Florence And The Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in popular music today. She is also an incredible songwriter. With its somewhat stripped down production, Florence and the Machine’s latest album, “High as Hope” focuses on both to create what is one of the best new albums released in 2018.

The songs on “High as Hope” revolve thematically around the end of love. That thought is so ingrained throughout the lyrics of the songs here that “The End of Love” was originally considered for the title of the record. That subject may sound like the making of a somber, even downtrodden record, but it’s really not. As the album’s chosen title implies, the overall focus is the hope that comes after the hunger for love is washed away. Even though there is an aire of sadness here and there, the songs on “High as Hope” purvey an upbeat feeling of acceptance, comfort, and self reliance. This is all beautifully delivered with the perfect pairing of the music to the lyrics…and of course, the confidence exhumed by Florence Welch’s wonderfully powerful voice.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra (deluxe vinyl edition)

Folk rock is a style of music that had fallen out of favor in the past decades, but the genre has been making quite a comeback in recent years. Leading the pack in the stripped down, rootsy Americana laden style of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”, and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” is the Lumineers. “Cleopatra” is their second album.

I discovered The Lumineers a bit late compared to some. A friend of mine who is also into music told me about them after “Cleopatra” and its first single, “Ophelia” had already topped the Billboard charts. I was on a kick rediscovering some older records and not paying as much attention to some of the music coming out at the time. I checked The Lumineers out online and was really impressed. I also discovered that I was familiar with their first single “Hey Ho” from their eponymous debut. I guess I was paying a little attention.

Rather than their debut, I decided to pick up “Cleopatra” as my first album by The Lumineers since I had started to hear “Ophelia” and the title track from the album on the radio. I also ran across a good deal on a deluxe edition of it, which from a collector’s view, is always a bonus. The deluxe album comes in a die cut gate fold cover and is pressed on two slate gray records which go along with the cover art, a picture of silent film star Theda Bara, who played Cleopatra in the 1917 film. The second record contains four bonus tracks not included with the regular version of the album.

Like Petty’s “Wildflowers”, Springsteen’s “The River”, and early Dylan, this is an album I will enjoy at those times I want to chill out and listen to something simple yet melodically engaging. A truly wonderful album.

Jools Holland Meets Rock ‘A’ Boogie Billy

Rock-a-billy music with a boogie-woogie twist.

Hillbilly music is old school country music. I’m talking real old school; the earliest and purist form of country music. Picture the 1920s and ’30s, sitting on a front porch in the deep south with your friends; cutting loose and having fun with a fiddle, banjo, a couple other homemade instruments and a jug of homemade moonshine, and you kind of get the idea. Combine that with early 1950’s rock and roll and you have rock-a-billy music.

So what does legendary British pianist (and Brit telly host) Jools Holland know about distinctly American rock-a-billy music? Enough to know that if you add a boogie-woogie swing to it, you’ve got something that’s really unique and really cooks.

I was compelled to buy this record because I knew Jools Holland as one of the founding members of Squeeze, an alternative band from England whom I was really into and who sound…well, nothing like rock-a-billy or boogie-woogie. They are best known for their songs “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed”. From the title of the album, I knew this would be Jool Holland stepping away from Squeeze and doing something different. But it was more than thatmore than that

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Back in the day, when a friend told you how good an album was, it didn’t mean you would necessarily like it. It just meant they did. Unless they could play it or the local radio stations would promote it, you still took your chances when you bought it. One man’s trash is a nother’s treasure. But today, there’s the Internet, where you can easily check out almost any new band. So when I bought “A Deeper Understanding”, the major label debut by The War on Drugs last year, I knew I was going to love it.

The songs on “A Deeper Understanding” are mostly mid-tempo with a low-key feel to them. They have an edginess to them, but never go over-the-top. Easy to listen and relax to but exciting at the same time. Thoughtful and introspective lyrics are perfectly matched to the music by The Adam Granduciel’s slightly breathy, somewhat raspy vocal style. This is an album that can be motivating or relaxing; it depends on how you want to listen to it at the time.

After listening to “A Deeper Understanding” the first couple times I couldn’t help but wonder why music like this isn’t more popular. It seems to rarely achieve main-stream recognition or success. Then, a couple of weeks after buying it, I leaned it was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2017 Grammys. It won. A well deserved award and a great achievement for te first major label album by a band.

I’m look looking forward to The War On Drugs’ second one.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

I had a couple of friends recommend that I listen to Jack White’s latest album, “Boarding House Reach”, before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I did…

I bought it.

Some years back, Jack White relocated to Nashville, but he still holds a strong affinity to his roots in Detroit. With its deep R&B hooks, heavy production, and adventurous compositions, “Boarding House Reach” effortlessly makes a way stronger connection with Detroit than anything the Nashville music scene is known for. Overall, “Boarding House Reach” is Jack White’s most fractured album to date, having much less consistency than his previous solo records or any of his work with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, or Raconteurs. That’s why I loved it when I first heard it. The music went places White hadn’t gone before – many different places.

Like David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and a handful of select others before him, Jack White is a true artist. True artists take risks. They make statements with their craft. They don’t give a sh!t about holding to convention or what is expected. They don’t try to do something that no one expects or might be ready for; it just happens. That is what best describes “Boarding House Reach”. It just happens.

And it just happens to be Jack White’s best album to date.

Kris Kristofferson – Jesus Was A Capricorn

Kris Kristofferson is one of the originators of what is now known as outlaw country. All that really means was that his music, in many ways, eschews traditional country music and at times, crosses over with rock and roll. Kristofferson has a DIY, singer songwriter style that both meshed with and cut across the grain of what was popular in country and rock. He wrote, sung, and played songs that were deep-rooted and highly personal. Much in the way Hank Williams changed the sound of country and influenced rock music in the ’50s, Kristofferson, along with a few other “outlaws” from the ’60s and ’70s, redefined country music for a new generation, opening the door for southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and Charlie Daniels.

