Posts Tagged ‘Lianne La Havas’

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.

From what I gather, aside from Pandora’s all-algorithmic approach, the streaming platforms rely on a mix of machine learning and human touch to “curate” their playlists, which – to an extent – replicate the radio experience. Unlike radio, however, one can skip songs and essentially see into the future, as all picks are visible. There’s also, obviously, no deejay sharing tidbits about the artists or local happenings. If one likes a specific track, a click leads to the artist’s individual page, where individual songs, albums and “essential” playlists can be had.

That’s likely not news to anyone but me, mind you. Although I’ve subscribed to Apple Music for a few years now, and checked out Spotify from time to time before that, the notion of automated music discovery leaves me cold; and my few experiments with it haven’t changed my opinion. Last year, for instance, I played around with Pandora for a spell and found its output lacking. It didn’t ring my bell. Likewise, YouTube’s stack of related content based on the video being watched often misses the mark.

As a result, I generally listen to songs and albums that I’ve added to either my Apple Music library or, using the Vox app, the folder that holds my CD-quality and high-resolution files, which are a mix of CD rips and digital downloads. The music itself is discovered the old-fashioned way: from reviews, articles and fellow music fans. This morning, though, out of curiosity I clicked on Apple Music’s “For You” page for the first time and listened to my personalized “New Music Mix.”

The 25 songs ranged from the old school (David Gilmour, whose new song “Yes, I Have Ghosts” is quite compelling)…

…to a lot of Americana and folk. Some songs, such as “Some Do” by Deau Eyes and “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song” by the Country Westerns, connected. Most did not.

Deau Eyes, as I soon discovered, is the stage name for Ali Thibodeau, a Richmond-based singer-songwriter who has apparently worked every odd job under the sun (and then some); her nine-song album, Let It Leave, features high-energy rockers, moody delights and an acoustic gem, “Parallel Time.”

The Country Westerns, on the other hand, echo the Long Ryders, Bottle Rockets and Replacements, among others. I cranked their self-titled debut album earlier this afternoon. It’s raw and ragged, a raucous cacophony. (Which is to say, as Diane chimed in, “they’re really good.”)

Listening to both albums back-to-back, however, made me yearn for the streaming services to up their game. In the not-so-distant past, after we brought home an album or CD, we dropped it onto the turntable or into the CD tray, and then drifted away on the melodies that spilled from the speakers. We’d glance at the album jacket a time or two, flip through the CD booklet, checking out the lyrics and production credits, and then look things over again and again…

As a result, we knew who wrote what, who played on what, etc. Why can’t the same be true today? Couldn’t there be a pop-up window that features the album jacket (front and back), and enables us to check out the inner sleeve or booklet? Although I (obviously) still buy albums on vinyl and CD, my hunch is that most – especially younger – folks do not. Why not give them a chance to experience, albeit in virtual form, what was, is and should always be a part of music discovery?

And speaking of discovery… here’s a track that wasn’t on my “New Music Mix” but should have been: “Can’t Fight” by Lianne La Havas. It’s the latest single from what’s sure to be one of the year’s top albums, which is due out July 17th. (Her last album, Blood, was one of the runners-up in 2015 for my much-ballyhooed – by me, at any rate – Album of the Year award.)

staves_ifIwas

What a long, strange year it’s been – a wealth of music released and unheard by me, primarily due to the greying demographic I find myself in and the continued cloistering of my catholic tastes. Variety is the spice of life, it’s said, and I enjoy a wide range of styles and genres – everything from adult contemporary, pop, rock, R&B and soul to Americana, old-school country, folk and jazz. Yet, I find myself feasting less often on a sonic stew sautéed by up-and-coming chefs and, instead, savoring the sounds of the tried-and-true, with the chief stewards including such stalwarts as (small surprise) Paul McCartney, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young.

That’s what I told myself going into this annual exercise, at any rate, but the results – as you’ll soon read – tell a slightly different story.

The British singer-songwriter Rumer, for instance, is still relatively new, given that her debut album, the classic Seasons of My Soul, dates to 2010. Theoretically, Into Colour, her third long-player, could be among this year’s picks, given that it was released in the U.S. in February. It’s not, though, because it was initially released in the U.K. in October 2014, made my Top 5 for that year, and I don’t go for double-dipping. She also put out – on her own label – the odds-and-sods B Sides & Rarities collection in late 2014, which was given wider release (and received many nice reviews) this year. It, too, is worth tracking down – as is my first Honorable Mention “album” of the year, her (very) recent Love Is the Answer.

