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Album reviews from The Guardian Music

  • Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom review | John Lewis's contemporary album of the month
    by John Lewis on 15th January 2021 at 9:00 am

    (Fridman Gallery)The composer’s two new works, exploring slavery and homophobia, are like immersive non-visual filmsOn paper, the latest album by electro-acoustic composer and installation artist Yvette Janine Jackson isn’t the most inviting of propositions for these miserable days. It features two lengthy soundscapes: the 23-minute Destination Freedom is a sonic representation of a slave ship crossing the Atlantic; the 20-minute Invisible People is an aural collage that confronts homophobia within African American communities. Continue reading...

  • Pearl Charles: Magic Mirror review – LA singer's sugar and strife
    by Alim Kheraj on 15th January 2021 at 8:30 am

    (Kanine Records)Combining various soft rock touchstones, Charles’s new album sometimes veers into cloyingly sentimental pasticheThe opening song from the second album by LA-native Pearl Charles owes more to Abba than the Americana of her debut full-length release. But despite its gleeful, Dancing Queen-worthy piano, Only for Tonight touches on a far less glittery message: painful emotional attachments following a one-night stand. Continue reading...

  • Plaisirs Illuminés: Works by Veress, Ginastera, Coll, review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
    by Andrew Clements on 14th January 2021 at 5:00 pm

    Patricia Kopatchinskaja/Sol Gabetta/Camerata Bern/Coll(Alpha)Violinist Kopatchinskaja gives the remarkable Camerata Bern and cellist Gabetta space to impress in this vivid collectionThough the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja naturally takes centre stage in this thoughtfully constructed collection, the disc is as much a portrait of the remarkable Camerata Bern as it is another showcase for Kopatchinskaja’s dazzling virtuosity. Two of the pieces here – Sándor Veress’s dutifully neoclassical Musica Concertante, for 12 strings, and Francisco Coll’s double concerto for violin and cello, Les Plaisirs Illuminés – were composed for the Camerata, while Alberto Ginastera’s brooding Concerto per Corde fits nicely alongside the Veress, with which it shares a clear stylistic heritage going back to Bartók; both string works are played with remarkable finesse and precision, without a conductor. Continue reading...

  • Shame: Drunk Tank Pink review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 14th January 2021 at 12:00 pm

    (Dead Oceans)The London band went from playing a 350-show stretch to nothing at all – and while tunes and originality are lacking, their subsequent dislocation makes for some thrilling musicThe annals of rock history are packed with songs bemoaning the lot of the artist on tour. You can understand the urge to write them – they proliferate on second albums, when artists who have done almost nothing except tour since their debut search for inspiration – but, nevertheless, attempting to elicit sympathy for a rock band among people who do a proper job for a living always seems dementedly optimistic.Under the circumstances, you have to take your hat off to London quintet Shame: whatever you make of their second album, they’ve successfully come up with an entirely new variant on a well-worn theme. Drunk Tank Pink – which takes its name from the colour that psychologists discovered automatically weakens anyone who stares at it for two minutes, and which went on to become the decor of choice in cells for intoxicated arrestees and the title of a bestselling book about how subconscious forces affect our behaviour – features songs about heartbreak, but it’s essentially an album about the privations of not touring, the struggle to decompress into normal life (which, in the case of Shame, critically acclaimed but low-selling, includes the aforementioned proper jobs) after two years on the road, during which the band, still in their teens when their debut album came out, are supposed to have played nearly 350 shows. Continue reading...

  • Tina May: 52nd Street (and Other Tales) review – a fitting tribute to Duncan Lamont
    by Dave Gelly on 9th January 2021 at 4:00 pm

    (33 Jazz)The songs of the late, great Scottish saxophonist, composer and songwriter are done full justice by vocalist Tina May and the James Pearson TrioThe late Duncan Lamont was a remarkable man: jazz saxophonist, first-call session musician, composer and highly original songwriter. He was also uniquely productive, intent on writing a song a day – “because you never know when a good one will turn up”. When one did, it was likely to be a sharp little vignette of a person or a place: Hymn for Jobim, The Algonquin Hotel, Fred Astaire, The Apartment – all among the 13 of his songs here. Tina May is just the right person to sing them too, with the sensitivity to step gently into a persona and the technique to handle the bravura intricacies of 52nd Street, a song celebrating the jazz hotspot of 1940s New York.Which brings us to the James Pearson Trio, house band at Ronnie Scott’s, who as accompanists play an absolute blinder throughout. Lamont himself was originally meant to join them, but his death, aged 87, in July, called the whole thing off for a while. Another saxophonist just didn’t seem right somehow, so his place is taken by Mark Nightingale, one of the finest trombone players in the world today. Continue reading...

