Electronica Album Reviews
The producer’s collected post-Untrue EPs reveal him as one of the most evocative voices in British music
The nights are drawing in and the weather outside is frightful, so it’s the time of year to reach for an old favourite – no, not just Michael Bublé but Burial, the south London producer whose tracks remain the perfect accompaniment to a moody illicit joint in the snow at your parents’ house over Christmas; the sound of cloud covering a 4pm dusk.
The designer and musician makes his mark using synthetic-sounding instruments to produce his spooky electronics
Jesse Kanda has made a considerable mark on culture with his graphic design – his mythic, bulbous, gender-indeterminate beings are the perfect foil for Arca’s music, and he has made beautiful, influential collaborations with FKA twigs and Björk. He then moved into music, as Doon Kanda, with two EPs leading up to this debut album, featuring another melancholy demigod on the cover.
The Syrian musician has released 500 records and now lives in exile in Turkey, but this short, sharp record shows an undimmed spirit
There was a glorious moment during Syrian singer Omar Souleyman’s 2011 Glastonbury set. Having just opened to a crowd of sedate, sun-baked West Holts revellers with the trilling saz lines of ballad Saba, he gives one waft of his hand and commands the entire crowd into a dabke-fuelled frenzy.
His keyboard player starts hammering out electronic drums on the keys, while Souleyman wails deep-throated entreaties to his audience; it is a joyous encapsulation of his music and appeal.
On these melancholy bangers, the PC Music singer uses nursery rhyme-like trance-pop melodies and a girlish sing-song delivery to essay the pain of being lovelorn and vulnerable
Here’s an affecting companion piece to Caroline Polachek’s recently acclaimed Pang: another breakup album with production handled by one of the PC Music collective, who rescue trance-pop sonics from the tyranny of good taste. Polachek’s record featured work by Danny L Harle, while Diamond’s is produced by AG Cook. Where Polachek is erudite and poetic, Diamond is prosaic; where Polachek’s vocals are astonishingly skilful, swooping into high registers, Diamond’s are unremarkably ordinary.
The Bristolian DJ and producer’s nuanced debut is an enveloping listen, folding softer textures into its 2am beats
The transition from DJ to album artist is a tricky one. While one art is about reading the room, the other is a more isolated and intimate experience. For Bristolian Shanti Celeste, on her debut full-length Tangerine, it’s an opportunity to show subtlety and depths that she doesn’t often have space to explore on the dancefloor.
Metal Album Reviews
Rock Album Reviews
Are you enjoying our collab with the the bad boys of Steel Panther looking for the creme de la creme of hard rock and metal bands yet undiscovered? I know I am! And, boy oh boy, do I dig what just showed up for me to listen to this week! Meet KAATO and their debut …
I really like what I hear from this rather new band from Bergen, Norway. Firefight began their adventure in 2017, and the description I was sent was that they are a melodic/thrash band with groove. With so many genres and subgenres, I find it hard to keep up. It’s all metal to me, so let’s …
Classical Music Album Reviews
Country Music Album Reviews
Rap Album Reviews
Jazz & Blues Album Reviews
Keb Mo – Moonlight, Mistletoe & You
Bluesman Keb Mo (Keving Moore) has laid down 10 Christmas tunes for the upcoming holiday season, half of which are originals. It’s a fine effort with Keb and a variety of different artists in support.
The classic “Please Come Home for Christmas” kicks things off. He gives this one a bluesy and jazzy presentation with nice keys by David Rogers and Akil Thomson on some smooth electric guitar. Next is the title track; Gerald Albright is on sax and gives a nice solo and there is some pretty strings that are nicely arranged. Smooth and flowing, it’s more jazz than blues but well done. “Better Everyday” is another original with some horns and organ and keys and backing vocals to make things rounded out and cool. “Santa Claus, Santa Claus” gets a dirty sounding work over with stinging guitar by Thompson in support of Keb. The amusing “Christmas is Annoying” is next, an original done with just Keb in trio format with Scott Mulvahill on upright bass and Neil Tufano on drums. Less is better as he bops through things in a bouncy and lilting manner.
