that we expect from Brian Wilson. It is also far more interesting that Louise Le May waited until her 40s to make her debut album, A Tale Untold. This might be too sweet for many of you, but give the six tracks a go, you might just be enthralled.

Paul Simon Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Paul Simon
Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

USA flagThe list keeps growing of old guys still churning out music of the upmost quality. There was a time when any artist beyond thirty was a contradiction in terms. No more. Paul Simon does not give us the same brilliance as he did on Bridge over Troubled Water 46 years ago, but the sophistication of Stranger to Stranger, the beauty of the harmonies, the sheer rhythm of the words, are still better than what most other contemporary artists of any age can give us. It is just a different phase in an artist’s life we are listening to, not a burnt out genius.

Eric Clapton Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Eric Clapton
Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

England flagThe same goes for Eric Clapton. His new album, I Still Do, offers a politically incorrect mix of blues and sappy, lovely love songs inspired by Hollywood. It is if he is grinning at us, saying unapologetically: “This is what I am, this is what I do, this is what I like. And I do as I please.” Thank god for that; I enjoy his dirty blues riffs as much as his suave voice on the old Broadwat classic “I’ll be Seeing you”. What a joy.

Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams

Canada FlagCanadian Bryan Adams seems to be letting go, too, although his album Get Up sounds a lot like previous albums from the rusty-voiced singer. Still there is something reckless in his choices of tracks, a bit more playful, a bit less tailored to fit the playlists of AOR radio stations. We detected a similar heedlessness from Rihanna earlier this year, perhaps the genre police is slowly loosing their grip on some of the most talented artists of our time? Nothing could please me more.

Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector

USA flag71-year old  Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes fame, has recorded an album, English Heart, with cover songs of British 60s classics. Her voice is very distinctive, the roughness sometimes standing in the way of my enjoying her cover versions, but some of them are truly interesting to listen to, like The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” and the Rolling Stones’ “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls”. On the latter song the rest of The Ronettes joins her.

Martin Fry of ABC

Martin Fry of ABC

England flagSome of you may remember the 80s album The Lexicon of Love by British group ABC. Now they’re back with a follow-up, simply called The Lexicon of Love II. How impertinent is that? The production sounds like it was recorded the week after the original album, but that’s one of the reasons it is in fact working. The songs are as pompous and honey-dripping as on the original, with strings and 80s synths scattered on top, turning the album into a rich dessert to the 80s main meal.

Allen Toussaint Photo: Christopher Jones

Allen Toussaint
Photo: Christopher Jones

USA flagAllen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans producer, composer and pianist, died last November, and a posthumous album, American Tunes, is just out. Toussaint was involved in all kinds of music, but on this recording he is surprisingly mellow, with an almost classical touch both to song choices and the production in itself. He died suddenly while on tour in Spain, and should have been performing with Paul Simon a few days later. The title track is of course written by Simon, one of his best songs ever, and beautifully covered by Toussaint.

Robert Ellis Photo: Paul Penton

Robert Ellis
Photo: Paul Penton

USA flagI was lucky to catch  Robert Ellis in concert in Oslo in 2014, right after the release of his first album. Now his second is out, simply called  Robert Ellis. This time he is even more adventurous, with sultry string arrangements and almost symphony-like arrangements to some of the songs. This is truly a self-confident album, and with good reason. Robert Ellis is clearly among the best new artists of his generation, a fine storyteller and, I dare to predict, a star on the rise.

Laura Mvula Photo: Josh Shinner

Laura Mvula
Photo: Josh Shinner

England flagLaura Mvula was labelled a star on the rise following her magnificent debut album. Now she is back with her second album, The Dreaming Room. Listen to any track and you will know instantly that this is Mvula, so distinct is her style; so recognizable are her harmonies and method of song writing, so difficult is the music to pigeonhole. Not all songs are brilliant, sometimes she sounds repetitive, but the ambition of this album is nevertheless to be admired and enjoyed. As with Ellis, we haven’t heard the last from Mvula yet.

Cat's Eyes

Cat’s Eyes

England flagCanada FlagThe Canadian-English duo Cat’s Eyes, takes some time to comprehend. Treasure House is a strange mix, mirroring the equally strange mix of soprano singer Rachel Zeffira and British bad boy rocker Faris Badwan. Some of the songs are bordering on the indifferent and apathetic, others, particularly the ones I have picked for you, are soothingly beautiful and beautifully smooth. Cat’s Eyes is an acquired taste, no doubt, but I liked them better the second or third time than the first, so be patient.

