Before Katey Sagal was Peggy Bundy, Turanga Leela, or Gemma Teller Morrow, she was singing for the Group With No Name, a sort of high energy soft-rock group who quietly released one album on Casablanca and disappeared into the night of the ‘70s. Sagal would go on to sing backup for Gene Simmons, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan & Etta James, releasing 2 solo albums along the way. The first, 1994's Well... is a beautiful, soulful coming out as a singer songwriter, though it would be ten years before her next release, Room . Now Sagal is back with an album which finds her covering 10 of her favorite songs, aided by musician friends old and new, and even including Jackson Browne. Sagal picks tastefully, applying her hushed sultry voice (which can turn to soaring pseudo-gospel wail at a moment's notice) to rootsy slice of life stories of love, loss, and just plain living.
You don’t have to be a fan of Britpop greats The Stone Roses to appreciate Made of Stone , the documentary film about the band’s 2012 reunion after a 16-year silence. But it doesn’t hurt, either—anyone who grew up spinning the band’s self-titled 1989 debut record, an instant classic of madchester-infused jangly guitar pop, should find kinship in those interviewed when the band announced reunion shows in their hometown of Manchester. Fans leave their jobs midday to receive free tickets to the band’s first show in more than a decade, their teenage excitement peering through the responsible, middle-aged veneer most of them have cultivated, and that energy is contagious as viewers wait to see them pull off the seemingly impossible—reunion shows and a tour. Archival footage gives a nice sense of history as a refresher or for those new to the band, and we’re whisked away on tour with the band as they struggle to keep it together. Plenty of live shots, including complete songs, make Made of Stone a must-have for fans, even if they sap up the running time. By the end, you’ll be singing along in your seat and cheering for Ian Brown and his mates to blow people away at Manchester’s Heaton Park. It’s the next best thing to having been there.
Lissie’s in a precarious position. Her cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” helped make her an Internet star, sampled brilliantly on Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel,” yet her bread-and-butter is pop-oriented folk-rock. Back to Forever successfully mashes her personas, starting with the shuffling, radio-friendly “The Habit,” which sounds like The Killers fronted by a county chanteuse. She channels “Stand Back”-era Stevie Nicks on “Further Away (Romance Police)” and even kind of tries her hand at rapping on “Shameless.” But Lissie’s a country girl at heart, and her ballads, like “They All Want You,” are real tearjerkers. The girl’s got it all—listen to Back to Forever and hear for yourself.
Jake Bugg may be a wee 19 years of age, but he seems to be plugging along at twice the clip of his contemporaries without a care of what other artists are doing around him. On his second album of the year, the Rick Rubin-produced Shangri La , the handsome young Brit digs hard into Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and a bunch of other not-particularly-hip-right-now influences to come up with a poppin’ folk-rock sound that is both contemporary and blows a lot of other radio sludge out of the water. “Slumville Sunrise” is positively twangy, with Bugg delivering a nasally load of words over a country chug before it explodes into a gloriously ragged rockabilly solo. “What Doesn’t Kill You” dispenses with quick punk riffs, while “Me and You” is an acoustic jangler that traces the steps of his heroes, but Bugg comes up with a masterful tune of his own (it’s here that he’s most reminiscent of another, once young and prolific troubador, Ryan Adams). He’s still got a ways to go before he’s as distinctive as his forebears, but for now, Bugg has mastered a balance of grit and grace that makes Shangri La an incredibly appealing listen.
If Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love sounds beamed in from the Golden Age of soul, that’s with good reason — the sexegenerian is a former James Brown impersonator and is signed to the Daptone label, specializing in neo-classical soul, making him sort of the male-voiced counterpart to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. “Strictly Reserved For You” goes for the Four Tops treatment, with great success. Bradley sings of lust and devotion over a sweet, descending arrangement complete with great funk guitar, soulful sax and drum breaks for days. Bradley is just as effective in a stripped-down setting, as on “Let Love Stand a Chance,” where Bradley’s voice calls out and reverberates over a more spare set-up of guitar, sax and slow-jam drums, or on the title track, a pure, emotional showstopper of acoustic blues featuring a primal growl about halfway through that shows just how Bradley landed those James Brown gigs. Occasionally it’s too on-the-nose — “You Put the Flame on It” isn’t bad by any means, but it might as well be called “You Really Got a Hold on Me II” — but it mostly works given Bradley’s lived the blues he sings of. You don’t need to know that the man met his mother at the age of 8, or that his brother was murdered, or that he was once homeless; you can hear the pain in his voice, the sign of a great blues singer. Bradley’s story is told in the film Soul of America , which has won accolades at film festivals around the world. Check out the film, and dig the classic soul of Victim of Love .
It's been a busy year for Archy Marshall, the young Londoner formerly known as Zoo Kid who has now blown up globally as art-damaged pseudo-soul crooner, King Krule. This busy-ness is due, of course, to the crushing weight of his ultra-heavy debut, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon , a combination of deep sea aquatic trip hop, dungeon jangle croonery, and a spacious soulful jazz that has more in common with the pioneering delicacy of Talk Talk's late-period post-rock than it does with music played on bandstands. Exceptional, beautiful, strange, haunting, a massive debut.