Koko Taylor’s “Merry, Merry Christmas” gets a well done and fresh update with Thompson and Rogers in support. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” brings the strings and horns back with pretty piano by David Rogers helping out along with Mike Pachelli’s guitar and Melissa Manchester sharing the vocals. “Santa Claus Blues” is an old 1931 Charlie Jordan tune that Keb works over nicely with some piano and a little acoustic slide. “When the Children Sing” feature Keb on guitar and vocals with The Children of NIA House Montessori School, a beautiful and uplifting cut. “One More Year With You” is a smooth and jazzy original that might be a Tony Bennett song if it were not Kevin Moore delivering with his emotive pacing. Cool horns, piano and keys make this special.
Okay, it’s not all blues and there is a tad of schmaltz here and there, but this is a nice Christmas album mixing some slick jazz and Keb’s always thoughtful vocals. If you need some new Christmas music to make the season bright, then you might think about picking this up!
The BB King Blues Band – The Soul of the King
BB KIng’s band has assembled a host of stars to help them pay tribute to the King of the Blues. This is not one of those all star albums that falls flat on it’s face where the guests go through the motions; here we have assembled a cast of people who pay a wonderful homage to The King along with his fantastic band.
“Irene Irene” features the stinging guitar of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Russel Jackson on vocals, a great start to a great record and an original soung to boot. Shepherd is on fire in this superb slow blues. Kenny Neal takes the lead on vocals and guitar on the King’s “Sweet Little Angel.” Neal gives a gutsy performance with well done vocals and guitar that hearkens to BB’s sound. Diunna Greenleaf on vocals and Eric Demmer on alto sax get to help the cause on “There Must Be A Better World Somewhere,” a song BB loved that Doc Pomus and Doctor John penned. Demmer’s horn is stellar and Diunna is ever so soulful and great here (as she always is). Mary Griffin and Taj Mahal share vocals and guitar and Demmer returns on alto for “Paying The Cost To Be Boss.” Acoustic guitar gives the tune something new and Griffin blows us away on vocals and Taj adds grit and determination. Taj and Mary give us a wonderful duet as the band blazes in support. Demmer’s solo is again something to savor over and over.
“Low Down” is an original tune and begins with some great trumpet work by Lamar Boulet. Jackson nails the vocals and tuba by Kirk Joseph with the trumpet give this a nice NOLA feel. Demmer returns again for “She’s The One;” he has made me a convert to the alto sax at this point. I always seem to prefer the sound of the tenor sax but Demmer has a sound that makes the high toned sax feel deep and sublime. He also gets the lead vocals here and does a fine job on this original. “Taking Care Of Business” is a funky cut written for this album and once again features Jackson on vocals, Demmer on tenor, guitar solo by Wilbert Crosby and James Bolden and John Del Toro Richardson backing the vocals. The guitar is amazing and the sax is too. The band lays out a superb groove and the vocals are great as is the organ in support. Greenleaf backs up Jackson on “Becoming The Blues,” starts as a nice slow blues. Kenny Neal gets to add harp and Crosby returns on the guitar solo on this song that Jackson wrote. It’s a great down home song that breaks out a bit as things pick up and get a little more emotional. Jackson wrote this song. “Hey There Pretty Woman” has James “Boogaloo” Bolden on vocals for this one that he wrote. He sings with a cool, deep baritone voice and Demmer gives us another pretty solo on sax.
Bolden again sings and co-wrote with Demmer “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” another cool swinging blues. Darrel Lavigne gives us a sweet piano solo and horns blaze again. Joe Louis Walker is featured on vocals and guitar on a song he co-wrote entitled “Regal Blues (A Tribute To The King).” He plays some thoughtful and poignant guitar and sings with gusto as the band comes out in full support . Walker gives us his take on King’s Lucille sound and does a fine tribute. Bolden returns for his “Pocket Full Of Money,” once again showcasing his deep and soulful voice. Lamar Boulet offers a sweet and sublime trumpet solo on this one. The final song is the King’s greatest and most well known hit, “The Thrill Is Gone.” Michael Lee gets the lead vocals and guitar solo here and does a fantastic and emotional job as he and the band played one of the blues world’s top hits with a fresh and sweet sound.
