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 – It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense – Ingrid Michaelson

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

Album Review – Something Worth Saving – Gavin DeGraw

 

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

Album Review: Straining Hard Against the Night – The Blessed Isles

Straining Hard Against the Night is the debut album of The Blessed Isles. It reminds me of nothing so much as the music of the late 80s and 90s coming out of Brit-pop and new wave – groups like The Cure at their peppiest, When in Rome, Big Country and the like.

In fact, The Blessed Isles have all the same virtues and faults for me that new wave displayed – crisp, upbeat songs that can bring dancing, some what muddled slow songs that are over-layered, a mix of great and really stupid lyrics – they are almost the perfect amalgam of new wave brought into the shoe gaze era.

Recommendation: Stream It

 

Songs I have a Playlist for: Caroline, Round and Round, Confession

Clunkers I will Thumbs down: Winter Moon

Album Review: Debutante – FEMME

Debutante is the self-released debut album of British solo artist FEMME (Laura Bettinson). It is unabashedly pop. What kind of pop, however, is often in flux.

FEMME’s influences seem to be all over the place to me. There’s synth pop, drum and bass-inflected Afropop, and a heaping helping of 60s bubblegum pop in there.

Lyrically, there is lots of boy/girl angst, but there is also a lot of pro-girl standing up to the shitty relationship to break free.

There are some really great songs on this album like Gold and the absolutely brilliant Dumb Blonde.  Overall, the album is pretty good, and I will happily listen to many tracks again.

Recommendation: Stream It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Bring It Back Round, Shout Out Loud, Gold, Dumb Blonde, Sirens

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Romeo, Light Me Up

Album Review: Settlers – Western Skies Motel

 

Settlers is the latest album by Western Skies Motel. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’d never heard of Western Skies Motel before. And I’m willing to admit that this album is not going to be the average listener’s cup of tea, these days.

Western Skies Motel is an instrumental band. They do guitar-focused instrumental music, for the most part, though there is some synthesizer and other instrument work going on occasionally.

I have a feeling that they are going to be called New Age because they are instrumental, but, for the most part, Western Skies Motel has more in common with classical music that most New Age I’ve listened to.

Overall, this music is well composed and thematically interesting. People who are really into classical music might find it a little too sameish. There is no sort of dissonant track or jarring track that interrupts the flow of the album, which makes it great for me, good music t0 meditate to or listen to while reading or just relaxing.

Recommendation:  Give it a try – stream it – though if you like instrumental guitar music, with the occasional other instrumental work, Buy it.

Tracks I have a Playlist for: The whole album

Clunkers I will Thumbs Down: Nothing.