Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke’s Mag Pai Zai is an album I kept meaning to review but never seem to remember until I stumble upon it again. The problem is the standout tracks are so brilliantly amazing they cast a very dark shadow over the weaker tracks. Subsequently, the album is not very memorable as a whole. But those standout tracks are truly stellar: the mellow acoustic folk opener “Time Machine,” the gentle, tinkling tune “Dancing Song,” the string-accented rumination on “Galileo” and especially the astounding, mesmeric acapella ballad “Marrying The Sea.”
Elton John released The Diving Board, his first solo album in seven years, back in September but I only recently bothered to listen to it and now I’m kicking myself for taking so long to hear this beautiful, masterful record. Elton is one of those artists I often take for granted, mostly because his public persona has overshadowed his music in the past decade. I almost always like his music – particularly his ’70s and ’90s releases – but for whatever reason never of him as a favorite artist. But that may change with this album. Produced by T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board finds Elton John making a welcome return to his musical roots with a basic piano-bass-drums set-up and features some of his finest piano playing in the past four decades.
While Elton John’s musical compositions and vocals are impressive and breathe life into this new song cycle, the album’s true backbone is Bernie Taupin’s substantial, poetic lyrics. As Brendan said when we first listened to the album, it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something.
Elton’s piano wizardry is especially spectacular in the fantastic, uptempo, piano pounding standout “Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)” and the latter half of melancholy ballad “My Quicksand.”
The world weary first single, “Home Again,” is another major highlight and the reason I became interested in the album. You can watch the video for the track below.
Other tracks of note are the album’s jazzy title track and the festivally militant instrumental “Dream #3.”
But there’s really not a weak moment on the album and it’s positively addictive, we in the Muruch household love it more with each listen. The Diving Board already sounds like a classic and is a worthy release for the man behind “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”
As I wrote when Richie Havens died earlier this year, the legendary folk singer – best known for opening the original Woodstock festival – had one of the most distinctive and lovely voices in all of music history. Before his death, Havens completed recording two final studio albums: Mixed Bag for Kids and …His Last Songs.
Richie’s warm rasp and unique phrasing give new life to the cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” which opens …His Last Songs. You can stream the song below.
The album’s centerpiece is a lovely acoustic rendering of “What a Wonderful World,” which also appears on Mixed Bag for Kids.
Aside from those two songs, I was shockingly disappointed with this album. Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” is a favorite of mine and Havens’ rendition, while not bad, lacks the buoyant charm of the original. The repetitive “It’s Better Together” and the somewhat cheesy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” also weigh down what should have been a worthy final collection of such a substantial artist.
I usually adore anything by Richie Havens and I hate to give this album a less than raving review, but there’s just something that seems rushed and incomplete here. I’m reminded of Jeff Buckey’s Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk) and Jimi Hendrix’ Valleys Of Neptune – as much as we crave new music by beloved, departed legends, sometimes I feel it’s better to not to posthumously release a work-in-progress.
Still, if nothing else, I highly recommend buying the individual mp3s of “I Can See Clearly Now” and “What a Wonderful World”. And check out Havens’ older releases and writing, his was an extraordinary talent.
Seesaw is the follow-up to Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa’s 2011 album, Don’t Explain, and features a diverse selection of covers originally recorded by artists such as Tina Turner, Al Green, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Ultimately, it’s a hit and miss collection, but the hits will knock you out.
Seesaw includes a superb version of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and powerful performances of Al Green’s “Rhymes” and Buddy Miles’ “Miss Lady.”
I much prefer when the duo lets loose on the bluesier tracks. The decision to use nature sounds in the “Strange Fruit” cover feels like a misstep to me, and something more than a strong voice is needed when tackling a song made famous by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. .
Hellogoodbye’s third album, Everything’s Debatable, will be released on October 29th via Old Friends Records. Everything is Debatable resurrects the electro-pop style of their debut, Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!, and adds a strong dose of New Wave and Neo-Disco to the mix.
It may surprise some readers to learn that I like Hellogoodbye. They aren’t a band I listen to often, but they are one whose songs I always like when I hear them. I especially enjoyed their electro-folk sophomore album, Would It Kill You? (currently only $4.49 at Amazon!).
Hellogoodbye sets themselves apart from other pop bands with sentimentally clever lyrics and a multi-instrumental approach to their arrangements. They are as accessible as any other band on the radio, yet there always seems to be an extra element of sincerity to their music…Hellogoodbye creates pop music with heart. Perhaps this is due to lead singer-songwriter Forrest Kline’s tendency to base his songs’ lyrics on his own romantic life.
I can’t say Everything is Debatable grabs me as much as its predecessor and at times I find the overt electronics a bit irksome (particularly the fingernails-down-the-chalkboard noise that opens the album). Nevertheless, the album is certainly catchy and enjoyable when you’re in the mood for light electro-pop. I especially like the sparse electro-piano track “I Don’t Worry (As Much as I Should).”
You can stream the track “The Magic Hour is Now” and watch the dreamlike video for the album’s title track below.