IMG_0072“Album” is in quotes because Love Is the Answer is an extended play that features the Todd Rundgren/Utopia title tune and re-recordings of three songs that didn’t make the B Sides set due to (I believe) licensing issues – the Hall & Oates classic “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” which she first sang with Hall on Live from Daryl’s House; Carole King’s “Being at War With Each Other,” which she first covered with the Brit R&B singer Lemar at a BBC Radio 2 event in 2011; and a silky-smooth spin of William DeVaughan’s “Be Thankful for What You Got,” which she also sang with Daryl Hall on his TV show.

My second Honorable Mention is another E.P. – Greta Isaac’s Oh Babe. My only criticism: its brevity. I reviewed it (and her 2014 E.P., Down by the Water) earlier this year, so won’t repeat myself other than to say: They’re magical songs that resonate long after the final note fades to silence.

liannelahavasI discovered my No. 5 album during one of our regular B&N jaunts. While sitting in the cafe flipping through a Mojo or Uncut magazine, and sipping a vente white chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso and a dash of raspberry (a delicious confection, I hasten to add), an uptempo melody whirled and swirled around us like an age-old friend, yet it was one I’d never before heard. Diane liked the music, too, and before you know it I was headed to the music department to learn who, exactly, was singing. Lianne La Havas, an up-and-coming Brit jazz-R&B singer, was her name.

Blood, the album in question, is an intoxicating ride of melodies that move and groove like the soul classics of yesteryear, with Prince and Janet Jackson influences, too – most notably on “What You Don’t Do.”

rickielee_desireMy pick for No. 4: Rickie Lee Jones’ The Other Side of Desire. As I wrote in my Nothing to Do But Today: Top 5 post in July, the album “possesses a vibe that radiates instant familiarity.” Part of that, I’m sure, is due to me being a longtime fan of the hipster songstress, but I’d like to think the larger reason is because of the music itself. “Feet on the Ground,” which I highlighted then, remains one favorite (and my overall favorite track from the set). “Jimmy Choos” is another –

– and “Christmas in New Orleans” yet another. Here’s a stripped-down version of it:

neil_monsantoMy pick for No. 3: The Monsanto Years by Neil Young & Promise of the Real. Oh, I can hear the groans from some folks, most of whom either haven’t heard it or, if they have, didn’t actually listen to it. (That’s a distinction not everyone will get, I’m sure.) It’s an anti-GMO, anti-corporate, anti-greed broadside with much heart and (black) humor strewn throughout – which explains why the songs resonated with audiences when he played them live with Promise of the Real over the summer. They possess a glorious Ragged Glory vibe, with thick chords, even thicker rhythms, and melodies that linger long after the morning fog has burned off. “Big Box,” which conjures “Crime in the City” and “Ordinary People,” is one highlight; and the opening “A New Day for Love” is another.

Melody Gardot’s Currency of ManIMG_4459, my No. 2 for the year, is a riveting, R&B-infused collection of songs, possessing fat chords, sinewy melodies and incisive lyrics that delve deep into the state of the world. Homelessness and racism are among the themes  – as are matters of the psyche and soul. In concert, as is often the case, the music took off into a deeper dimension, but the recorded effort is just plain great. “Bad News,” as I wrote here, sounds like an out-take from Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee. Above all, though, there’s that voice…

…and “Preacherman,” the lead single, is a haunting, powerful and propulsive ode.

In fact, in almost any other year, that likely would’ve been my No. 1 (and, for a time, it was). This year, however, the honor goes to… (drumroll, please!)… If I Was by the Staves, three sisters (Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) from England whose harmony-rich folk-rock songs echo those of Crosby, Stills & Nash. In my initial take on the Greta Isaac E.P.s, I opined that when she and her sisters blend their voices together it’s akin to listening in on heaven. The same is true here. Whether one is singing alone, their voices are joining together or their vocals are swooping in and out like doves from above, it’s a sonic marvel.

The martial drums in “Make It Holy,” for instance, are a perfect touch, as is the addition of Justin Vernon’s voice to the mix. (Vernon, who’s the force behind Bon Iver, produced the album.)

As is common when creating my year-end lists, I listen to all the contenders, some of which have been collecting digital dust for months. I didn’t have to with this, which was released in March, simply because I’ve never stopped playing it for too long. (About the only time I did: in the initial weeks after the Currency of Man‘s release.) Many nights, after climbing into my car for my commute home from work, I plug my Pono Player into the aux jack, select If I Was and crank it up. (Listening to it loud is a requirement.) That it’s grown stronger with repeated listens speaks volumes.

One song that strikes me is “Sadness Don’t Own Me.”

Another: “Let Me Down.”

And another:

And that’s that.