BB’s band is comprised of James “Boogaloo” Bolden on trumpet and vocals and leading the band as he has done for years, Eric Demmer on lead sax, Russell Jackson on lead vocals and bass, Walter King on sax, Herman Jackson on drums, Darrell Lavigne on keys, Lamar Boulet on trumpet, Wilbert Crosby on guitar, Brandon Jackson on drums and Raymond Harris on trombone. These guys have been stellar backing BB and now on their own get to showcase even more of their skills. They brought in a set of outstanding guests who worked hard to give us a wonderful tribute to BB King.
They do a great job and this is certainly a fine album of songs BB loved and in tribute to him. I think this is well worth a listen as any blues fan will find something here to savor. The new songs are ones BB would have embraced and played with his wonderful approach to music. He is surely missed but we see a lot of love and admiration in this fine set of a baker’s dozen of original and cover songs!
The Wayne Riker Gathering – R&B Thunder
8 songs – 29 minutes
Wayne Riker has a stellar reputation as a guitar teacher and the author of a multitude of guitar instructional books. He has also produced 12 CDs under his own name as well as playing in over 50 different groups over the last five decades.
R&B Thunder is Riker’s latest release and is an interesting project, in that he has assembled a hot-shot band of San Diego musicians (comprising Stu Shames on keyboards, John Simons on bass and Walt Riker on drums) and then had them back nine different vocalists on a variety of well-known R&B standards. The result is a short (less than 30 minutes) but enjoyable eight song album, primarily as a result of some superb vocal performances.
The opening track, Etta James’ “Tell Mama” comes roaring out of the traps with an incendiary vocal performance from Sharifah Muhammad. Riker’s smoothly distorted guitar enjoys a call and response with Muhammad in the fade out. Shelle Blue then takes on Ruth Brown’s “As Long As I’m Moving”, which misses the swinging horns of Brown’s original, although Shames’ piano solos are great fun as he and Riker swap solo choruses.
Janis Joplin’s “Half Moon”, sung by Michele Lundeen, benefits from not having the muddy production of the original and Lundeen really gets into the meat of the song, with an appropriate edge of desperation to her delivery, an edge that is neatly echoed in the opening notes of Riker’s guitar solo.
David Mosby’s deep bass voice emphasizes the gospel roots of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”, with a beautiful a capella ending, while Amy Winehouse’s “Stronger Than Me” (with Whitney Shay on lead vocals) subtly moves the song away from the electronic beats of the original to focus on the song’s melody and the reggae grooves that underpin the track. Riker’s ending solo is superb.
Rachel Gould and Chet Baker’s version of “All Blues” is given quite a busy instrumental interpretation under Leonard Patton’s lovely vocal, while Leona Lewis’ “Thunder”, sung by Deanna Haala, is played relatively faithfully to the original, albeit with the piano more to the fore on this version.
Christine Hewitt and Janet Hammer add backing vocals to a number of tracks and also take turns as lead vocalist on the album’s final track, “Dancing In The Streets”, with Shames’ keys mimicking the horns of the original. Each of the nine vocalists featured on the album takes a few lines on the song, as does Riker himself briefly. There are also some neat lyrical updates to the track to reference San Diego.
R&B Thunder was well-recorded by Cedrick Courtois at Studio West in San Diego and there is a palpable sense of enjoyment from the various singers. No doubt recording the album was a lot of fun. Where there is a question mark is over who the album is aimed at. The songs are superbly played and sung, but they are all well-known standards and played relatively faithfully to the originals. With this much talent on display, it would have been great to have heard some new material, or a radical re-interpretation of at least one of covers.
That being said, the vocal performances themselves are worth the price of admission, particularly Sharifa Muhammad, so even as a simple introduction to some of the vocal talent of San Diego, this album is worth a listen.
