Album Review – Rainbow – Kesha

Something I had long suspected, though it wasn’t apparent on the inane electro-pop that dominated her first two albums, is that Kesha Rose Sebert can sing and pretty well. That has certainly been proven true on her latest effort, Rainbow.

After a 4 year hiatus, with the concomitant drama surrounding her relationship with producer Dr. Luke in the intervening years, Kesha has released both her best album and her first album that is filled with works that feel genuine and true to a real person, instead of an overdone persona.

Kesha executive produced the album herself, working with other production luminaries such as Ryan Lewis, Ben Folds, and even her mother, master Nashville songwriter Pebe Sebert, which results in an eclectic album that touches on funk, punk, rockabilly, and alt-country. For all that it sounds disjointed, with only a couple exceptions, it is a surprisingly cohesive album tied together on the strength of Kesha’s voice.

I will say that people who only want to hear the heretofore standard synth/electro-pop dance hits that Kesha has produced under the direction of her former producer won’t find a ton of stuff on this album. There are nods in that direction ( Hymn, Learn to Let Go, Boots), but this album is much wider than that, and travels far enough afield that people who only really care about the dance music are likely to be disappointed.   There is a lot of acoustic music (6 tracks). and the rest is rock or rockability leaning.

With 14 tracks, the honest truth is that most people are going to consider something on this album as filler. And there are songs that I consider less successful than others (Boots, Boogie Feet) , but there isn’t any song on this album that I think is bad. And given that there are only two songs on the album over 4 minutes, everyone should have the patience to just wait through the songs that don’t thrill them as much.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Bastards, Let ‘Em Talk, Finding You, Rainbow, Godzilla

Tracks I would Thumbs Down: None

 

Album Review – A Face Like Mine – Peter Bradley Adams

A Face Like Mine is Peter Bradley Adams sixth studio album.  A quiet, reflective demeanor fills this album, even on the most driven songs on the album.

There’s an enveloping nature to this album filled with soft edges and delving stories.  While it takes several listens to feel the full extent of the songs on the album, when you pay attention, there are deep and surprisingly detailed stories to find.

This album is right on the dividing line for me. People who love Americana, or really like Peter Bradley Adams would be well advised to buy this album. It might take some time to grow on the rest of his possible audience. It’s not that they album is inaccessible, but rather than it takes some reflection to really appreciate.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist For: Lorrain, A Face Like Mine, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

Songs I will Thumbsdown: None

Album Review – Life Love Flesh Blood – Imelda May

On her fifth studio album, Imelda May has taken a turn away from the blistering rockabilly that has been her calling card. Under sure guidance from T-Bone Burnett and his team, May has made an album of dusky Americana peppered with torch song jazz, British soul, and touches of blues.

Her 2015 divorce clearly influenced the album, with songs of heartbreak and rebuke, but there is also a sense of passion for love and life.  This album showcases May’s wonderful voice and amazing stylistic range that people only familiar with her albums would have been unaware of.  However, people who remember her work with longtime May booster Jeff Beck, and the long list of other luminaries (eg Lou Rawls, Jools Holland, and Tom Jones) will not be surprised.

While only time will tell for sure, this album seems to mark a turn into a more varied style, with a deeper sense of self and connection that one might get from the wild rockabilly of her previous albums. It certainly gives much greater play to her great vocal range and flexibility.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I Have a playlist for: Call Me, Black Tears, Sixth Sense, How Bad Can a Good Girl Be

Tracks that I will Thumbs Down: The Girl I Used to Be

 

Album Review – Crawl Space – Tei Shi

Crawl Space is the first studio album from Tei Shi, the pseudonym for Valerie Teischer, an artist from Argentina by way of Brooklyn.

An impressive debut, Crawl Space is a mix of R&B and electronic infected pop music that stands out from the crowd.  Filled with the hooks and catchy melodies we’ve come to expect in the modern pop album, Crawl Space provides a mix of hypnotic pop ballads and slinky almost dance numbers, with a couple more straightforward pop tunes. While I’ve seen her compared to Charlie XCX and Mø, listeners of Läpsley and even Sara Barielles would also find her work comfortable.

Standout songs include the opening “Keep Running”, the groove heavy “Creep”,  and the languidly hypnotic “Sleepy”. And if they ever release “Say You Do” as a single, it should challenge the current radio dominance of ballads from groups like Fifth Harmony.

Recommendation: Buy it

Songs I have a playlist for: Keep Running, Creep, How Far, Say You Do, Lift Me, Como Si, Sleepy

Songs I would Thumbs Down: Year 3K

Album Review – After Laughter – Paramore

Well, it has finally happened. Paramore fully admitted that they are the pop band we always knew they were.  And you know what? They put together one of the best records of 2017 so far to announce it.

After Laughter is the best of Paramore’s five studio albums. It’s first Paramore album to really use Hayley Williams’ terrific voice and the first album on which the band was sufficiently free as to not drag back Williams’ vocals. But it’s not an album that the fans who think Riot’s punk pop angst is the epitome of Paramore will like. Still, if you like pop and give it a chance, you will find something that gets you dancing, or at least listening raptly.

The thing that marks a great pop album for most people is a lot of great hooks and catchy melodies, which After Laughter has in abundance.  The lead single “Hard Times” is a perfectly fine pop song with hooks and catch galore, and a fine leadoff. But the payoff is later on the album, with some really great songs like the sardonically cheerful “Told You So”, the honestly introspective “Forgiveness”, and the gorgeous acoustic “26”. There are 12 tracks on this album and I honestly love 9 of them.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Hard Times, Rose-colored Boy, Told You So, Forgiveness, Fake Happy, 26, Pool, Grudges, Tell Me How

Songs I would Thumbs down: None.

EP Review – form/a – Half Waif

form/a is an EP from Half Waif – the production name for musician and producer Nandi Rose Plunkett. Every reviewer/critic seems to place Half Waif in a different genre – EDM, electro-pop, avant-pop – but every critic I’ve seen seems to agree with my assessment – this is a really good EP from a promising artist.

At 6 songs and ~20 minutes, form/a is a meditation on self-doubt and personal history. The music is heavy on synthesizers and drum machine beats that serve to buoy a plaintive, airy voice above them.

I find the whole album to be hypnotizing, though it opens and closes with its strongest tracks, “Severed Logic” and “Cerulean”, respectively.

 

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a play list for: Severed Logic, Wave, Frost Burn, Cerulean

Songs I will Thumbs Down: None.

Album Review – The Valley – Betty Who

The Valley is the second album from Australian pop songstress Betty Who (Jessica Anne Newham).  Once again, her mostly upbeat synth-pop straddles the pop and dance charts (the first single off this album hit #1 on the US Dance charts in 2016).

On her second album, Betty Who has taken a step more into the pop sound predominant in the 2010s, as compared to the heavily 80s inflected pop sound of her first album.

Echoing the favorite subject of pop artists ever, The Valley centers on love, heartbreak, and getting on without them. It’s nice that this is the rare album that doesn’t have a song that is maudlin and dragging for this subject. She sticks to up-tempo beats for the most part, and the few slower songs aren’t downers.

While the album isn’t perfect (Warren G feels totally out of place on Free to Fly, and Some Kinda Wonderful just doesn’t appeal), The Valley is a solid album that is well worth your time.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a playlist for: You Can Cry Tomorrow, Human Touch, Wanna Be, Beautiful (Feat. Superfruit), I Will Love You Always Forever

Songs I will Thumbs Down: Some Kinda Wonderful

 

 

 

Album Review – Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

 

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

Album Review – Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

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

Album Review – Spirit – Amos Lee

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