The Corrs, Jupiter Calling
Download: Son Of Solomon; Chasing Shadows; Bulletproof Love; SOS
In “Dear Life”, Andrea Corr sings of wanting to “live life like I’m losing, and holding on for dear life” – a neatly turned expression of constant striving, though not one reflected much in Jupiter Calling, which still relies too heavily on routine romantic fluff like “Hit My Ground Running” and the glutinous “Butter Flutter”. T-Bone Burnett has been drafted in as producer, and brings his usual taste and expertise to songs such as “Son Of Solomon”, which opens with delicate guitar picking reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” before expanding through touches of flugelhorn, fiddle, etc.
Just as important is Caroline Corr’s slap-beat command of rockier tracks like “Chasing Shadows” and “Bulletproof Love”, a mandolin-led folk-rocker in REM vein. It’s not all romantic, though: the undulating roll, combined with fiddle and whistles, of “SOS” disguises the underlying theme of what is apparently a refugee plaint, while the song to an unborn child “No Go Baby” raises thorny but timely issues of termination.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Soul Of A Woman
Download: Come And Be A Winner; Just Give Me Your Time; Searching For A New Day; Rumors; Sail On!
As usual, all the Dap-Kings contribute songs to Sharon Jones’ final album, but none come closer to pin-pointing her position than guitarist Joe Crispiano and drummer Homer Steinweiss on “Searching For A New Day”, where she sings proudly of being “a brand new superstar, once an ordinary girl”. It’s this modest, late-blooming charm that illuminates Soul Of A Woman, as Jones rides the slinky guitar motifs and horn riffs of smart, funky struts like the suspicious “Rumors” and optimistic “Sail On!”, or quietly negotiates the dramatic soft/loud dynamic of the brooding deep-soul piece “Just Give Me Your Time”.
Throughout, Jones’s characteristic optimism holds true, in songs such as Binky Griptite’s latter-day civil rights anthem “Matter Of Time” (“It’s a matter of time before justice will come”) and especially Crispiano’s “Come And Be A Winner”, whose light country-soul stylings and rhythm guitar seem to channel Curtis Mayfield: “Sometime people treat you like worn-out shoes, but they don’t know you can’t lose”.
REM, Automatic For The People
Download: Man On The Moon; Everybody Hurts; Try Not To Breathe; The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight; Drive
REM’s brooding masterwork ultimately notched up some 18 million sales – remarkable for an album that tackles mortality and mercy with due mystery and compassion. And not a little playfulness too, the sombre mood tempered by references to childhood games, rhymes and singalong melodies, such as the succession of tunes nimbly negotiated by John Paul Jones’s simpatico strings in “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”. It’s an album of shadows and contrasts: “Drive”, for instance, opens proceedings on the cusp of adulthood, imparting youthful rebel spirit with a warning sense of duty for the future, before “Try Not To Breathe” offers an extraordinary image of an old person eager to leave the world to the young.
Elsewhere, “Everybody Hurts” offers anthemic uplift with a power undreamt of by Coldplay, while the Andy Kaufman tribute “Man On The Moon” provides a brilliant climax, celebrating the mystery surrounding the comedian’s death as the ultimate confirmation of his trickster spirit. This 25th anniversary release comes in the usual range of editions featuring bonus demos, out-takes and live tracks.
Jim White, Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
Download: Prisoner’s Dilemma; Playing Guitars; Reason To Cry; Silver Threads
Former catwalk model, pro surfer and cab driver Jim White brings a diverse wealth of worldliness to his arcane observations, which on Waffles, Triangles & Jesus finds familiar Americana tropes and sounds given his distinctive twist. The traditional country/folk forms are subtly shaded in songs like “Silver Threads” (“they say silver threads can mend a broken heart”) and the troubling “Reason To Cry”, in which melancholy is characterised almost as some contagion of the soul.
In lighter spirit, “Playing Guitars” blends exuberant layers of country guitar lines to offer a jaunty reflection on the ubiquity of musicians which concludes with White himself startled by yet another one staring back from his mirror. But he’s more successful when augmenting those country modes with different musical colours – most notably in “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, where blaxploitation flutes and brass underscore the titular jailbird’s blaming of the “rotten tooth of my wasted youth” and, ultimately, God for making him the way he is.
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Blitzen Trapper, Wild And Reckless
Download: Rebel; Wild And Reckless; Joanna
Wild And Reckless was born out of a musical of the same name that Blitzen Trapper staged in their hometown Portland, a sci-fi rock-opera apparently dealing with such weighty themes as heroin, love and western power structures – Oklahoma with track marks, possibly. The opening “Rebel” sets the tone with a country-style tale of how a good-hearted man’s attempt to live up to his father’s ideals backfires to leave him a criminal, losing his beloved’s respect and affection in the process.
From there, the journey swings between ebullient celebrations of life and sombre tales of misfortune, with the shadow of Springsteen looming large over songwriter Eric Earley’s material. “Joanna”, for instance, is a rape revenge ballad told without judgement, in spartan Nebraska style, while the title-track tale of youthful love is a crisp, punchy heartland rocker with kids staving off the future on their own Oregonian Thunder Road: “If I ever get old, and I’m looking back on these wild and reckless times, well, they’re the best days of our lives.”
Peter Oren, Anthropocene
Download: Burden Of Proof; Anthropocene; Falling Water; River And Stone
I don’t know much about Peter Oren, and I get the impression, listening to Anthropocene, that he likes it that way. These 10 songs are like soundings from between the cracks, faint echoes from an inveterate wanderer whose revulsion at our anthropocentric ruination of the world leads him to ever-darker places. “How will we escape this hell?” he wonders in the title track, before conceding defeat in the closing “Welcome/Goodbye”, “Welcome to this record, and goodbye to this world/May a new one soon unfurl”.
In between, he’s more content dealing in animist and elemental imagery: in “Falling Water” he imagines himself as rain, heading for the ocean; while in the sly, barbed metaphor of “Chain Of Command”, a dog reminds sheep that it’s his master’s word that will protect them from the wolf – but for what? Ornamented by subtle drumming and spare shards of brilliant guitars, Oren’s simple guitar stylings make a solid setting for a haunting baritone that recalls the comparable dark musings of Bill Callahan.
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