Archive for the ‘First Impressions’ Category

After a long-term relationship came to an end, Courtney Marie Andrews did what many an artist before her has done: Turned her grief (though that may be the wrong word) into the grist of song. The resulting 10-track album explores the love lost not with bitterness, but kindness and grace, and an embrace of what she and her ex forged during their years together. In the plaintive “Guilty,” for example, she sings that “Painful, love is painful/but I am thankful for/the time we shared.” And in “Together or Alone,” she confesses that “Now I’m the kind of person/who acts how I feel/and for a moment in time/I know what we had was real.”

I wrote in-depth about “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault” in June, so won’t delve deep into it here – beyond to say it’s a tremendous tune about taking responsibility for what befalls us.

Such recognition doesn’t alleviate the heartache and heartbreak, of course; in some respects, it just makes the pain radiate all the more. It’s far easier to blaze hate for the other, to blame him or her for everything that went wrong than to face the fact that, just like falling in love, falling out of love happens – sometimes for reasons that belie logic, other times not. In the title track, for instance, she confesses that “I don’t see you that way/not the way I did before,” while also asserting “I’m not your object to break” and “you can’t hurt me that way/not the way you did before.”

She also delves into the delicate dance that is moving on. In the aforementioned “Guilty,” she finds herself thinking of her ex while with another man; and in “If I Told,” she describes herself to a date with absolute clarity: “I am a loner, I am stubborn” before questioning whether he can handle the world she lives in.

Sonically speaking, Andrew Sarlo’s production is as uncluttered and intimate as the songs themselves, with the space left between notes essentially an additional instrument. In “Guilty,” for instance, when she arrives at the final lines, “I cannot give my love to you/when I’m guilty,” you all but hear a tear streaking down her cheek.

Often, such as with the hypnotic “Carnival Dream,” the songs build bit by bit, with the drums kicking in until they approximate a heart pounding louder with every beat. It’s mesmerizing, akin to a fever dream, and finds Courtney, by song’s end, repeating “Will I ever let love in?/I may never let love in” again and again like a mantra while the music – and intensity – swells high like the ocean tide at night. 

Even an old stoic such as myself finds himself submerged in the emotion of the song cycle. “How You Get Hurt” should stop even the most hard-hearted in their tracks.

In another era, Courtney Marie Andrews would already be name-checked alongside Jackson, Joni and the other stalwarts of the ‘70s singer-songwriter crowd. That said, Old Flowers is rightfully being heralded for its honesty in exploring – to borrow a phrase from Wallace Stevens – the “ghostlier demarcations” of life and love. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in years. To quote from the poet Denise Levertov’s “Another Spring,” which is about death literal and metaphoric, “I am speaking of living/of moving from one moment into/the next, and into the/one after, breathing/death in the spring air, knowing/air also means/music to sing to.” 

Five years is a lifetime in the music biz, especially for an artist who’s still in the process of becoming. From what I’ve read, Lianne La Havas was annoyed with label interference on her first two long players, so after doing the dutiful promotion chores – press and tour – for her 2015 album, Bloom, she planned to record a follow-up to right the wrongs. As she explained to Go London earlier this year, “I knew then that I wanted the title to be my own name. The last album, I love it, I’m very proud of it, but there were aspects of it that I would have done differently. That spurred me on.”

Unfortunately, life interfered. It took until last year for either the creative energies to reawaken or, more likely, for her to feel confident enough to share the songs with the world. She told The Line of Best Fit that the album was recorded in the last half of 2019 after inspiration struck, with an early-take approach in vogue. “A lot of what you hear on the album was the first day or the first take. I learnt that you lose something if you try and make it too neat.” 

The resulting songs are breezy and low-key on the surface, yet each possesses a strong undertow sure to draw you in. The lead-off track “Bittersweet,” about the end stage of a relationship, is a good example. Sonically speaking, the album reminds me of Neneh Cherry’s jazz-inflected sophomore set, Homebrew (1992), which followed the brash Raw Like Sushi (1989), plus Alicia KeysHere (2016), which was a break from her previous polished productions, not to mention many a Neil Young album, as “feel” triumphs again and again (and again).

“Paper Thin” is another example. The languid groove proves potent, while the lyrics delve into a life lesson that’s easy to say but difficult to live: “Love yourself/Or else you can’t love no one else/I know your pain is real/But you won’t let it heal…”

 The silky smooth “Read My Mind,” about the first blush of love (and lust), is another delight. (It’s reminiscent, in a good way, of Janet Jackson’s “Spending Time With You” from her criminally underrated Damita Jo album.)

On the Nonesuch page for the album, Lianne says that “[t]his is my first completely self-produced album with my own band. I got my own way with everything—all the decisions that you hear on this album were mine. I’m a woman now, so I’m less shy and timid about saying certain things. And there’s no right or wrong when it’s your record, so I was very much embracing that fact, as well.” She’s also quoted as saying, “I’ve tapped into the best and worst parts of me and while I didn’t expect this to be the direction of my new music, it’s my reality and it’s driven by emotion. I dare say that this is the closest I’ve gotten to a pure expression so far. If you’d never heard me before, I’d be happy to say,  ‘This is me. This is who I am.’”