Quite often, Kris Kristofferson’s songs shared as much in common with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as with Merle Haggard and George Jones. Like his other albums, “Jesus was a Capricorn” isn’t an album filled with fiddles and twangy guitars (although there is lap-steel and dobro). It’s an album that focusses on roots and emotion, dedication and defiance.

“Jesus Was a Capricorn”, like the rest of Kristofferson’s catalog, is not really country or rock and roll. He is of that rare breed of performers that fits somewhere in between definitions and outside genres. In a true DIY style, with albums like “Jesus Was a Capricorn”, Kris Kristofferson defined something new with his music; something called outlaw country.

Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak

Perhaps one of the most unusual artists to gain popular success in the eighties was Laurie Anderson. “Mr. Heartbreak” is her second album. Like its predecessor, “Mister Heartbreak” is a combination of musical experimentation spun together with a combination of spoken word and sung lyrics.

It may take some people a couple listens to fully appreciate “Mister Heartbreak”, or any of Laurie Anderson’s music for that matter. The interplay of the words and sounds is unlike any album that had come before it.

With as different as “Mister Heartbreak” is, I am actually surprised the album did as well as it did, hitting number 60 on the Billboard top 200 album chart in 1984. Certainly, Adrian Belew (King Crimson) on guitar and Peter Gabriel (Genesis) appearing on a couple of songs didn’t hurt it having a broader appeal to some people, making them want to give it a listen. I am glad I was one of them.

Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

“Deadwing” is essentially the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made. Whether it ever is, remains to be seen. Steven Wilson wrote most of the songs on it as music meant to accompany a screenplay he had written with director David Bennion. Although they were unable to get funding for the film, Wilson decided to record and release the songs in 2005 as part of Porcupine Tree’s eighth album, “Deadwing”. Because he still hopes to have the film made, Wilson has never released all the details of the storyline or the concept behind the songs.

From the songs on “Deadwing”, it’s easy to deduce that the story has a somewhat dark theme to it. The album artwork was also created around the story and has that kind of feel to it and Steven Wilson has confirmed that the songs on “Deadwing” tell a ghost story of sorts. Both Wilson and Bennion have remained fairly tight-lipped about the “Deadwing” storyline, although they did make the first fifteen pages of the screenplay available on the Internet:

Reading experience part one: DEADWING script by Steven Wilson & Mike Bennion (first 15 pages)

I don’t know a lot about the movie making process, but I have to guess that as more time passes, the likelihood of the film “Deadwing” ever being made becomes slimmer and slimmer. Even if the movie never happens, I’m glad Steven Wilson decided to release “Deadwing” as an album. It would have been a tragedy to leave music this good unheard.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Sometimes I wonder if I got it all wrong….

Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire  when they first came onto the music scene in 2004. Maybe my expectations were too high after hearing raves about their debut, “Funeral”. To me, it was good…but…meh.  I figured they were a one or two album band destined to mediocrity. I was wrong.

I mostly use word of mouth and the Internet to check out new bands (I’m not a big fan of the  local commercial radio stations today). Thirteen years later, I was still hearing a lot of talk about Arcade Fire. So I went online and listened to them again and found a lot of songs really hit home with me, especially from their 2010 album “The Suburbs”. So much so, that I figured I’d pick up a copy of “The Suburbs” to listen to the album as a whole. It was one of the best musical decisions I have ever made.

Listening to the songs on “The Suburbs” mixed with tracks from other albums, I could tell it was going to be a good album. But the whole is so much better than its parts. This album is a creative masterpiece. The songs are themed around living in the suburbs – the good, the bad, and the mediocre, offering up the lyrics with diverse but uniquely identifiable arrangements.

After listening to “The Suburbs”, I will definitely be giving other Arcade Fire a closer listen. I wouldn’t be surprised if another album from them ends up in my collection. Maybe I should give “Funeral” another listen. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Arcade Fire’s originality when I first heard it.

Maybe I got it all wrong.

The Kickstand Band – Puppy Love

My sister-in-law is an artist. She teaches sculpture at Wayne State University in Detroit. There are cities in Michigan that have her sculptures on permanent display. She has done exhibitions at art galleries across the United States. I am very proud of her. I am also thankful to her for being responsible for my discovering The Kickstand Band – in a roundabout way.

A little over a year ago, my sister-in-law was doing an exhibit at the opening of the 333 Midland gallery in Highland Park, near Detroit (you should Google it, it is really cool). They had bands playing there. And while I do appreciate visual art, I am by my nature, drawn to music. And there were local bands there. One of the bands was The Kickstand Band. I loved their stage presence and more importantly, their sound. So I went up to meet them afterwards and support them by buying some of their music. I was astonished to find they had their debut album, “Puppy Love”, on CD and vinyl. Of course, I had to buy the vinyl record – it’s always my first choice.

Having just seen The Kickstand Band play live, I already knew their sound. DIY/indie pop and power chords with great boy/girl vocal harmonies. Listening more closely, once I had the record playing at home, I could also hear influences of doo-wop, surf music, punk, and of course, Motown – they are from Detroit after all.

And then there’s the album cover. As if to flaunt the DIY attitude, the cover of “Puppy Love” is a picture that would feel right at home on the “Awkward Family Photos” website (you should Google that too)

I can’t help but hope The Kickstand Band get a break somewhere down the line. They deserve it. Their music is a joy to listen to. It’s as unique as it is addicting. Not overly abrasive but still rebellious. I will be keeping eye and ear out for them.