Judith Owen

Judith Owen

Flag_of_Wales_2.svgThere is opera lurking in the background of Judith Owen’s career, too, at least in her genes, as her mother is an opera singer. With Somebody’s Child we glide into the American Songbook tradition, although most songs are brand new. As with Ellis, Owen tells stories with her voice, and she gets you to listen to what she has to say. There is a bit of Judy Collins and Carole King in her vocals, but Judith Owen is clearly a genuine artist and doesn’t need to be compared.

As usual we have to kick out a few artists to make room for new talent. This time we say goodbye to David Bowie, Federico Albanese, The Anchoress, Erik Truffaz Quartet, No 4, Sivert Høyem, Marte Eberson, Eleanor Friedberger, Suede, Sia and Villagers. No doubt some of these will be back in the Best of the year list in December, don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Hearing

This time, let me start on a personal note: I have lately been struggling with symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, a benign but very inhibiting illness that has given me days, even weeks, of hearing loss and hearing distortions – not something one would want to struggle with when you’re writing a music blog. That should explain why it has been months since my last blog update. On my good hearing days I have been listening to a lot of great, not so great and, frankly, bad music – so you don’t have to. The result is 36 new tracks in the great-category, more than two hours to be enjoyed with the rest of the tracks in my blog list. Hopefully I will be allowed to listen more consistently in the coming months, so you don’t have to wait this long between posts. Luckily the blog list offers hours upon hours of great listening, so you have very little chance of being too bored, hopefully.

And here is a direct link to the updated blog list at Spotify:

…and remember you can get straight to any album by clicking on the album title…

Mull Historical Society Photo: Ben Morse

Mull Historical Society
Photo: Ben Morse

Hebrides Western_Isles_Council_Flag.svgWe start in the most unlikely of places, the Hebrides, yes a part of Scotland, but it’s more exotic to treat as a separate entity (Hebrides voted to remain in the EU three weeks ago – just saying). Mull Historical Society is a one-man band, Colin McIntyre, from the tiny island of Mull. He is a respected musician (and fiction writer!), and has opened for bands like Elbow. His 2001 album, Loss, has been performed in its entirety, just like more famous artists have done with their best albums. His new album is called Dear Satellite, with a number of well-crafted pop songs with deep roots in the eighties. I have picked five enjoyable tracks for you, including his minor hit, Build Another Brick.

Jacob Bellens

Jacob Bellens

Flag_of_Denmark.svgA slightly bigger country – or entity if you like – Denmark, has produced a similar artist, Jacob Bellens. I am fascinated by his latest album, Polyester Skin, an intelligent and brilliant collection of pop songs, performed by a vocalist with a rare and moving voice. This album deserves to be wider known, so spread the word if you like the six tracks I have added. Start with Untouchable and listen to the eerie and haunting keyboard intro before we glide into Bellens’ equally haunting voice.

Twin Danger Photo: Sunny Khalsa

Twin Danger
Photo: Sunny Khalsa

USA flagI am very fond of jazz, not all of it, but Ella Fitzgerald and her cocktail jazz contemporaries are among my life’s greatest joys. I have been reluctant, however, to add too much jazz to my list; this is a pop and rock list more than anything and I don’t want to put anyone off. But I can’t resist serving up the wonderful New York duo, Twin Danger and their album Twin Danger, for you. They want to sound as if Frank Sinatra was in The Clash, not sure if I agree, but hey, if it arouses your interest… Vocalist Vanessa Bley and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman write and perform as if all their songs are classics already. Perhaps that’s they way classics were made back when one made classics.

Willie Nelson Photo: David McLister

Willie Nelson
Photo: David McLister

USA flagGeorge Gershwin has always been a favourite of cocktail jazz artists. No wonder; his music is ingenious, some of the best tunes ever written by any composer in any time period. Now country singer Willie Nelson tries his best with Gershwin songs on the album Summertime. Many of his versions are too straight and right off the sheet for my taste, but Nelson’s twang, guitar playing and emotive voice give a different feel to a number of the songs, and I have added six that ought to create a sing-a-long around the bar-b-Que this summer.