Ray Cashman – Houston Electric
11 songs – 42 minutes
Houston Electric is Texas singer-guitarist-songwriter Ray Cashman’s seventh album and is a raucous collection of hard-driving blues-rock played with joyous abandon. Featuring 11 self-penned tracks, this is the sort of album that provides a perfect accompaniment to a long road trip.
Opening with the mid-paced stomp of “Feet On The Ground”, Cashman’s gritty, overdriven slide guitar fits naturally with his weathered, almost gnarled voice. His band are first rate, with Manuel Perez in particular laying down an irresistible rhythm on drums, together with Patrick Neifert on bass and guitar and Gary Belin on backing vocals.
In the upbeat primal rock’n’roll of “Good Times”, Cashman’s voice takes on some of the yodelling vulnerability of Phil Alvin, with some suitably wild guitar giving the song a hint of the Black Crowes as Cashman humorously warns about the dangers of hard living and how “the good times never last”. The pace slows slightly for “Devil’s Smile” where Cashman’s outstanding guitar slides just on and off the beat, giving the song real life, while the stuttering guitar riff of “Fire Dance” has echoes of the British blues-rock giants of the late 1960s.
Produced by Belin and Cashman and engineered and mastered by Belin at the Rock Shed in Houston, Texas, the songs on Houston Electric are primarily based around guitar riffs, but invariably contain something unusual to retain the listener’s attention. On “Electric Pistol”, for example, Cashman pulls out a wildly arresting guitar solo mid-song. In “Domino”, the opening single notes of an acoustic guitar are rapidly overtaken by a single repeated echoed chord and there is an unexpected chordal middle-eight rather than a guitar solo. Cashman pulls out the slide guitar again for “Pickle Juice” and the slower “Full Moon Over Orlean” (which also includes some beautiful piano from guest Anderson Braun), while the Springsteen-esque “Hard Way” contains a lovely guitar solo that is striking for the cleanness of its tone, in contrast to Cashman’s tone on the other tracks.
“Reefer Headed Woman” emphasizes Cashman’s clever lyrics as the protagonist wryly notes the physical benefits he gets from his mellow lady friend. The track also contains some more outstanding slide guitar. The closing track, “Millionaire”, is based around a strummed acoustic guitar over which an electric guitar picks out single note arpeggios.
With its distorted guitars, riff-based songs and in-your-face attitude, Houston Electric is very much a blues-rock album rather than pure blues, but it is played with such technical facility, muscular confidence and unabashed joy that it is very hard not to enjoy it. And if your tastes lean towards the heavier side of blues-rock spectrum, you will definitely want to check it out. A rather impressive release.
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters – Beyond The Blue Door
15 songs – 73 minutes
What can be said about Ronnie Earl that hasn’t already been said? Most blues fans will already own at least several of his albums, the repeatedly high quality of which defy expectations for enduring artists. He is a genuine virtuoso with a unique sound and vision in an age where rewards appear to be most easily found in mediocrity and appealing to the lowest common denominator. This writer can also attest to Earl’s genuinely kind personality. And his band, the Broadcasters, whilst varying in personnel over time, remain a byword for quality in blues music.
In recent years, Earl has maintained an impressive output of material for a man closer to 70 than 60. Beyond The Blue Door is a more than worthy addition to his stellar catalogue, with the focus very much on blues songs rather than the jazz instrumentals of a few years ago. On this release, the Broadcasters comprise Dave Limina on piano and Hammond B3, Diane Blue on vocals, Forrest Padgett on drums and Paul Kochanski on bass. There are also a number of special guests, including David Bromberg (who also provided the CD liner notes) on acoustic guitar and vocals; Kim Wilson on vocals and harp; Mario Perrett and Greg Piccolo on tenor saxophone; Scott Shetler on baritone saxophone; Anthony Geraci on piano; Michael Rush on bass; and Peter Ward, Larry Lusignan and Scott MacDougal on guitar. The result is a superb collection of songs, played with deep emotional connection and recorded with warmth and precision by Huck Bennett at Wellspring Studios in Acton, MA, and Stu Gatz Studio, MA.