If this is who Lianne La Havas is, well, wow. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another five years for her next set.

Looking forward. Looking back. Embracing the new. Celebrating the old. Since his start with the Jam, Paul Weller’s contradictory impulses have introduced a slew of sonic delights – as well as the occasional dud – to this thing we call rock ’n’ soul. On Sunset, his 15th solo studio set, finds him weaving avant-garde accents into an oft-compelling tapestry of sound, while lyrically indulging in the self-reflection that comes with growing old(er). 

It’s Weller being Weller, in other words. He’s always mused about life, love and the meanings therein, after all, and occasionally looked askance at the wider world. He’s also been adept at integrating seemingly discordant chords into a coherent whole. 

The first track, “Mirror Ball,” is actually a holdover from the True Meanings sessions; Weller originally heard it as a b-side or bonus track, but realized it deserved a wider audience. A suite of sorts, the music rolls toward shore in a succession of waves for almost seven-and-a-half minutes, threatening to inundate everything but stopping just short.

“Old Father Tyme” and “Village” wouldn’t have been out of place on True Meanings. The former finds him staring age in the face: “Time will become you/You’ll become time/All hail the love/It’s the love divine.” The latter, meanwhile, finds the 62-year-old Weller measuring his life and realizing that, with heaven now in sight, he’s content: “I never knew what a world this was/Till I looked in my heart/And saw myself for what I am/Found a whole world in my hand…” 

(As Todd Rundgren might say, “love is the answer.”)

On the surface, “More” is about consumerism – but, upon deeper inspection, it’s – ahem – more than that: “The more we get, the more we lose/when all is ‘more,’ it’s more we choose/There’s always something else in store/That keeps me running down the road/Keeps me running/To an unknown place I think is more.” In essence, the quest for more distracts from what we have, i.e. the present. I should add that, aside from the philosophizing, the almost seven-minute opus features a way-cool vocal cameo from French singer Julie Gros (of the band Le Superhomard) as well as incendiary guitar runs from Weller and Steve Craddock.

In addition to Gros, contributors to the album include former Style Council mate Mick Talbot, the Staves, Col3trane, Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson, Slade violinist Jim Lea, the Paraorchestra and Irish composer Hannah Peel. Weller plays Captain Many Hands on many tracks, while drummer Ben Gordelier keeps the beat throughout; Andy Crofts plays on most of the songs and Craddock lends his talents to four. 

In many respects, the lead single “Earth Beat” is the culmination of Weller’s intent with the album, as it features synths, blips and beats as well as Col3trane and the Staves on backing vocals. As he explained on Instagram, it ”comes from a track that Jim Jupp had done as Belbury Poly on his label GhostBox. I’m a big fan of that label. I think the track was called ‘The Willows.’ I started singing this song over the top of it, and came up with the bass riff as well and the guitar riff – just singing over the top of Jim’s original track. Then I got in touch, asked if I could try and develop the track and it rolled on from that.” 

The album proper closes with “Rockets,” which is guaranteed to blast most listeners into deep space, a la “Space Oddity” or “Ashes to Ashes.” It’s an intense, fanciful tribute to David Bowie. 

The deluxe version of the album features five additional tracks, including an “orchestral mix” of the bittersweet title track, which finds Weller seeking out the clubs he played in L.A. with the Jam. “And the world I knew/Has all gone by/All the places we used to go/Belong to a time/Someone else’s life/Another time…”

As a whole, to my ears, the album finds Weller at the top of his game, offering a bit of the old with a bit of the new. It’s one of the year’s best, thus far (albeit with one of the year’s worst covers).

Singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon, whose credits include writing “When You Walk Into a Room,” singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and inspiring my blog’s tagline, released a lyric video for “Vanished in Time” on Friday; the song itself was released in 2000 on her You Know Me album, the video was first shared last year (sans lyrics) – while the single, which doesn’t sound like a re-recording to my ears, was issued on Friday. Why now? Who knows?

Those questions aside, it’s an interesting song for a few reasons, but chief among them: It’s a paean to a way of life that’s long since passed. As she sings in the first verse, “The flag is still waving/As the box cars roll by/Don’t look for the heartland/It’s vanished in time…”

The world we remember is rarely the world, writ large, that was, a difference that can cause dissonance and defensiveness when and/or if long-held beliefs are challenged. That’s grist for another post somewhere down the line, however. To get back on point, I’ll say that – musically and thematically – “Vanished in Time” is akin to a letter mailed from pre-9/11 America to the present. 

That doesn’t make it any less relevant, mind you. For good and ill, yearning for years long ago, romanticizing the good and glossing over the bad, has been part and parcel of this thing called life from the very start. Every generation is the last of a dying breed, just as every succeeding generation faces the same basic quandaries and questions as their forebears. “Vanished in Time” conveys a wistfulness for the past – and it’s that very wistfulness that makes it worth a listen.