Rhiannon Giddens is probably best known for her stint in the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Freedom Highway is her second solo album.
And what an album it is. Riding on top of a plethora of banjo licks, mixed in with a dose of soul, funk, and R&B, Giddens’ powerful gives life to stories of black in America from the opening track based on a slave’s diary to the eponymous closing track, which is a cover of the classic Staples Singers song.
To be perfectly honest, I am enamored of this album and have a hard time envisioning that a better folk album will be released this year. Like all albums I listen to, I have my favorite tracks (in this case, the beautifully rendered Birmingham Sunday, the aspirational We Could Fly, and the explosively sung Come Love Come). But I don’t really think there is a bad track on this album, and I do think it benefits from full listening. There’s a story here, for the people who want to hear it. And Giddens own songs, as well as the tracks she chooses to cover, do a great job of telling it.
Recommendation: Buy It
Tracks I have a Playlist for: Birmingham Sunday, We Could Fly, Come Love Come, At the Purchaser’s Option
Tracks I would Thumbs down: none
Jesca Hoop is an American singer/songwriter. Memories Are Now is her fifth solo album. The album is comprised of 9 tracks and runs a little over 40 minutes.
This record is not stylistically cohesive, relying on a thematic examination of lost love to hang together. It took me an unusually long time to decide how I felt about the album. On first listen, several tracks were more distracting than interesting and it took several listens to get past that.
Hoop has a reputation for being experimental, so her fans will likely not find anything on this album out of sorts, but those who are not familiar with her work should plan on taking quite a while to digest this album.
There were songs on this album I just couldn’t get past because of stylistic choices. Simon Says and Unsaid both lose me because I lose the vocal underneath very dirty instrumental design.
Recommendation: Stream it
Rating: 6.5 of 10
Songs I have a playlist for: Memories Are Now, The Lost Sky, Songs of Old, Pegasi
Song I would thumbs down: Simon Says, Unsaid
Spirit is the sixth studio album by Amos Lee.
Spirit feels like two EPs put on a single disk to me. Half of the album has a very strong R&B/Gospel feel to it, while the other half is the bluesy folk rock he is so very well known for.
That said, this album is filled with a number of excellent songs, signalling that his songwriting is still strong, even as he stretches himself out of the comfortable groove that has had him headlining for the last 11 years.
Recommendation: Buy It
Songs I have a playlist for: One Lonely Light, Wait Up for Me, Walls, With You
Clunkers I will thumbs down: Till You Come Back Through
It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is the seventh studio album by Ingrid Michaelson.
After my first full listen to It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, I felt like this was a breakup album. I don’t know if it really is or not, although she did get a divorce while she was touring the album prior to this. Still, it has a lot of songs that feel like songs that belong on a breakup album – Light Me Up – seemingly about moving on; Drink You Gone – about not getting over it; Hell No – not taking you back; Old Days – about the falling apart and not coming back together. And, overall, this album is a little slower, a little less upbeat, which also contributes to that feel. Still, Michaelson remains a better than average songwriter and she has written some wonderful songs for this album.
Not that there’s nothing but breakup songs here. Miss America is a anthem for women good with being themselves. Celebrate is upbeat nostalgia for youth. I Remember Her feels like an elegaic homage.
There should be plenty here to please all of her fans, but there’s enough catchy songwriting that Michaelson should also continue to appeal to new listeners.
Recommendation: Buy It
Songs I have a Playlist for: Light Me Up, Miss America, Hell No, Old Days
Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Another Life
Something Worth Saving is the sixth studio album from Gavin DeGraw, released on September 9th, 2016 from RCA Records.
Fans of Gavin DeGraw will recognize a familiar formula of bouncy, upbeat pop mixed with the occasional bombastic ballad. For me, the upbeat stuff usually works far better than the ballads with DeGraw, and Something Worth Saving hasn’t really changed my mind.
For my tastes, Gavin DeGraw just writes better upbeat pop than he does ballads, which tends towards the self-indulgently melancholy in his hands. There are exceptions (think Not Over You), and this album has an odd exception or two (Say I Am is a successful ballad, and Annalee is an upbeat presentation with a subversive lyric), but still, the pattern holds pretty well.
Recommendation: Try it
Songs I have a playlist for: She Sets The City On Fire, Kite Like Girl, Say I Am, Analee
Songs I will thumbs down: Makin Love With the Radio On, Harder to Believe, Something Worth Saving
Off his new album, Beulah.