The tracks span the usual range of styles that one would expect to find on a Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters album. There are some choice covers (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Baby How Long”, Dusty Springfield’s “Brand New Me”, Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” or Joe Simon’s “Drowning In A Sea Of Love”), some delicious new tracks (“Wolf Song” is a classic Earl tribute to a musical hero, while closing track, “Blues For Charlottesville”, is a beautiful slow blues instrumental with immense guitar) and a few old gems from Ronnie’s past are dusted off and revisited (“A Soul That’s Been Abused” and “Piece Of Mind”).
The album opens with the gentle Motown groove of “Brand New Me” before Kim Wilson adds the first of his three contributions to the smooth shuffle of “Baby How Long” (with great piano from Anthony Geraci). Former Roomful Of Blues bandmate, Greg Piccolo, also adds his always-top-drawer saxophone to three songs, perhaps most tellingly on one chorus of the monumental instrumental version of “Drown In My Own Tears”, but also on the too-short guitar-sax duet that is “Alexis’ Song”.
One of the many highlights of the album is Earl’s duet with Bromberg on Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” where Bromberg’s acoustic country blues guitar meshes perfectly with Earl’s pure Stratocaster tone.
The temptation for virtuoso players is that sometimes too much focus can be placed on them and not enough on the other players. On Beyond The Blue Door, Earl has struck the perfect balance of laying down some outrageously good guitar playing whilst ensuring that the spotlight shines on the other players at the appropriate time. There is a real sense of this being a band recording, rather than a band supporting an individual star.
The Broadcasters provide supple, sensitive support throughout that is overwhelmingly musical, while the guest musicians slot in perfectly and all shine when it is their moment to step out. Mr Earl’s playing also remains a thing of rare beauty, with his unparalleled ability to articulate a range of human emotions through his guitar. Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters do not release bad albums. Beyond The Blue Door however is a very, very good album, whichever way you look at it. Wonderful stuff.
Pop Album Reviews
Halsey has shared two new songs from her upcoming album, Manic. The first, “Suga’s Interlude”, features BTS member Suga. The second, “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”, has arrived with a music video. Stream both tracks below.
Manic is her follow-up album to 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. In addition to “Suga’s Interlude” and “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”, she’s also shared singles “Graveyard”, “Clementine.”, and the American Music Awards-winning “Without Me”. This is her second time working with BTS; earlier this spring, she sang on their song “Boy With Luv” off their EP Map of the Soul : Persona.
“Suga’s Interlude” is a relatively short track, clocking in at two minutes. It’s a downtrodden ballad that sees her singing sorrowfully over a somber piano melody. Suga enters into the picture for various verses, rapping in Korean quickly but gently. Give it a listen below.
(Read: Top 25 Pop Songs of the 2010s)
“Finally // Beautiful Stranger” opts for a completely different pace. Armed with an acoustic gutiar, Halsey sings about finally being ready to fall in love. She adds charm to that sentiment with a slight country twang to her voice. The song’s real highlight comes at the chorus, though, where she belts the title with some heartbreaking voice cracks. She released an accompanying music video with “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”. In it, she plays to an empty bar, but later can be seen dolled up performing to a full crowd. Watch the clip below.
Manic comes out January 17th via Capitol. Pre-orders are available now. Along with Suga, the tracklist promises collaborations with Alanis Morissette and Dominic Fike.
Want to hear these new songs live? Halsey is touring the world pretty heavily right now, including her regular scheduled performances at the “Jingle Ball Tour 2019”. Grab tickets to all of her upcoming concerts here.
January 17, 2020 pic.twitter.com/QTNtI9Wt5A
— h (@halsey) December 3, 2019
This past Tuesday, The Weeknd was seen licking a toad in the trippy music video for “Heartless”. Things got similarly strange on Thursday night when the R&B crooner performed his new single live for the first time on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Most of the performance appeared to take place in the backstage area of the Ed Sullivan Theater. The Canadian artist, dressed to resemble the single’s artwork, danced and gyrated his way down winding halls that were flooded with ominous lighting. Think of the ambiance as something like a cross between horror movie and fire drill gone wrong.
(Read: Top 100 Songs of the 2010s)
Replay the TV appearance below, and stay tuned for more. The Weeknd is scheduled back on Colbert for a second performance on Friday night.
