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
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