  • Classical home listening: Stuart Skelton sings Lehár, Korngold and more
    by Fiona Maddocks on 9th January 2021 at 12:00 pm

    The Australian tenor takes centre stage on a fine disc of Austro-German late Romanticism. Plus, Inga Kalna’s solo debutAnyone choosing the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s new recording of Verklärte Nacht (Chandos), conducted by Edward Gardner, will get a subtle and urgent account of Schoenberg’s early work for string sextet, in the composer’s orchestral version. This imaginative album of Austro-German late Romanticism also acts as a showcase for the Australian tenor Stuart Skelton. He is soloist in the symphonic poem Fieber, by Lehár, a curious mix of military march and waltz. Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds (Songs of Farewell) bring out the wistful, poetic best in Skelton. And in Verklärte Nacht by Oskar Fried, based on the same poem as Schoenberg’s, Skelton is joined by the mezzo-soprano Christine Rice for this little-known, rhapsodic, post-Wagnerian outpouring, lusciously performed by all. Continue reading...

  • Viagra Boys: Welfare Jazz review – post-punkers are hard to love
    by Michael Hann on 8th January 2021 at 9:00 am

    (Year 0001)Expanding on their pulverising visions of lowlifes and inadequates, Viagra Boys’ second just about avoids caricatureThe second Viagra Boys album begins where the Swedish post-punk quintet’s debut, 2018’s Street Worms, left off: a churning, fuzzy bassline, sputtering electronics, and Sebastian Murphy declaiming in blackly comic fashion about his inadequacies: “I ain’t nice!” The whole point of Viagra Boys has appeared to be that they aren’t nice: live, they are pulverisingly intense, and Murphy – heavily tattooed, and both skinny and pot-bellied – projects an air of disdainful menace. Beneath the apparent squalor of songs like Research Chemicals, though, there was always purpose: attacking hypocrisy, celebrating underdogs. Continue reading...

  • Farhot: Kabul Fire Volume 2 review – gut-shaking sonic collage | Ammar Kalia's global album of the month
    by Ammar Kalia on 8th January 2021 at 8:00 am

    (Kabul Fire Records) The Afghan-born producer skilfully explores his heritage with an unruly collage of vocal samples blended with diasporic soundsFor producer Farhot, the cut-and-paste method of sampling in hip-hop serves as an apt symbol for the assembly of his immigrant identity – he sought asylum in Germany from his native Afghanistan in the 1980s and has not returned since. He first made his name with productions for the likes of Talib Kweli, Isaiah Rashad and Nneka that echoed the melodically driven US rap of the early 2000s and particularly the work of DJ Premier and Pete Rock. His first solo release, Kabul Fire Vol 1 (2013), was a scattershot mixtape homage to his childhood home, weaving in dub influences, rattling drum machine loops, Afghani folk samples and features from Kano, Ms Dynamite and Talbi Kweli. Continue reading...

  • Verklärte Nacht review – poetic journeys between dark and light
    by Erica Jeal on 7th January 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Skelton/Rice/BBCSO/Gardner(Chandos)Edward Gardner finds sumptuous intensity in Schoenberg’s drama, alongside a lesser-known version by Fried and dramatic songs to frame an intriguing collectionMore than one piece of headily romantic music was inspired by Richard Dehmel’s 1896 poem Verklärte Nacht, or Transfigured Night. The most familiar remains Schoenberg’s string masterpiece, first conceived as a sextet in 1899, reworked for string orchestra nearly two decades later and rarely very far from its composer’s mind for the rest of his life. This, in its orchestral version, is the pivotal piece on this recording, and it finds Edward Gardner drawing playing of sumptuous intensity but also ravishing delicacy from the strings of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in the studio days before the first lockdown.But it’s the rest of the repertoire that makes this disc especially interesting. Another composer inspired by Verklärte Nacht was Oskar Fried, who set the words as a glowingly Romantic tone poem for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra. Fried captures the poem’s theme of transcendence in music that blooms from darkness into light, finally framing the tenor soloist as a kind of Wagnerian hero – to which Stuart Skelton rises gloriously, while Christine Rice brings mellow richness to the mezzo’s music. Continue reading...

