Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin
After a six-year hiatus which has brought marriage, a son, and the death of his mother, a very welcome 20-song release of extraordinary beauty, delicacy and intimacy by the deep-voiced American singer-songwriter who has also released albums under the Smog moniker. Now 53, Callahan's 16th album uses the shepherd metaphor as a revolving perspective of emotion, insight, experience and wisdom, but the album is infused with many perspectives that clearly point to his personal experience of love, loss and tenderness, with the music unfolding gently like fern leaves in spring. Morning Is My Godmother, Tugboats and Tumbleweeds and Watch Me Get Married ("the orchid in the canyon is the one for me") are some of many tracks of moving folk-country minimalism. As the opener put it: "Have You Ever seen a shepherd afraid to find his sheep?" And as he sings on final track, The Beast: "The gravestones here look like teeth, with a beast asleep at our feet". Out on Drag City.
Bill Callahan – What Comes After Certainty
Kate Tempest – The Book of Traps and Lessons
After the relative anger, blood and thunder of her first two albums, especially 2016's Let Them Eat Chaos with the single England Is Lost, the poet and dramatist's third is far more stripped back, personal and tender. People's Faces still laments how "my country's falling apart" and "rage sinking to beige", but soon turns to a more philosophical, quieter tone, that there is change afoot and "so much peace to be found in people's faces", celebrating the complexity and variety of human life. Produced by Rick Rubin, who was behind Johnny Cash's arguably greatest later work, The American Recordings series, the entire album is much quieter, often accompanied by low-key piano and slow beats. Firesmoke is a completely unfettered love letter to another worman, and I Trap You talks across a quietly jaunty piano sound. Overall far mellower, more reflective, and definitely more optimistic, and yet Tempest has lost none of her potency and south-London earth. Out on Fiction Records.
Kate Tempest - People's Faces
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
The Boss returns with an album that's filled with lush orchestrations, piano and horns, something of a throwback to the early 70s, of Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, where Nashville met west coast folk-pop. This is not the thunder of his 80s work with e E Street Band, but a far more wistful set of songs, his voice often high, soft and soaring, telling stories of characters who have lost their way, such as the actor in the title track who has had to turn to be a travelling Viagra salesman. Other tracks that show off this style are Tucson Train, Sundown, There Goes My Miracle and the gorgeous pitter-patter sound and melody of Hello Sunshine. After his theatrical adventures last year, Springsteen On Broadway, in which he confessed his performing persona to be often a false front, this feels like a pleasant and rather lovely cleansing of the palette before he goes back to touring with band again. Out on Columbia.
Bruce Springsteen – There Goes My Miracle
Radiohead – MiniDisks Hacked
This week sees the 40th anniversary of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures (new special edition available) and the 50th of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, but the most prominent retro release is also new - the British band's electronic version of 16 hours of unheard recordings between 1995 and 1998 after a hacker tried to blackmail them. The result is, as Tom Yorke says, "not very interesting", but a must for diehard fans, and even more importantly has resulted in very substantial donation (far bigger than the £150,000 the blackmailer asked for), coming from sales, to the Extinction Rebellion movement. Musical interest lies in OK Computer-era work, including many different versions of Lift, True Love Waits, Attention and more, many solo or stripped back. Available via Bandcamp.
Calexico / Iron & Wine – Years to Burn
Another tender album, this time in the alt-country form of two bands combined, very familiar with each other after extensive joint touring. This could be an extension of their previous and acclaimed colloboration of Sam Beam, Joey Burns and John Convertino, In the Reins, their 2005 EP. Midnight Sun, for example, sounds like Simon & Garfunkel if they were from Nashville. That is indeed where the album was recorded, featuring also veteran Calexico trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and Paul Niehaus on pedal steel. Ten new songs, gentle and perfectly paced. Out on City Slang.
Calexico / Iron & Wine – Father Mountain
Baroness – Gold & Grey
One of the few albums this week to have the volume turned up high, even the metal band have toned things down, becoming more prog and psychedelic on this fifth album by the Philly-based quartet. It even features the heavily clue title of Can Oscura with krautrock jamming, more repetition that echoes Philip Glass on Sevens, as well as a regular splash of soft piano, acoustic guitars, ambience, choral sounds and gentler vocals. Where does this come from? Perhaps the fallout of the horrible 2012 bus crash which resulted in traumatic injuries and the departure of three members has had an effect. But more directly likely comes from textures of new guitarist Gina Gleason and Flaming Lips' producer Dave Fridmann. This is still a heavy rock band, nevertheless, with sole original member John Baizley shouting “We’re heading for disaster!” on opener Front Toward Enemy. Out on Abraxan Hymns.
Baroness – Front Toward Enemy
Jordan Rakei - Origin
Cool, crisp and smooth soul from the New Zealand-Australian singer-songwriter who moved to London in 2015. Despite the sweet sound of this, his third album, the subject matter is far more dissonent and dystopian, inspired by bleak visions of our future such as in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or, more obliquely David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. “I’m worried that we’re losing a sense of connection,” he says. On tracks such as Say Somethin or Mind's Eye, disconnection and disaster never sounded so laid back, easy, soft and cool. Perhaps that's the point – it's smoothly creeping in and taking over. Out on Ninja Tune.
Jordan Rakei – Say Something
Crumb – Jinx
Ambient, gorgeously dreamy but also upbeat synth pop debut in this collaboration of Brooklyn-based musicians Lila Ramani (guitar, vocals), Brian Aronow (synth, keys, sax), Jesse Brotter (bass), and Jonathan Gilad (drums). Out on Crumb Records.
Crumb - Jinx (album)
Tusks – Avalanche
Elemental, powerful work in this second album by the London-based artist and producer Emily Underhill who variously emulates the sound of Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Daughter and Cinematic Orchestra. Her throbbing bass and vocals certainly go some way towards that, with a cave-like sound that is variously primeval and powerful. Out on One Little Indian.
Tusks – Peachy Keen
The Catenary Wires – Til The Morning
A catenary is the curve shape, usually on a hanging chain or electrical cable (perhaps also carrying telephone conversations or telegrams), that is created under its own weight when supported only at its ends. Both ends of this band are Rob Pursey and Amelia Fletcher who perform potent, wistful folk-pop duets that also capture the spirit of British culture, with the album recorded the Sunday School studio in Kent, with surrounding countryside adding extra ambience. There's something of The Beautiful South about this. Sixteen Again has a clear nostalgia and sadness, Dream Town hints at the turmoil of divorce and Love on the Screen explores escapism. With changes of pace and style, Back on Hastings Pier is poppier, while Dark Brown Eyes is a deeper, slower, more ambient track. Out on Tapete.
The Catenary Wires – Dream Town
This week's selection is by The Landlord.
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