Deluge! (Quick Thoughts on Jolie Holland, The Roots, The Black Keys, etc.)

jolieIn my decade and a half of blogging, I have found that—nearly without fail—the seasons in which I am busiest, too preoccupied with other things to get serious about online writing, are the very seasons in which blogging holds the most appeal, or at least the seasons in which I have the most to blog about. Take lately: Between travel, family, the 9-5, and other creative endeavors (plus my heavy investment in Invisible Hour), there just hasn’t been as much time as I might have liked to write about new records that have come across my desk.

And actually, that’s another reason I haven’t devoted more time to the blog: I’ve been spending so many hours connecting with new records, of which there have been many fine ones in recent weeks. I feel a bit like we’re getting a deluge of worthy new music, enough that I think it useful to pause just now and offer a few quick recommendations. Some of these records I hope to formally engage in the weeks to come; others I just know I’ll never get to. All are excellent and have offered me something in the way of revelation and pleasure, and you could do worse than to invest an hour with any one of them.

  • Outside of Invisible Hour, there may be no release from this calendar year that’s ignited my imagination quite like Wine Dark Sea, out this week from Jolie Holland. I love everything about Jolie—have ever since her stone classic Springtime Can Kill You LP from 2006; I love her voice, her songcraft, and her devotion to making each record sound different from the one that came before it, even as all share the same dusty, lived-in vibe, engaging American folk and parlor song from different angles. This new one is something altogether weird, warped, and wild—a savage, thumping set of country-blues songs as filtered through the New York underground, rooted in the same dust and clay that Robert Johnson trod but reimagined through the prism of punk. It snarls and howls and kicks up dust; has a bruised and battered heart and considers love in all its treacherous beauty. Tremendous record, and pretty far out there.
  • Speaking of far out there, those who know me well know that I love The Roots—both with and without Jimmy Fallon—and am smitten by how ambitious their records have become since they made the shift to late night. How I Got Over and undun are both significant works, but the forthcoming … And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is on another level; it goes deeper out and deeper in, and—more even than the last couple of Kanye West records—it feels to me like the advent of art-rap. It’s much more appealing and intoxicating than that tag might make it sound—dense in its sound and weighty in its subject matter, but also compact and never without recognizable elements of swing and soul. I know I dig it plenty, though it may take a while to appraise just how much. (My suspicion: A lot!)
  • I love the musical and cultural history of New Orleans, and many of my favorite records engage and celebrate the vibrant lineage of that city—The Bright Mississippi, The River in Reverse, Trombone Shorty’s records, and so on. Conversations, the new record from Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, is something a little different: His first recording as the leader of an acoustic jazz trio, and a rather remarkable conjuring of Mardi Gras music in all its color and kinetic energy. Like Duke Ellington, Moore is masterful at utilizing the full textural palette of his band—whether it’s a 28-piece or just piano, drums, and bass—and this record’s invention is only topped by its righteous sense of swing.
  • The new album from Sturgill Simpson is called Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and for that tip of the hat to Ray Charles alone it’s aces; factor in Simpson’s devastating outlaw strut and his impeccable Waylon Jennings gravitas and you’ve got the makings of a record that reaches back to an almost forgotten tradition and brings it into the present day. The songs, most of them originals, are tough and sensitive in equal measure, explicitly philosophizing but rooting everything in hard life experience; it clocks in at a lean 30-minute running time, its hard-hitting brevity just one final and welcome nod to the crisp, no-frills outlaw era.
  • I’ve been a little bit resistant to the music of tUnE-yArds over the years, not least because of the annoying stylization of the band’s name and some of their LP titles, but new record Nikki Nack is a set of summer bangers that I’m finding easy to warm to; it’s like Graceland on speed, and it overflows with energy and attitude, humor and invention.
  • Food, from the sublimely gifted singer Kelis, is a treat—by turns sweet and savory, nourishing for sure but not without its moments of pure bubblegum pleasure. The production is tricked out with all kinds of colors and textures, some of them recalling vintage soul and R&B and others defiantly modern, giving the record an out-of-time allure—but of course, it’s the songs that count, and they’re fine ones.
  • A final note: Dan Auerbach has clearly been dipping pretty heavy into the R&B as of late, something that’s evident not just in the songs he wrote for the new Black Keys record but also in his production work for Ray LaMontagne, whose new Supernova is a major left turn; the opening song alone sounds like the spacey vibe of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” crossed with the druggy undertow of “I’m Only Sleeping,” with a paisley color palette that could’ve been cribbed from Prince. What makes the record identifiable as Ray LaMontange—what gives it its grit and its soul, and makes it more than just an extreme pop makeover—is his ongoing Van Morrison fixation, here manifest in some scatting and soulful pop that’s evenly split between Astral Weeks and Moondance. He goes way out into the mystic, Ray does, and the album is an appealing and worthwhile adventure. As for the Keys’ own record, Turn Blue, it’s thankfully less self-consciously arty than their last Danger Mouse joint, Attack & Release; it’s pretty weird, at least by their standards, but even through the flourishes of epic psychedelic rock there’s plenty of grit and swing. Both albums, it should be noted, work neither because of nor in spite of the psychedelic flourishes, but rather because there are some strong bones underneath all the wonky production—plain and simple.

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