  • Barry Gibb: Greenfields – Gibb Brothers' Songbook Vol 1 review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
    by Alexis Petridis on 7th January 2021 at 11:30 am

    (EMI)With subtle, beautiful arrangements, this foray into country-pop with covers by the likes of Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell and Gillian Welch is testament to the Bee Gees’ greatnessOn the face of it, the notion of Barry Gibb releasing a country album seems peculiar. The Bee Gees were noted for their mastery of a variety of genres – from baroque 60s pop to disco – but country wasn’t among them. They did record country-flavoured tracks, but they’re largely on their least beloved album, 1970’s Cucumber Castle, and they’re certainly not among its meagre scattering of highlights. Even their 1983 collaboration with Kenny Rogers, Eyes That See in the Dark, tended more towards sounding, well, like the Bee Gees than the Rogers of The Gambler or Coward of the County. Related: The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb: ‘There’s fame and there’s ultra-fame – it can destroy you’ Continue reading...

  • Drive-By Truckers: The New OK review – unflinching protest rock
    by Phil Mongredien on 27th December 2020 at 9:00 am

    (ATO)The US rockers rail against Trump, fascism and police violence in their second album this yearWhile the sheer awfulness of Donald Trump’s presidency has inspired protest songs from across the spectrum of musical genres over the past four years, rock bands have been relatively quiet. Not so Alabama-via-Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers: coming only 11 months after their album The Unraveling tackled issues such as migrant children in cages and the US’s opioid epidemic, The New OK feels like a companion record, an unflinching, reportage-driven verdict on a tumultuous year and a deeply damaging presidential term that has polarised their country.The rousing The Perilous Night, in particular, is unambiguously apocalyptic, with Patterson Hood singing: “Fascism’s knocking and Trump says ‘Let them in’”, and warning of “flags of oppression” that are “blocking out the light”. Sarah’s Flame, meanwhile, is cloaked in deceptively gentle swaying country rock but rails against Sarah Palin for preparing the ground for “fat Donnie”. Elsewhere, the anger is replaced with a sense of helplessness at the collapse of order in the more reflective Watching the Orange Clouds, written in response to the protests – and counter-protests – in Hood’s adopted home town of Portland, Oregon, following the killing of George Floyd. (In that respect it feels like a sequel to 2016’s What It Means, a powerful rumination on the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.) At a time of such division, it’s a startlingly brave record and all the more necessary for it. Continue reading...

  • Steve Earle and the Dukes: JT review – a father's fond farewell
    by Neil Spencer on 26th December 2020 at 4:00 pm

    (New West)Steve Earle reprises 10 songs by his son Justin Townes Earle, who died earlier this year of a drugs overdose“It’s the only way I knew to say goodbye,” says Steve Earle of this album honouring his late son, Justin Townes Earle, a talented singer-songwriter from the same mould as his famous father: the same mix of Americana influences, the same wearied twang to his vocals, the same inspired way with a lyric. Sadly, too, the same dysfunctional family history, which meant that in boyhood Justin saw little of his father, with his teens quickly curdling into rebellion and substance abuse. In and out of addiction, in August this year “JT” fell foul of a cocaine/fentanyl overdose, aged 38.Earle reprises 10 of his son’s songs here, including early material such as Pine Hill, usually described as formative, but which emerges as bright as more praised later work. Justin used a sparer musical palette than Earle Sr, often with a rockabilly feel – the celebrated Harlem River Blues, for example – but the Dukes, a tough, road-worn outfit, tend to iron out their variety. Earle’s vocals, growling and gravelled these days, deliver the songs straight, only occasionally letting a sense of loss intrude. His own song Last Words is hushed and harrowing, taking comfort that the final words between father and son were “I love you”. Continue reading...

