Album Reviews: 80s Flashbacks


Today I will review three recently-released albums by artists who were 1980s superstars.

AlbumWestern Stars
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Western Stars
  • Chasin’ Wild Horses
  • Moonlight Motel

Thoughts:

I’ve always liked Springsteen well enough, although my knowledge of his work is fairly superficial.  This album reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ Blue & Lonesome in the sense that Springsteen is at an age where he has nothing left to prove, and has the leisure to dive into his roots.  Nonetheless, it’s a different sound for him, especially the string arrangements. Strings can be cheezy if done poorly, but they’re are well-integrated into the songs and the stories they’re telling and complement Springsteen’s voice which is as strong and expressive as ever. Springsteen is famously from New Jersey, but here is voice is baked in the Americana of the West.

Rating: ***


Album: Absolute Zero
Artist: Bruce Hornsby
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Favorite Tracks: none stand out, but they’re all decent
Thoughts:

The less-famous Bruce had his biggest hits at the beginning of his career in the 1980s, and probably for most people that’s all they know about him.  In the 1990s, Hornsby toured with the Grateful Dead and created new albums with a jazz fusion sound.  When I lived in Williamsburg, VA, his hometown, he was a local celebrity and people exchanged stories of Bruce sightings.  I saw him in concert several times and have always thought his music sounds far better in live performace than on an album.  Neverthless, over the past 15 years or so I’ve failed to keep up with his career – until now.  This album uses elements of classical, jazz, and avant-garde music with Hornsby’s virtuosic style.  Jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette guests on some tracks as does Justin Vernon of Bon Iver which gives it some NPR Music cred.  It’s a creative experiment with dissonant sounds and juxtapositions, but I don’t think it’s something I’ll want to return to.

Rating: **1/2


Album: Originals
Artist: Prince
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • 100 MPH
  • Holly Rock
  • The Glamorous Life
  • Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?
  • Nothing Compares 2 U

Thoughts:

Prince, of course, is deceased and will no longer be releasing new music.  But his famous vault will be mined for music for the forseeable future. Following up on Piano and a Microphone, 1983, and collects mostly unreleased versions of songs Prince wrote as demos for other artists. So now we can hear Prince’s take on songs like “Jungle Love,” “Manic Monday,” and “The Glamorous Life,” which were hits for The Time, The Bangles, and Sheila E.  A number of these songs were crafted by Prince for his proteges in the Minneapolis scene so they’re not familiar to me, although the most bizarre of the songs that are new to me is “You’re My Love,” which Prince wrote for Kenny Rogers!  The demos exude Prince’s hard work and musicianship and would’ve been good enough for Prince to release himself.  On the other hand, there are things the other artists brought to these songs that I think Prince was aware was needed.  This album is enjoyable, but I think it’s worth more for historical/musicological study than for just listening for fun

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Keepsake by Hatchie


AlbumKeepsake
Artist: Hatchie
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Without a Blush
Thoughts:

This is the first full-length album from Australian singer-songwriter Harriette Pilbeam, who records under the name Hatchie.  The songs are lush and dreamy and a suitable soundtrack to a lazy summer day.  The sound is reminiscent of early 90s bands with ethereal female lead vocalists like The Sundays. I really liked her 2018 EP Sugar & Spice, but the songs on Keepsake don’t packe the same punch with the exception of “Without a Blush.”  A lot of songs suffer from a repetitious nature where they start with a good groove or lyric but it becomes grating as the song goes along. The song “Obsessed” is a good example of this.  I was looking forward to this album but I don’t think I will be revisiting it.

Rating: **

Monthly Mixtape: June 2019


I’ve been in a blogging slump, so forgive me for posting my June Mixtape on July 12.

Hayden Thorpe :: “Love Crimes”

Floored Faces :: “Birdwatching”

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars :: “Living Like a Refugee”

Mattiel :: “Keep the Change”

The Nunnery :: Take a Walk

The Seratones :: Got to Get to Know Ya


Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: Cut & Stitch by Petrol Girls


AlbumCut & Stitch
Artist: Petrol Girls
Release Date: May 24, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Big Mouth
  • Monstrous
  • Weather Warning
  • Naive

Thoughts:

I have a soft spot for punk rock that features women’s voices shouting over shredding guitars.  The Petrol Girls website bears the tagline “Raging Feminist Post Hardcore from the UK and Austria” which about sums it up.  And while the shouted lyrics may not always be easy to understand, I appreciate that they’re saying important things, the emotion behind them is clear.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Reward by Cate Le Bon


Album: Reward
Artist: Cate Le Bon
Release Date: May 24, 2019
Thoughts:

Welsh singer Cate Le Bon sings ethereally over lush arrangements in her newest collection of art pop.  The reviews are good but it doesn’t resonate much with me.  Typically, quiet and minimalist music appeals to  me, but this album just feels, well … boring.  I hate giving a bad review, so don’t take my word for it, and see if it is more Reward-ing for you.

