Tag Archives: Music New Releases 2015

Album Review – WATER FOR YOUR SOUL – Joss Stone

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Dear Music Appreciators,

What a cool album cover. Kind of a lofty suggestion though, water for MY soul? Water, with all it’s refreshing, restorative, and life-sustaining qualities, for “my soul?” I hate to be the semantics police (I know, I know, there might be other meanings here) but unfortunately the music on this album doesn’t quite do these implied concepts justice for me.

But for plenty of Joss Stone’s fans, perhaps this album will be sort of like water for their souls I guess, in the sense that Joss always has a beautiful voice and a sort of a hand-holding, healing-soul-sister “we’re all in this together” kind of vibe going on, and lots of people will enjoy and identify with that regardless of what she does on her records.

Yes, there are reggae beats and a wide variety of instruments spread around on this album, and that’s pretty cool and groovy and everything but where is there any sense of joy or fun or at least some good ol’ fashioned showing off of that big expressive voice? Even the “up with people” type songs (such as “Star” or “Clean Water”) seem restrained by an overly busy instrumental background and relatively understated vocals and never quite seem to take off and soar. “Star” hands the big chorus off to a children’s choir for example, which gives the song a sort of plodding, creepy feeling rather than turning it into the jubilant, people-come-together kind of anthem it could have been. And this one particular example of choosing a musical style or effect over a chance to feature Joss Stone’s greatest asset (her voice) might just be symbolic of the main issue that infects the entire album.

In many ways WATER FOR YOUR SOUL is too long and too serious, and it lacks the big vocal moments that have made Joss Stone a pleasure to listen to so many times in the past.

But I criticize because I care. Funny thing is, despite all of it’s issues, with each succeeding listen I’ve found more to like and can’t deny that there are words and music and beats here that want to wear some grooves in my mind. Okay, fine, I’ll take numbers 1 through 5…oh and numbers 7 and 8…basically I’ll take half the album and you can keep the rest.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – SING INTO MY MOUTH – Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell

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Dear Music Appreciators,

I woke up this morning singing “The trouble with the straight and the narrow is it’s so thin I keep sliding off to the side.”

And I can’t get it out of my head for some reason.

I can relate to that song and I can relate to the way Ben Bridwell sings it. He seems like the right man for the job – he takes his time and he sounds like the kind of character that knows what he’s singing about. And he keeps up the good vs. evil motif with “Am I a Good Man?” a few tracks later.

And speaking of being a man, in looking at Bridwell’s whole contribution here, it appears that in some sense he plays the man part of this collaborative covers album and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) plays the woman part. The two singers trade off tracks, with half of the total tracks going to each of them. Bridwell sings “Am I a Good Man?” by the obscure sixties soul duo Them Two, while Beam takes on “Bonnie Raitt’s “Any Day Woman.” Half of Beam’s tracks on the album are by female singer/songwriters. All of Bridwell’s are by dudes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as they say on Seinfeld, and actually this kind of balancing act of musical sensibilities is one reason SING INTO MY MOUTH works well. Bridwell plays the rough-hewn vagabond with the more rustic vocals, singing about stuff like insecurity and isolation and loss, while evoking a sense of having been around the block a number of times and not being much better for the trips. Beam plays the sensitive and bearded hippie with the gentler vocals, singing about love and feelings, and he seems to get the lion’s share of the studio effects on his tracks.

Ironically, I normally prefer just the opposite with these two guys, in the sense that Ben Bridwell sounds better with the type of reverb and studio effects that were dripping from his first three Band Of Horses albums, while Beam sounds best alone with an acoustic guitar and a cassette recorder in his bedroom.

Some may lament the lack of original songs and signature sounds from these two bands. I think I did at first. But take this one for what it is – a fun little collaborative covers album between two musical friends letting their hair down together, so to speak.

If you’re already familiar with any of these songs though, you may be at a disadvantage. You may end up suffering from what I’ll call the “musical comparison conundrum,” where one struggles to overcome one’s predisposition to prefer whichever version of a song one hears first. But being the ignorant musical twit that I am, I hadn’t heard a single one of these songs before. I was able to enjoy these versions for what they are, and then listen to the originals later, which enhanced my appreciation of the songs. But of course I think I preferred Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell’s versions on every one – meaning that in the end, the above-described conundrum may have gotten me after all.