  • Jack Harlow: That's What They All Say review – breezy confessionals
    by Kate Hutchinson on 20th December 2020 at 1:00 pm

    (Atlantic)The 22-year-old Kentucky rapper confronts his newfound fame on a debut album that hints at finer things to comeKentucky’s Jack Harlow is one of the most hyped new rappers of this year, with a No 2 single and a Grammy nod for the same song, Whats Poppin. He’s also been called derivative and criticised for tracing over hard-edged rap styles with a frat-boyish freehand. On his debut album, the 22-year-old attempts to mark out his USP: “something ’bout your aura”, says the voice on Kendrick-ish opener Rendezvous. His breezy, poppy confessionals are indeed charismatic, and coast along – to use a word that’s often deployed to describe him – effortlessly.But there are few surprises here: the usual shouts to his home town (Louisville, on Face of the City), crass bro-isms (pre-cum gets a mention on Way Out, featuring Big Sean, ladies), Auto-Tuned crooning and a Chris Brown feature. Though to be fair, Creme must be the first song to blend trap with the uilleann pipes. His most interesting songs are the more introspective ones, where he addresses being uncomfortable about his acclaim (Keep It Light) and his white privilege (Baxter Avenue). Beyond the fronting, these songs hint that there might be more to come from Harlow than everything you’ve already heard before. Continue reading...

  • Taylor Swift: Evermore review – a songwriter for the ages
    by Kitty Empire on 20th December 2020 at 9:00 am

    On her richly resonant second album of the year, Swift dabbles with country noir and dives into the world of unbalanced relationshipsIt’s testament to the tightness of these two “sister albums” that the title of Taylor Swift’s first album of 2020 – Folklore – occurs as a lyric not on the album of the same name, but on Gold Rush, a track on Swift’s surprise second outing of 2020, Evermore. Gold Rush finds Swift writing from the point of view of a swooning fan-girl in love, wary of fancying someone who everyone else desires. Divested of its atmospheric arrangement, which continues the textured bent Taylor essayed on Folklore, Gold Rush would not have felt out of place on Swift’s brace of more pop-oriented albums: impressionistic and emotionally resonant but rich with detail and witty asides.Swift is a songwriter for the ages, “stronger than a 90s trend”, as she sings on Willow. But she’s still a little muted on Evermore as she was on Folklore by pastel music that smears Vaseline on her otherwise keen lens. Fortunately, this slew of character studies often shrug off the music’s politeness. She pairs nuance with incisiveness on Tolerate It and Closure, two deep dives into unbalanced relationships. On the country noir No Body, No Crime, she teams up with Haim to execute the perfect crime. Continue reading...

  • Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By Side B review – one for the stans
    by Alexis Petridis on 18th December 2020 at 1:56 pm

    (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope)The album’s deluxe version adds an hour of new music rich in dextrous delivery but intent on pushing the same old buttonsOnce, releasing a “deluxe version” of an already successful album simply meant appending its contents with B-sides and live tracks in order to rejuvenate its sales, squeezing the kind of diehard fans who’ll shell out for any new release by their favourite artist. In 2020, however, hip-hop has significantly raised the bar.Deluxe versions of previously released albums by DaBaby and Lil Baby both came with what looked like entire new albums attached; the murder of rapper Pop Smoke in February didn’t preclude his label finding 15 new tracks to add to his posthumously released debut album a month after it first came out. Related: The woke Slim Shady – understanding Eminem in the age of Trump Related: Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By review – potent force in search of targets Continue reading...

  • The Avalanches: We Will Always Love You review – multilayered, blissed-out psychedelia
    by Phil Mongredien on 13th December 2020 at 1:00 pm

