More capsule reviews. All new releases. Get ‘em while they’re hot.
Ward White – Ice Cream Chords
When I reviewed Ward White’s 2021 album The Tender Age, I was struck by the ways in which it reminded me of David Bowie at his most accessible. Here we are in 2023, and White’s latest feels very much a piece with that release. The qualities that made his last album a rewarding listen are all in ample supply once again. His interesting and relatable lyrics are set again catchy, intricate-yet-uncluttered arrangements, and a solid variety of sonic textures. If there’s a musical touchstone, it might be The Cars. White doesn’t sound just like them, but there’s a shared sensibility.
The Gatekeepers – The Gatekeepers
This is a deeply strange project, but it’s strange in a good way. Featuring performances by a dizzying array of outré artists (The Residents, to name but one of a couple dozen, The Gatekeepers is a conceptual work. The music is vocal-forward, and the instrumentation is dark and dissonant. There’s a stagey feel to the songs, as expected of a thematically unified narrative work. Don’t expect The Gatekeepers to show up on pop playlists, but if your tastes run toward the arty avant garde, this might just be your new favorite album. Poppier than The Residents, but then what isn’t?
Nina Hagen – Unity
Nina Hagen is musical royalty. At a time when popular music was getting stale, she breathed life into the form. She scored hits in Europe, but never broke through here in the States like she ought have done. Her music hasn’t moved toward the mainstream since those days, but the songs on her latest are both current-sounding and timeless. Here vocal work is as oddly idiosyncratic as ever, and her stature in the music world means that she enlists the collaboration of some notables: Lene Lovich, George Clinton and Dennis Kucinich (no, really) are among the guests on this dance-oriented set.
Claire Hamill – A Pocket Full of Love Songs
Hamill isn’t a household name in the U.S., but chances are good you’ve heard her: the singer-guitarist has lent her talents to albums by Steve Howe, Jon and Vangelis, Wishbone Ash and others. Her own recording career began in 1971. While she moved toward new age music in the ‘80s, A Pocket Full of Love Songs finds her on more familiar and tuneful territory. Her supremely beautiful vocals enhance the gently countrified original tunes, with a hint of English folk and heaps of tasteful musicianship throughout. The latter is provided primarily by producer-arranger-engineer Kevin Jones; the vibe is wonderfully organic.
Eleanor Underhill – Got it Covered
Asheville-based Underhill is a justly revered artist with a strong ability to craft original lyrics and music. But on Got It Covered, the multi-instrumentalist applies her gifts in a different manner. Underhill reinvents sixteen songs from across the pop landscape, in the process making song by The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Coldplay, Nina Simone and even Phish very much her own. In her hands, The Beatles’ haunting “Eleanor Rigby” rocks, even with banjo. Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” takes on a wholly different character. UB40’s “Red Red Wine” sounds like it belongs on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Much, much more to come!