And basically, my dear music appreciators, what I’m trying to say with all of this blather is that SING INTO MY MOUTH is a groovy, laid-back listening experience that’s worth repeating again and again. Buy it, and perhaps you’ll get some lyrics stuck in your head like I did.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – ANGELS AND ALCOHOL – Alan Jackson

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Alan Jackson is a name I’ve heard a lot over the years, but somehow I’d never knowingly listened to one of his songs until I pressed play on ANGELS AND ALCOHOL, and it didn’t take long to know this guy is a master at what he does. Listen to just the first minute and thirteen seconds of opening track “You Can Always Come Home” and see if you know what I mean. It’s a pure genre song to be sure, but it’s done so well it transcends the genre and goes down as not just a great country song, but a great song, period. I’ve always been sort of a sucker for a slow, stripped down intro that suddenly morphs into a full-voiced, uptempo, emotional pick-me-up. No matter how bad it gets “you can always come home” – I mean, what warm-blooded human being doesn’t want to hear that, right, especially when it’s delivered in the warm and seasoned country superstar singing voice of someone like Alan Jackson?

Unfortunately there isn’t another song like this one on the album, but fortunately it seems Alan Jackson didn’t get to where he is for nothing, as the man knows how to fill his listeners’ cups all the way up.

“You Never Know” is the kind of country rocker where everyone and their brother gets a solo (including the piano player, my favorite), and suddenly the warm father figure from the first song is singing about a “curvy little bottom like a roller coaster ride.” “Angels and Alcohol” features some appropriately woozy pedal steel work while addressing one of country music’s favorite subjects – drinkin’ – and it’s notable for the double meaning of the word “angels” as well as the narrator’s apparent lack of apology or regret.

And perhaps it’s a certain lack of apology or regret through the entire album that effectively conveys Jackson’s veteran country confidence and makes this music worth listening to. Sure, some of it gets a little corny at times (“Flaws,” “When God Paints”) but when you’re as justifiably confident as Alan Jackson even corny can seem kind of cool.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE – Jason Isbell

jasonisbellsomethingmorethanfree

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Dear Music Appreciators,

If music were clothing then Jason Isbell’s latest album would be like one of those favorite shirts. You know, the one you reach for more than the others, the one that fits right and feels good – the one that doesn’t go out of style. SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE is a comfortable, well-made album that deserves some heavy rotation in the playlists of singer-songwriter appreciators everywhere.

Opening track “If It Takes a Lifetime” would not sound too out of place on a late 70’s Kenny Rogers album – and if you don’t think that’s a compliment then I don’t know what to do with you. “Hudson Commodore” could have been a hit for Eagles in their heyday. “Speed Trap Town” evokes the best of NEBRASKA era Springsteen.

Don’t put this one on to rock out. Don’t put this one on to dance. Put this album on to think and reflect and question, to come to terms and plan and move forward somehow. This music is good for staying up late, driving around, learning lyrics and singing a long. There’s a lot of acoustic, mid-tempo shuffling stuff and the electric guitar flavors are used sparingly but to great effect on songs like “24 Frames,” “Children of Children,” and “Palmetto Rose.”

A strong sense of memory and character and story abounds on these songs, and there’s plenty of conflict and regret, but there’s also a feeling of purpose and potential for good. Isbell asks questions (“The Life You Chose”) and he offers answers (“24 Frames”) and he sings about work like the grown-ass man that he is (“If It Takes a Lifetime,” “Something More than Free”). Recently my 12-year old nephew declared that I didn’t like the same kind of music he did because he was into “singer-songwriter.” He offered 17-year old internet discovery Shawn Mendes as an example of a singer-songwriter he was into. I’ve got nothing against Shawn Mendes, nephew, but hopefully someday you’ll learn to think of someone like Jason Isbell instead, because SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE is what real man singing and songwriting is all about.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – VENUS – Joy Williams

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Until this album I knew Joy Williams only as the female half of “The Civil Wars,” an Americana duo known for having their own little wars between themselves. Interesting that she should mark her return to a solo career with an opening track that samples Robert Frost, one of the great “Americana” poets of the twentieth century, a man who was probably no stranger to conflict, who has the words “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world” engraved on his gravestone.

Notice the album cover – the photograph suggests a woman exposed, surrounded by darkness, and if I remember anything from my film study classes I remember that when a character is covered with those horizontal shadow lines from the venetian blinds, they might be feeling internally divided or conflicted.

Notice the album title – “Venus” – the Goddess of Love, the brightest star in the sky – and a fun coincidence that the planet Venus completed a rare double star conjunction with Jupiter on the evening of June 30th, the release date for this album in North America.