    The Melbourne duo meticulously stitch together an array of guests and samples on their rewarding third albumIt took Melbourne’s Avalanches 16 years to follow up the dazzling cut-and-paste alchemy of their debut, Since I Left You. When it did finally arrive, 2016’s Wildflower was more considered, more song-based and featured a slew of big-name collaborators. We Will Always Love You – a mere four years in gestation – feels like a logical progression: it’s another step away from the dancefloor and into the sort of multilayered, blissed-out psychedelia associated with Tame Impala and MGMT, and there is now a staggering array of guest vocalists and musicians, from the one-time Terence Trent D’Arby to Jamie xx; Perry Farrell to Blood Orange.That so many disparate talents have been corralled into such a cohesive whole is testament to Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi’s vision, with samples meticulously stitched together from a mass of voices and an underlying concept of remembering those singers no longer with us. Indeed, perhaps the most poignant moment comes on Dial D for Devotion, as atop atypically minimal piano/static backing Karen O intones an old lyric written by the late David Berman, who guested on Wildflower. Listen out, too, for Gold Sky, where Kurt Vile’s drawling sprechgesang is contrasted with a euphoric gospel backing, and Wayne Coyne adds a fragile coda. There’s much to discover here, making it an immersive and rewarding album to go back to again and again. Continue reading...

  • Paul McCartney: McCartney III review – light from the bunker
    by Kitty Empire on 12th December 2020 at 2:00 pm

    (Capitol)Entirely self-produced at home during ‘rockdown’, the former Beatle’s latest offering possesses the same playful spirit as his 1970 solo debutThe song that closes Paul McCartney’s latest solo album transcribes the to-do list of a man living a simpler life. Foxes are scaring the hens and lambs, so on Winter Bird/When Winter Comes, he’s got to see to the fence. Once that’s sorted, he might tackle the drainage issues in the carrot bed. Maybe he’ll get round to planting some trees to shade future generations.Those with long memories might recognise the Paul McCartney at work on this track, and on swaths of McCartney III: it’s the back-to-land fugitive of his first solo album, McCartney (1970). Conceived as the Beatles were fractiously imploding, it was very much the work of a cultural powerhouse in a tailspin, resetting his dials on a Scottish farm with his young family.We know by now that the author of Hey Jude and Let It Be remains a really decent guy to turn to in a crisisMcCartney III is released on 18 December Continue reading...

  • Classical home listening: lockdown discs from Igor Levit, Daumants Liepiņš and Bayreuth
    by Fiona Maddocks on 12th December 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Levit’s double album of Bach, Brahms and Reger captures the lockdown mood. Plus, Wagner at Wahnfried, a rising-star pianist’s debut, and where Derek Jarman meets Henryk Górecki• Every recording from Igor Levit, the Russian-born, Berlin-based pianist, is an event (in fact this “event’ was launched in September but thanks to Covid delays only reached me late November). He’s as skilled at dreaming up album ideas, always driven by musical purpose, as he is at tackling the major works of the repertoire, recently the complete Beethoven sonatas. Levit’s latest release, recorded in lockdown in May 2020, is Encounter (Sony), a double album of Chorale Preludes by Bach and Brahms in the versions by Busoni, together with shorter works by Brahms (arr. Reger) and Reger (arr. Julian Becker) – you get the idea – and a work by one composer pure and simple: Palais de Mari by Morton Feldman. Continue reading...

  • Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland review | John Fordham's jazz album of the month
    by John Fordham on 11th December 2020 at 9:00 am

    (Resonance Records)Unreleased recordings of a 1967 tour capture an improv masterclass with Ruud Jacobs and Han BenninkThe creative acquisitiveness of improvisation sounds boundless in the work of jazz sax master Sonny Rollins. He turned 90 in September. Every timeless theme and every long-forgotten one, every pop hit or fragment of an aria, every quirky mannerism he has heard in the jostling soundtrack of the world seems to have been filed somewhere in his head. These fragments make warped reappearances live, sometimes in apposite places, sometimes in provocatively oppositional ones. That’s what put the phrase “the greatest living improviser” on the flyers to Rollins’ gigs. Continue reading...

  • Rosie Carney: The Bends review – spirited Radiohead covers
    by Aimee Cliff on 11th December 2020 at 8:30 am

    (Color Study)Finding her way through a pandemic-inspired crisis, Carney’s bedroom recordings can be a little smooth, but she finds gutsiness on SulkPerhaps it’s no surprise that, in 2020, many artists have indulged in the healing power of a good cover song. Marika Hackman released a dreamy LP of them, while Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers celebrated the US election with a rendition of the Goo Goo Dolls’ angsty rock staple, Iris. But relatively unknown Irish singer-songwriter Rosie Carney has taken the biggest leap yet, with a full cover of Radiohead’s 1995 masterstroke The Bends. Continue reading...

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