Sheryl Crow "Feels Like Home" (Warner Bros)
Shazza has moved operations, lock, stock and double-barrel, to Nashville. There she is, on the cover in a white lace dress, the very image of a buff, energized, super-fit Loretta for the 21st century in waterfall sleeves, with yellow flowers queuing up to serve as maids of honour. What can possibly await within?
Guitars, mainly. Guitars and drums and the tropes of honky-tonk songwriting admitted to the service of an old-skool rockin’ sensibility, both single-coiled and humbucking; country music as envisioned on side two of Exile on Main St or, perhaps more germanely, by Allison Moorer on her brace of early-Noughties R&B-inflected classics: gritty, soulful, clever and governed, muscularly, by the inclinations of the body.
Yet it is also pop music. There is a sheen to the production which echoes the sheen of Sheryl’s skin and the polish of her co-writing (you will never hear a better song about waterproof mascara). There is also a desire to make the tunes not only go the distance but stick like a burr after the distance has been covered, an effect enhanced by Crow’s fiercely generous phrasing. It’s not a great voice but, by George Jones, even when she’s operating at the low end of her dynamic range, she gives you the lot. And she swings.
You will want to hear one of the great kick-back songs of the age, “We Oughta Be Drinkin’”, the aforementioned “Waterproof Mascara” (unlike his daddy, it won’t run) and the heartbreaking “You’re Asking the Wrong Person”.
Feels Like Home is musically conservative, socially ingratiating, politically vulnerable. It is unmistakably a piece of product. But it is also brilliant.
Sarah Jarosz "Build Me Up From Bones" (Sugar Hill)
At what point does a child prodigy turn into a talent so exceptional that we no longer talk about age? Sarah Jarosz’s third album answers that question in style (though just for the record, the banjo, guitar and mandolin supremo is now 22).
Originally hailed as a Gillian Welch for the Taylor Swift generation, Jarosz is now a confident enough writer that her songs can encompass styles from the Chris Isaak-ish opener “Over the Edge”, through the “newgrass” of “Fuel the Fire”, to the Joni Mitchell-esque closer “Rearrange the Art”.
The only gripe is in her choice of covers: she adds nothing to Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” or Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right-On”. She doesn’t need other people’s songs. She’s so good it’s scary.
Dum Dum Girls "Too True" (Sub Pop)
LA’s Dee Dee Penny namechecks Patti Smith and Baudelaire on the PR for her third Dum Dum Girls album. She might as well have thanked Pat Benatar or Blondie. Penny has garage-rock form, but Too True is a light-footed, echo-heavy pop makeover with a 1980s gloss, frothy but forthright.
Alongside choice production from girl-group godhead Richard (Blondie, the Go-Gos) Gottehrer and the reverb-loving Raveonette, Sune Rose Wagner, a flair for pop brevity is the key. Nods to Rimbaud and nocturnal transgressions hardly deepen Penny’s pitch, but they don’t dilute the direct appeal, either: between the spaghetti-Ladytron surge of “Cult of Love” and the Divinyls-ish swoon of “Are You Okay?”, her melodic aim holds true.
Snowbird "(Moon)" (Bella Union)
A transatlantic collaboration between former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde in London and Stephanie Dosen in North Carolina. Yet Moon feels unified: his stately piano tamped down with tinkling, ticking percussion and finger-picked or peeling guitar (from an impressive selection of guests), over which Dosen’s vocals drift dreamily.
Their names (of band and album) suit the sound: the chill of snow, the pale glimmer of moonlight. Tracks feature a Beatrix Potter-worthy cast of foxes, mice, owls; the aural equivalent of fey woodland scenes on hipster T-shirts. Moon is bookended by the structurally perfect melodies of “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” and “Heart of the Woods” – but what’s in-between is often too airy-fairy to really grab.
Various Artists "Haiti Direct: Big Band etc 1960-1978" (Strut)
American art-rock genius Merrill Garbus (better known by her stage name Tune-Yards) recently travelled to Haiti and was inspired by that country’s syncopated rhythms to start work on a new album. But if that stamp of approval doesn’t raise the country’s musical profile a tad, then maybe this superb compilation will.
What comes across most is the sheer unbridled enthusiasm expressed in the complex, racing rhythms, squalling sax solos, twanging electric guitar and crooning vocals. Cuban grooves tend to dominate but rock, soul, jazz, cumbia and funk all get stirred into a contagious rough-edged mix.
Look, if this music doesn’t get your feet tapping, pulse racing and put a smile on your face, see a doctor.