Rating: **

Monthly Mixtape: May 2019


The Monthly Mixtape for May will take you on a journey!

Sarah Pagé :: Ephemeris Data
Kick it off with some experimental harp music.

The Silver Lake Chorus :: Tabu
Follow up with some tight choral harmonies and hot rhythms.

Black Pumas :: Colors
Then slide into some classic psychedelic soul.

 

Sass :: Spoiled by Rotten
Nex, some aural time travel to 1991.

Sleater-Kinney :: Hurry on Home
And while you’re in the 90s, pick up Sleater-Kinney and bring them to the present to work with St. Vincent!

Is there any great new music I missed along this journey?  Let me know in the comments!

Previous Mixtapes:

 

Album Review: The Best of Luck Club by Alex Lahey


Album: The Best of Luck Club
Artist: Alex Lahey
Release Date: May 17, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore
  • Am I Doing It Right?
  • Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
  • Isabella

Thoughts:

Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks.  She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club.  Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting.  And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.

Rating: ****

Album Review: there is no Other by Rhiannon Giddens (with Franceso Turrisi)


Album: there is no Other
Artist: Rhiannon Giddens (with Franceso Turrisi)
Release Date: May 3, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Brown Baby
  • Little Margaret
  • Pizzica di San Vito
  • Wayfaring Stranger

Thoughts:

Rhiannon Giddens is a name I’ve heard for a while but I’d not gotten around to listening to her music.  In fact, there was a time when I conflated her with the R&B singer Rihanna (ooops).  Well, Rhiannon Giddens is a folk musician, although that seems inadequate to describe the masterful fusion of musical styles on this album.  Giddens is joined by Italian jazz instrumentalist Franceso Turrisi on this album.  Together they perform a mix of traditional and original tunes that draw on bluegrass, gospel, Italian folk tunes, Arabic, and African sounds.  Many of the songs feature just two instruments with Giddens’ spinetingling vocals, while others have complex and fascinating percussion.  The sound is unlike anything I’ve heard while still feeling familiar.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend


AlbumFather of the Bride
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Release Date: May 3, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hold You Now
  • Harmony Hall
  • We Belong Together
  • Sympathy
  • Jerusalem, New York, Berlin

Thoughts:

I’ve liked Vampire Weekend since I first heard “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” a dozen years ago.  But I like them with the uneasiness of a white, preppy dude who grew up in the suburbs and likes the sounds of music of non-Western cultures listening to other white, preppy dudes who grew up in the suburbs incorporate those sounds into their pop music.  We’re all probably guilty of some level of cultural appropriation.

The sound on Father of the Bride is more stripped down than preceding Vampire Weekend albums.  It’s more of a folk rock sound with a little Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter. The lyrics also show the band in a different place, older and concerned with mortality and an uncertain present.  “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die,” bandleader Ezra Koenig sings on “Harmony Hall.” Those are words capture the zeitgeist of the times, and yet are hidden in a sunny pop tune that typifies much of the album.

Rating: ***

 

 

Blogging A to Z Challenge Round-up #AtoZChallenge


Another year, another Blogging A to Z Challenge is complete! There were some first for me this year.  For the first time, I very ambitiously submitted two different themes.  And I also wrote up most of my posts from January to March and had them scheduled to go live well ahead of time.  I thought this would mean that I’d have lots of free time in April, but as usual, other things grew to fill that time.  Nevertheless, I got read, like, and comment on other creator’s A to Z projects, which is the most important thing by far!  Here are a few of my favorite A to Z’s for you to check out:

And here is a listing of my two series of A to Z posts.

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – A Song and a Story

A: Always on My Mind
B: Baby Come Back and Baker Street
C: Cheek to Cheek
D: Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Doctor Jones
E: Everyday Sunshine
F: Fly Me to the Moon
G: Ghost Town
H: Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe
I: If I Were John Carpenter
J: Jungle Strut and Justified & Ancient
K: Kiss
L: Loaded
M: Marble Halls and My Moon, My Man
N: New York, New York
O: Oliver’s Army
P: The Parting Glass
Q: Qué Onda Guero
R: Rave On
S: The Servant Song
T: Thing of Beauty
U: Unworthy
V: The Voyage
W: Working My Way Back to You Babe and Walk of Life
X: 1999 and Ol’ 55
Y: You are Invited
Z: Zombie

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier
Y: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Z: Zimbelism

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.