Buy Album @ Amazon (available Oct. 29th)
Hellogoodbye are currently on tour with Paramore and Metric. Tour Dates:
October 22 Fresno, CA Save Mart Center
October 23 San Diego, CA Viejas Arena
October 26 Dallas, TX Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
October 27 Houston, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
October 29 Kansas City, MO Independence Events Center
October 30 St. Louis, MO Fabulous Fox Theater
November 1 Austin, TX Austin 360 Amphitheater
November 4 Fort Lauderdale, FL BB&T Center
November 5 Orlando, FL UCF Convocation Center
November 8 Camden, NJ Susquehanna Bank Center
November 9 Fairfax, VA Patriot Center
November 11 Behtlehem, PA Sands Bethlehem Event Center
November 13 New York, NY Madison Square Garden Arena
November 15 Worcester, MA DCU Center
November 17 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena
November 18 Montreal, QC Bell Centre Theatre
November 20 Toronto, ON Theatre at Air Canada Centre
November 21 Auburn Hills, MI The Palace of Auburn Hills
November 23 St. Paul, MN Roy Wilkins Auditorium
November 24 Chicago, IL UIC Pavilion
November 26 Nashville, TN Bridgestone Arena
November 27 Duluth, GA The Arena at Gwinnett Center
We’ve been praising Lorde’s music here at Muruch since last July and have been happy to see her music finally pop up on American television and soar to the tops of the charts – her hit single “Royals” is enjoying its second week at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100. Lorde is 16-year old New Zealand singer-songwriter Ella Yelich-O’Connor and her debut album, Pure Heroine, more than lives up to all the hype.
we’re hollow like the bottles that we drain
you drape your wrists over the steering wheel
pulses can drive from here
we might be hollow, but we’re brave
The album doesn’t have enough variety in sound to write a proper track-by-track review, but its uniformity of style is certainly never boring. If you like one song, you’ll love the entire album.
Some tracks are slightly slower in tempo than others, but there aren’t any true ballads. While I am curious as to what a Lorde ballad would sound like, the lack of slow songs works well here and prevents the album from losing any its momentum. The result is one of those rare song cycles that flows seamlessly from beginning to end and keeps the same level of energy throughout.
All of the songs feature Lorde’s signature blend of heavy, sporadic beats and witty, sardonic lyrics, which are often written from an outsider’s point of view in a poetic style. It would seem the apple doesn’t fall far from her prize-winning poet mother’s tree. And Lorde’s extraordinary voice is as adept at spitting out spoken word verses as it is at singing catchy electro-pop choruses.
In addition to the popular singles “Royals” and “Tennis Court,” the standout tracks are “400 Lux,” “Team,” “Glory and Gore,” “Still Sane” and “White Teeth Teens.”
In a recent interview, Lorde was quoted as saying “pop music doesn’t have to be stupid” and “I think you can combine saying something clever with saying something in a highly-accessible way.” She’s done exactly that with Pure Heroine.
Allison Crowe has been a very busy girl this year. After a surprise cameo in the summer blockbuster movie Man of Steel and the release of her exquisite traditional folk covers album, Newfoundland Vinyl, Allison quickly rushed back into the studio to write, record, engineer, produce and create the cover art for her upcoming album, Heavy Graces. She only announced the album’s existence at the end of last month and Heavy Graces will be released tomorrow, October 15th, via Allison’s own Rubenesque Records.
Heavy Graces is comprised of five new, original Allison Crowe songs, a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and two versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
Allison’s delving into traditional folk music for Newfoundland Vinyl seems to have influenced her own songwriting. Songs like the opener “Through These Heavy Graces” and “You All Haunt Me” layer Allison’s lovely voice over simple but heartfelt folk acoustic arrangements. You can see the premiere of the “Through These Heavy Graces” video, featuring footage from Buster Keaton’s classic film The General, below.
Though Allison apparently only took up the fiddle for the recording of this album, she already sounds like a folk fiddle pro in the standout track “Words.” What a lush piece of work that song is! There’s a touch of Celtic folk in the instrumentation, haunting backing vocals and a slow building, seething tension until Allison unleashes her wail toward the end of the song. I’m very happy to be able to premiere and share the mp3 with you below. Update: I also created and premiered a new video for “Words” on November 22, 2013 and added it to the review below.
As I wrote when we premiered the video for her choral version of “Famous Blue Raincoat,” I couldn’t imagine even someone as talented as Allison successfully matching, let alone improving, Cohen’s original or Tori Amos‘ beautiful piano rendition. Yet where Cohen took the song to a melancholy depth and Tori gave it a bittersweet wistfulness, Allison gives the song a new feeling of suspense with a slightly faster pace and choral embellishments. Her cover at times recalls the elegance of Joan Baez‘ operatic folk rendering. And, as always, Allison’s vocal is gorgeous, multi-faceted and full of emotion and grace. You can stream the track and watch the video below.
Allison’s piano makes a very welcome return on her striking cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man.” I’m a Pearl Jam fan, so I don’t say this lightly: Allison Crowe’s cover of “Better Man” is better than the original. You can watch the video, featuring footage from the classic silent film Broken Blossoms, below.