The Weeknd also recently shared the single “Blinding Lights”. These two tracks serve as Abel Tesfaye’s first solo music since 2018’s My Dear Melancholy EP. His last proper full-length, Starboy, dropped back in 2016. The musician has a cameo in the Safdie brothers’ upcoming Uncut Gems film, which hits theaters December 13th.
Harry Styles has released the official lead single of his new album, Fine Line. It’s titled “Adore You” and comes with a magical, cinematic music video helmed by renowned director Dave Meyers (Billie Eilish, Travis Scott).
In the clip, the former One Direction member introduces us to the mysterious fictional island of Eroda (that’s “Adore” spelled backwards). Located off the coast of England, the fishing village is known for being perpetually cloudy. Even its inhabitants are always seen sporting a frown, or what they call “resting fish face.”
Styles’ character changes everything, though. Unlike everyone on Eroda, he boasts a bright, big smile. His radiant joy eventually gets him shunned by the skeptical locals, and he withdraws entirely from society. With Styles absent, the island suffers and becomes even more melancholy than before.
Watch the full visual below to find out the fate of Styles and the island. If the narrator sounds familiar, that’s because it’s none other than Rosalía.
Fine Line drops next week on Friday, December 13th. For more, hear its two other singles, “Lights Up” and “Watermelon Sugar”. In support of the new LP, Styles will head out on a 2020 world tour accompanied by Jenny Lewis and King Princess; grab your tickets here.
“Adore You” Artwork:
In all the seas, in all the world, there has never been a land quite like the isle of Eroda.
Shaped unmistakably like a frown, it is home to all but forgotten fishing village that has had perpetual cloud cover for as long as anyone can remember.
An isle where some still believe that it’s bad luck to mention a pig in a fisherman’s pub.
where seeing a minster in the morning, meant you should go home immediately.
Some fishermen still wore a single gold earring for luck, some say it’s to pay to have your body buried if you die in a strange port.
It was also frowned upon to be caught whistling in the wind, in fear you might turn a gust into a gale.
And if ever you leave Eroda, avoid doing so on odd numbered days…
everyone was always frowning anyway. Which they referred to as Resting Fish Face.
But then…well something peculiar happened…or I mean…someone peculiar happened.
The Boy was… peculiar… from the moment he entered the world.
No one ever meant to be mean towards him, but in a town grown used to way things were, no one knew what to do with something… different.
They did their very best to ignore it… hoping it would go away… and eventually so did The Boy.
He had lost his smile and without it the world grew darker, the wind colder, and the ocean more violent.
The Boy was not alone in his melancholy.
He wondered what could bring despair to something so beautiful.
He tried to ignore the fish, but loneliness is an ocean full of travelers trying to find their place in the world.
But without friendship, we are all lost and left with no hope, no home, no harbor.
He wondered what cruel twist of fate brought them together, and if fate was indeed involved, what did she have in store.
The Brooklyn outfit evoke a powerful mood with their pummelling drum machines, wailing synths and snarling vocals
The Proustian rush is perhaps not what Brooklyn’s Pop. 1280, who took their name from a Jim Thompson novel, are trying to summon. One would bet that despair, dislocation and terror are their bag. Their debut album was called The Horror. Nevertheless, older listeners coming to them fresh will find themselves transported directly back to the mid-80s, and the voice of John Peel announcing that he’s got something new on the Blast First label that he thinks you’re going to like. There are primitively pummelling drum machines, guitars that screech and wail, droning synths and a singer, Chris Bug, whose voice is all sneers and yowls and snarls.
The London singer-songwriter – and one half of Summer Camp – released a new song per month during 2019, tracing the ups and downs of a relationship
Jeremy Warmsley made his name in the mid-00s with a strain of intelligent, introspective and gently synthy folk-pop that, though never massively popular, now feels hugely redolent of the era. Two albums in, the Londoner swapped indie sad-laddery for deliciously kitsch earworms as one half of Summer Camp. More recently, he has carved out a successful sideline in film and TV soundtracking.