Album: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Artist: Fiona Apple
Release Date: April 17, 2020
- Under the Table
- Rack of His
- For Her
I remember Fiona Apple as the tiny woman with the big, bold voice who had a hit with the song “Criminal” (and its unsettling video) back in the 1990s. I’ve heard whispers that Apple continued to have a great career, and I should’ve listened to them since this new album is absolutely brilliant. In a way, it’s surprising that Apple has returned to widespread acclaim with this album because it’s very experimental with a heavy emphasis on percussion, only holding onto vestiges of pop music around the edges. Apple sings repetitive lyrics in a variety of chants, using her voice like Yoko Ono to become another percussion instrument. As the title implies, this album is about release, and there’s anger there, but there’s also catharsis and humor. It has to be heard to be believed.
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
- Homme Run
- Begin Again
I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended. Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time. The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.
Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies. I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:
We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light
The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.
This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.
The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”
Artist: Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Label: World Circuit
- Agbada Boudou
- Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)
- We’ve Landed
Tony Allen was a drummer from Nigeria who was key in defining the genre of Afrobeat when working with Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 band. In 2010, he collaborated with the equally legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela on the sessions that would lead to this album. Masekela died in 2018. Allen completed the sessions with some of London’s top jazz artists.
Allen died on April 30, just a little over a month after this album’s release, so it stands as a memorial to him as well. Nevertheless, it is a joyous recording as the title proclaims. I don’t have the language and experience to adequately describe Afrobeat and jazz, but I like what I hear. Most of the album is instrumental, with exceptions like “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same),” a tribute to Fela Kuti. In the music you can hear the freedom and friendship of two great artists pushing one another to greater heights. It’s also a very crisp recording where each instrument resonates richly and deeply.
This is a terrific album and makes me want to dive into the back catalog of both artists.