In the words of the Holy Ghost of Funk, Bootsy Collins: "Well glory be! The funk's on me!" 7 Days of Funk's debut EP is a revelatory event for for fans of and freaks for The Funk, and should be particularly pleasing for those whose funk du jour is syrup-thick mid-tempo boogie-funk seasoned heavy with synthesizers a la Yarborough & Peoples or Zapp. This latter strain of funk has seen a resurgence in recent years, aided in large part by Angeleno Dam-Funk who makes up half of 7 Days of Funk's funknamic duo. Who's the other half? None other than the Doggfather himself, Snoop aka Snoop Lion aka Snoopzilla for this release, in an explicit homage to the Bootsman. Snoop has flirted with throwback funkestries on previous releases and is responsible for the global dispersal of the G-funk sound, but never before has be given himself so wholeheartedly to the funkmersive concerns expressed on this EP. Easily transcending the side-project ghetto, 7 Days of Funk is two major voices in contemporary music, subsuming their individual identities into something new and simply huge. A match made in funk heaven.
As an actor and comedian, Donald Glover has all the cred in the world, having written for 30 Rock and starred in Community . But as his alter ego Childish Gambino, he’s had to struggle for it more than, say, fellow actor-turned-rapper Drake, releasing a couple of so-so albums and making up ground with better-received mixtapes. Because the Internet , however, stands to be his first strong full-length studio album. Dazzling, woozy production and a guest spot from rising star Chance the Rapper help take “The Worst Guys” to new heights for Glover. Thundercat and other producers also enliven “Shadows.” Glover’s rapping has steadily improved in both flow and content, as he carries a mid-album cut like “Sweatpants” with a jumpy cadence somewhere between Lil Wayne and Drake and odd vocal tics and production choices that are his own. And “3005,” his clearest vie for some of Drake’s emotions-heavy, pop-rap audience, really works, building up to its crowd-pleasing chorus with spare verses that rely as much on confession as humor (“I used to care what people thought/But now I care more,” he says). He’ll likely always have to content with haters knocking him for starting as a comedian, but now Glover can point to Because the Internet as proof positive that his multifaceted professional title can firmly include rapper, as well.
Solange Knowles’ bud and producer Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) helped her make the True EP, one of the finest R&B releases in recent memory, and now he’s got his own album, Cupid Deluxe , to keep the smooth vibes going. In truth Hynes has been plugging away for years, first as Lightspeed Champion and as part of Test Icicles, but his recent production work has drawn more attention to him than ever before. And with good reason: everything Hynes touches seems to be impossibly smooth, channeling memories of ’80s synth-funk and classic soul into something that feels undeniably modern. “Chamakay” utilizes vibraphone and jazzy bass to set a nocturnal stage for Hynes’ breathy delivery, akin to The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye. “You’re Not Good Enough” is good enough to have been a single for any of his various collaborators, riding on a slinky funk riff and heartfelt dueting vocals. Everything comes together gorgeously on “Chosen,” a sultry ballad with Disney-quality vocals, floating horns like something out of Roxy Music’s Avalon and loads of sexy atmosphere. Remember Cupid Deluxe come Valentine’s Day—it’s a deal-closer of a record.
Though Canadian band Half Moon Run have gained fans through touring behind acoustic-rock behemoths like Mumford & Sons and Of Monsters & Men, the band is a less bombastic, more sensitive beast than those bands. Album opener “Full Circle” shuffles along with a tribal drumbeat and morose harmonies from all four members of the band. The band’s beats keep things moving and don’t let them wallow too far in minor-key melodies, while singer Devon Portielje emotes like a young Ian McCulloch on “Call Me in the Afternoon.” Clearly inspired by the likes of Radiohead and early Coldplay, the band is able to marry its largely acoustic-based with atmospheric touches like swooning electric guitar lines on the intense “No More Losing the War.” It may not be totally fair to judge these guys by their contemporaries, but even so, they’re ahead of the rest with the heartfelt Dark Eyes .
The Basher has cleaned up his act. Heck, he's even releasing a Christmas album. Lowe, who, for the better part of the nineties-and-on, has reimagined himself as a dapper and earnest songwriter with a crewcut (nearly full circle to his Brinsley Schwarz days), plays Santa in his delivery of this elegant album of Christmas standards, originals, and odd secrets unearthed by Lowe's own ever-twisted mind, buried just beneath the smell of freshly shampooed hair. Expect folk and countrified gentle swing, recalling a shimmering snowy rockabilly guest appearing on a Rat Pack special, where the Rat Pack gets tied up by aging power-pop royalty.
The latest album from Queens of the Stone Age has longtime fans excited for a number of reasons: it’s their first album in six years; it features high-profile guest appearances (Elton John, Trent Reznor); and it’s the first time since their classic Songs for the Deaf that Dave Grohl’s back on drums for the majority of the album, with former bassist Nick Oliveri singing backup on a couple of tracks. Of course none of that would matter if the songs weren’t as good as they are. Like Clockwork finds Homme and co. in gothic mode, wrapping dark riffs around moody arrangements. "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" struts slowly like an old engine starting, firing off in quick bursts of robot riffery. "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" sees the band engaging in Queen-style rock cabaret, with Homme likely reflecting on months of medical struggles with typically dark humor ("I survive, I speak I breathe, I’m alive, hurray"). Grohl’s metallic disco beat sends "If I Had a Tail" sailing smoothly through its troubled waters. The band brings back the desert-rock magic for "My God is the Sun" and "I Appear Missing," which will have fans kneeling before them once again after years of quietude from the band. And "Fairweather Friends" is a must-hear, with Homme unleashing some of his finest singing and guitarwork to date as Elton John billows the whole thing with his ever-commanding voice. By fearlessly taking on new territory while throwing fans a few bones, Like Clockwork ends up a welcome return. All hail the Queens!