Tanita TIkaram

Tanita TIkaram

England flagTwo English girls complete this week’s new blog songs, one you might very well remember with pleasure, the other a new voice, at least for me. Tanita Tikaram ought to have a number of flags representing her in my blog. She is born to a Fijian father and Malaysian mother, in Germany, but she grew up in Basingstoke, and you don’t get more English than that. Her debut album, Ancient Heart, from 1988, is one of the best folk rock albums of the 1980s. Her newest album, Closer to the People, four years in the making, is a truly pleasant surprise. She is still writing and performing innovative and pleasing songs, happier sounding than before, even though her alto voice adds a certain seriousness to everything she does. And I still don’t get the lyrics, which I love.

Lucie Silvas

Lucie Silvas

England flagLucie Silvas could have waved Scottish and New Zealander flags, but unlike her parents she was born and raised in Kingston-upon-Thames outside London. On her third album, Letters to Ghosts, she really shows off her craftsmanship both as a singer and songwriter, with a clever and varied mix of pop, rock and country. Her voice is not the easiest to distinguish from other singers, but the songs she performs are more easily recognizable, easily hummable and enjoyable. I have picked what I consider the best six tracks from a very good album.

I am waving goodbye to a number of artists this week, making room not only for these 36 great tracks, but for future tracks I hope I can find for you and can listen to without too much distortion. The following leave us: Sara Bareilles, Judy Collins, The Zombies, Kovacs, Sondre Justad, Ingbjørg Bratland, Danni Nicholls, Tom Jones, Chris Cornell, Giorigio Moroder, Melanie Gardot, Jesper Munk, Sarah Blasko, The Waniwright Sisters, Son Little, Senabo Sey, Yael Naim, Bill Wells, Mariza, Leah Nobel, Jools Holland and Ruby Turner, Electric Light Orchestra and Lana del Rey. Some of these I am positive will reappear in this year’s best of collection in December.

The Atlantic Culture

Do they have anything in common, artists from countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean? Possibly a common denominator of superior music centered in the Mid-Atlantic? Possibly a way of tying 14 highly wide-ranging and diverse albums together without string? After having listened to the 88 brand new songs in my blog list, you decide.

HERE IS THE UPDATED LIST:  PETTER WALLACE’s BLOG LIST

IF YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO AN INDIVIDUAL ALBUM, CLICK ON ALBUM TITLE

Johnny Borell Photo: David Fisher/Rex Features

Johnny Borell
Photo: David Fisher/Rex Features

England flagAt least one artist is tied to the headline: Johnny Borell’s album is called just that, The Atlantic Culture, recorded with the jazz band Zazou. This is a strange album coming from an indie singer like Borell, highly varied music, from lounge music to folk pop. A lot of the tracks are too strange and varied for my taste, but I found seven songs that I listen to again and again. Hopefully you will, too.

George Harrison

George Harrison

England flagI consider George Harrison the second most brilliant songwriter in The Beatles, following Paul, but sneaking ahead of John. Not being too fond of neither tribute albums nor live albums, I approached George Fest with deep scepticism. And I was mostly right, a number of the renditions were mere shadows of the originals, even from established artists that should have known and done better. Still, it is hard to do brilliant songs really badly, and some of the tracks are quite good, particularly Dhani Harrison’s versions of Savoy Truffle and Let It Down. I would leave the album alone, though, and go with my choice pieces – but first and foremost go back to the originals.

Douwe Bob

Douwe Bob

Netherlands.svgDouwe Bob is like the illegitimate son of Billy Joel and Paul McCartney, shamelessly mimicking the style of the 80s. He has been picked to sing the Dutch entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and his fame in Holland seems to have no end. Perhaps Pass it On will introduce him to an even larger audience, deservedly so. The song he is entering the contest with, won’t.

Jonathan Jeremiah

Jonathan Jeremiah

 

England flagJonathan Jeremiah is mimicking the Doors in a similar way, but his deep voice is definitely not belonging to a resurrected Jim Morrison. Oh Desire is a wonderfully cool album, jazz, soul and soft rock in an enticing mix, all tied together by Jonathan Jeremiah’s voice. Why the single from the album, Arms, is not played to death on the radio is beyond me.