Conflict, poetry, planetary conjunction coincidences – it’s all very well and good, but what about the music on this album? Well it’s more poppy and electronic and produced than the Civil Wars, but some of that trademark rootsiness and rusticity is still there. The music and vocals are beautiful and tasteful and thoughtful throughout, though at times a sort of earth mother “I’m gonna put a spell on you” kind of dark intensity creeps in. “I am woman, hear me roar” and all that.

In multiple interviews Joy Williams has discussed the album’s themes in relation to being a woman and has quoted the line “I am a universe wrapped in skin” as one of her favorites. And it’s this kind of exploration of the interplay between darkness and light that stamps this album as a memorable work worthy of repeated listening – though it’s pretty enough for mass audiences, VENUS is no puff piece designed to blow away and be forgotten. Hopefully other women, and all lovers of great music will be listening for a long time.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener

Album Review – THE STATE OF GOLD – Matt Pond PA

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Dear Music Appreciators,

I’m just gonna come right out and say it. This is a great album and you should buy it. If you already know Matt Pond PA you will most likely agree with this statement. If you’ve never heard of these guys, then congratulations, you just found a quality band to sink your teeth into. This is their ninth full length album, including their now out of print debut, and not including Matt Pond’s excellent “solo” album THE LIVES INSIDE THE LINES ON YOUR HAND from 2013. I haven’t heard all of their albums yet, and I’m glad. More for us to discover still, right?

When I say you should buy this album I guess I should qualify that statement with an “if.” Allow me to rephrase:

You should buy THE STATE OF GOLD by Matt Pond PA IF you like one or more of these things:

– Pop-rock music
– “Indie” music,
– 80’s music
– Liberal use of electronic effects and flourishes that enhance rather than overwhelm song-flavor
– A male lead singer-songwriter blessed with a light autumnal rasp that easily adds some extra intensity, importance, or interest to just about anything he sings
– Personal, introverted songs delivered in an extroverted, arms-wide open, almost-cinematic pop package
– Lyrics full of references to nature, light, color, and body parts that can be heard and understood enough to maintain the listener’s interest, but are obscured enough to support repeated listening.

And we’ll stop at lucky number 7 on that list because I’ve got other albums to review and this one is just plain good so no, there will be no specific song references or breakdowns or analysis. Sometimes an album is just great and just needs to be heard, and why should I clutter that up with any more music-geek chatter? So go get this one and enjoy it, will you?

Sincerely,

Constat Listener

Album Review – COMING HOME – Leon Bridges

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Dear Music Appreciators,

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve listened to the new album COMING HOME by Leon Bridges several times now and I’ve come to the following conclusions:

– Leon Bridges is a pretty smooth dude. His vocal phrasings are nicely toasted to the low burning embers of the music – no marshmallows catch fire on this album if you know what I mean, and as the listener I was continually left wanting s’more of Leon’s sound. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing – maybe Leon is a little too nicely toasted at times. Maybe it would be nice to hear him really let loose and catch fire – he certainly has the voice for it. Perhaps he lets things hang out a little more in his live shows – some artists are great on record but even better live.

– I like soul. I need more of it in my life and in my music collection. I go through life with a damper on my feelings most of the time and it can be liberating to listen to a honey-throated heartbreaker sing it with feeling (whatever “it” may be). If I was a singer I think I’d want to be the soulful kind who could sing those “Baby, baby, baby’s” and “Whoa girl’s” like Leon, in a way to make the ladies lean forward and listen.

– “Coming Home” is far and away the best song on the album, which is probably why it is the title track and why it was also the demo song that got him significant radio airplay and attention from major labels, leading to a deal with Columbia. Unfortunately “Coming Home” is also the first track on the album, which could make it a downhill trip from there for some listeners. I’m here to tell you to hang in there and keep listening. “Better Man,” “Smooth Sailin’,” “Lisa Sawyer,” “Pull Away,” and “River” are also standout tracks that deserve attention. Leon’s music has what I call “instant atmosphere” and by virtue of his velvety vocals and smooth, retro style he can make any room and any person in that room feel instantly cooler with the sound of really any of the tracks on this album.

– I’ve seen names like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye written in connection with Leon’s. I see the similarities of course, though his voice doesn’t seem to have the same kind of grit or power or passion of any of these yet, but of course not and so what? He’s awfully close, probably, but I guess I don’t really want him to be any of these guys anyway. I want him to be himself, and on the strength of this, his debut album in what surely could be a long and successful career, he is succeeding wildly at doing just that.

Sincerely,

Constant Listener