On those two covers as well as the captivating original “Dissolve,” Allison once again uses layers of her own voice to mimic a backing choir. It’s a technique she developed for Newfoundland Vinyl, but she seems to have perfected it on Heavy Graces.
The original song lyrics on Heavy Graces seem to deal most often with regaining control of one’s own life, venting anger at and breaking free from oppressive influences and starting fresh with integrity intact. Whether such fierce and independent themes were born from the death of a relationship or Allison’s brief brush with Hollywood, it seems our favorite independent singer-songwriter is more determined than ever to forge her own path. I predict we’ll be seeing Allison Crowe not once but twice on our best of the year list.
Janelle Monáe’s sophomore album, The Electric Lady, was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. This followup to her exquisite debut, The ArchAndroid (one of Muruch’s Top Albums of 2010), continues the bizarre, enthralling tale of time travelling android Cindy Mayweather – first introduced in Janelle’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP. However, you needn’t have heard the previous two albums in Janelle’s mythic trilogy to enjoy The Electric Lady. The music on the album is as interesting, diverse and addictive as we’ve come to expect from Janelle and finds her collaborating with Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding.
I’m not usually a fan of instrumental intros, but Janelle’s anticipation-building “Suite IV Electric Overture” is an exception. The liner notes say it was “inspired by the idea of Ennio Morricone playing cards with Duke Ellington.”
The standout track “Give Em What They Love” is exactly the kind of fun, multi-layered funk duet you want from Janelle Monáe and Prince. The clip on Amazon does not do the song justice, it needs to be played in full on high volume through stereo speakers.
Almost as good is “Q.U.E.E.N.” with Janelle’s quirky, melodic, semi-rap defiance and a guest appearance by Erykah Badu. I first posted the video here last May and you can watch it again below.
The album’s title track has a slightly more traditional R&B dance sound with guest vocals by Solange.
Another major highlight is “Primetime,” a sultry, soulful ballad duet with Miguel. You can watch the brand new video for the track below.
“Dance Apocalyptic” is a fun dance tune, though it’s not nearly as crazy as the title suggests. You can see the video below.
“Look Into My Eyes,” “It’s Code” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love” show off the lovely, gentler side of Janelle’s voice.
Janelle’s ode to “Sally Ride” is quite the fantastic journey, the ultimate futuristic soul song. And Esperanza Spalding’s voice is the perfect match for Janelle’s in the Neo-Soul song “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes.”
Though I can’t say I enjoy listening to the somewhat jarring pseudo-radio interludes interspersed throughout the album, I do love that Janelle still makes actual albums. Her fantasy concepts aside, Janelle obvious wants her fans to play her albums in their entirety and take them as a whole listening experience rather than a collection of singles with some filler.
That kind of artistic attention to detail combined with a gorgeous voice, a flare both for the dramatic as well as the funky and a science fiction churning imagination continue to put Janelle Monáe into a category all her own: Cyber-Soul.
Since the 2008 release of Golden Animals’ debut album, Free Your Mind & Win a Pony, I’ve been eagerly awaiting new music from the band. The wait is over as Golden Animals just release their sophomore album, Hear Eye Go.
Like their debut, Hear Eye Go starts strong with a blues-rock gut punch. Though “All Your Life” sounds more like The Black Keys than The Doors-like sound of “The Steady Roller.”
“Most My Time” follows in the same bluesy rock vein, but the swirling “The Letter” and “You Don’t Hear Me Now” herald a subtle shift into a slightly more languid, psychedelic rock style. Not so much retro psychedelica as a catchier, modern indie-psych-surf style akin to Dengue Fever.
The middle of the album lags a bit, but then the sultry, noirish rocker “Save Your Love” churns the blues guitars back up and “Sun Moon Star” gives the album a surf rock sendoff.
Vienna Teng is the kind of musical genius who can really do no wrong. I own and love all of her albums and had the privilege of witnessing two of her astounding live performances at Mountain Stage. Unfortunately, I think my opinion of her new album, Aims, suffers (only partially) from falling in the shadow of the brillance that preceded it. There are still flashes of genius, just not as many as I expected.
I love the first half of the album – especially the soaring pop opener “Level Up,” the claphappy, quasi-rap “In The 99″ and the exquisite, electro-choral masterpiece “The Hymn of Acxiom.” I also like the finale “Goodnight New York.”
The rest of the album, though, is far too slick, stylized, radio-friendly, mostly computerized pop for my taste and seems a waste for such a talented singer-songwriter. The fault lies in the production and mixing, not the songs themselves. “Landsailor,” for example, was beautiful when Vienna recently performed it at Mountain Stage, but is flattened down on the recording. “The Hymn of Acxiom” is also smoothed out more than necessary (Vienna’s voice is best when unrestrained), but is a strong and interesting enough song to withstand the extra studio polish.
Other than the four tracks mentioned above, Aims just doesn’t captivate me as intensely as its predecessors did – particularly the moody Dreaming Through the Noise and the ethereal, elegant, astonishingly excellent Inland Territory. Though perhaps comparing Vienna to herself is unfair, she still outshines the rest of the music industry.