Jamie Scott

Jamie Scott

England flagI am equally attracted to Jamie Scott’s My Hurricane. Unlike many other singer/songwriters with an acoustic guitar, Scott manages to create songs from a much wider palette than most of his peers. He has written a lot of the music for boy band One Direction, but is a substantially more interesting artist in his own right. We all need to make a living, I guess.

Kakkmaddafakka

Kakkmaddafakka

Norway flagOn to a couple of interesting bands: From the coastal city of Bergen, Norway comes Kakkmaddafakka, the name hinting about a slightly misguided coolness. Kakkmaddafakka is not a rap artist from the Bronx, but a polished indie band, with melodic songs performed with a live feel to them. The band has had considerably more success live than recorded, but perhaps that is about to change with KMF, a chirpy and happy collection that I hope you will enjoy.

The 1975

The 1975

England flagThe 1975 is now among the most popular bands in the UK at the moment, which is a bit of a surprise, actually, because their album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (Sic), is way too sophisticated and ambitious to make it to the top of the charts. But it did. I find it very hard to pigeon-hole the music from The 1975, every new song is a new revelation, mostly a pleasant one. Give the whole album a try if you like the six tracks I have chosen.

Emmy The Great

Emmy The Great

England flagBefore we travel across the great Atlantic to the other side, let’s give Emmy the Great a listen. She is born in Hong Kong to an English father and Chinese mother, but grew up in England and there isn’t much Chinese influence in her music that I can hear. Her lyrics and song writing is poetic, sweet but perhaps a bit on the mysterious side. The new album is called Second Love.

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn

USA flagIt is pushing it a bit to say that Midwestern country queen Loretta Lynn is influenced by an Atlantic culture, but Country has taken the world by storm and is much more mainstream now than when Loretta started up six decades ago. Her new album, Full Circle, recorded at the age of 84, shows that age is irrelevant in popular music. As many of you have experienced following my blog list, mature artists don’t stop making fabulous music, even into their eighties. Full Circle offers a lot of traditional country, a bit tedious for my taste, but there are more general accessible songs in between. You find them in the list.

Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt

USA flagBonnie Riatt is only 66 and could have been Loretta Lynn’s daughter. Just as Lynn has helped make country mainstream, Riatt has done her bit for the popularity of blues and roots music. She is doing her bit with her new album Dig in Deep, too. There is a lot of sorrow and regret in the lyrics, but she is at her best when she ties knots with her iconic Fender Stratocaster and plays good old rock’n’roll, as in Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes.

 

Rihanna Photo: EJ Hersom

Rihanna
Photo: EJ Hersom

BarbadosRihanna could have been Bonnie Riatt’s grandchild, but she is already a classic recording artist in her own right and seems to have been around for a very long time. She started recording at 17, so that might explain it. Her newest album, ANTI, is a big surprise, she seems to have sent Swedish pop machine people on the first flight home, and have recorded a sophisticated, different, interesting album, with a soundscape that I am sure a lot of her advisors have warned her about. The way she takes her voice way out of her comfort zone in Higher, proves the point.

Serena Gomez

Serena Gomez

USA flagSelena Gomez is still stuck with the pop robots, but at least she was left with some of the better ones. I can’t help it, I really like part of her new album Revival, despite the fact that it has its big share of chewing gum music. It is produced with style and makes no apologies, even putting Selena Gomez naked on the cover. And if the singing career should go downhill, she still has an equally active acting career to lean towards.

Ezra Furman

Ezra Furman

USA flagI must admit reading about Ezra Furman introduced me for the first time to the term gender-fluidity. In my time we called it bisexuality, but I will roll with the times from now on. Furman is a playful and colourful American artist, hard to pin down musically, full of surprises and twists and turns. Some of it goes over my head, but it is hard not to find anything on his album Perpetual Motion People that you don’t like, and I have found five highly enjoyable tracks for you.

Emitt Rhodes

Emitt Rhodes

USA flagEmitt Rhodes has taken up a lot of positions in his musical career, singer/songwriter, yes, but also drummer, recording engineer, bass player and pianist. With his newest album, Rainbow Ends, he is firmly in the country pop landscape with his music, beautiful, hummable pop music, good for you hearing and your mood.

Lauren Housley, Nerina Pallot, Ben Folds, David Gilmour, Richard Hawley, John Mayall, Diane Coffee, Darwin Deez, Keith Richards, Squeeze and James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg leave us for now.