Above image: Imelda May, who released “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood” on April 7. | Photo: Roger Deckker
It’s time for our periodic survey of new music that might have evaded your attention. Here are 10 certified-terrific tracks from just off the beaten path. A Spotify playlist is included here for your listening pleasure.
Imelda May, “Should’ve Been You.” Through four albums spread over eleven years, Irish singer Imelda May earned a dedicated following with her rough-and-tumble rockabilly sound and a stylized, distinctive look. But when she returned early this year after the end of a 13-year marriage, she was all but unrecognizable in both sound and appearance. Gone was her trademark pompadour with the curlicue stripe, replaced by a Chrissie Hynde-style shag, and her new album “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood,” produced by T-Bone Burnett, found her in a new musical setting that blends torch songs, jazzy blues and ‘60s girl-group drama. The result is a sophisticated adult pop record that could be the best work of her career.
John Moreland, “Sallisaw Blue.” The Oklahoma singer-songwriter cemented his position as one of the leading lights of modern Americana music in May of this year with the release of “Big Bad Luv,” his fourth album and the first on a label (4AD) with the means to help him get heard beyond a niche audience. His world-weary voice and scalpel-sharp songs should appeal to fans of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson.
Mr Jukes (featuring Charles Bradley), “Grant Green.” Mr Jukes is the alias of Jack Steadman, frontman for the London indie rock band Bombay Bicycle Club. With that band on hiatus, Steadman has turned his attention to creating a modern take on classic soul. The album “God First” is due in July, but Mr Jukes has already released a handful of tunes, including the brassy, irresistible “Grant Green,” which features vocals by the beloved Charles Bradley, and is built around a sample from “Ain’t It Funky Now” by the jazz guitarist who gives the new song its name.
Peter Perrett, “How the West Was Won.” Back in 1978, as singer and songwriter for The Only Ones, Peter Perrett produced one of the great singles of the era, “Another Girl, Another Planet.” The band released three albums in three years (culminating with 1980’s “Baby’s Got a Gun”), but a reclusive and addictive personality has kept him largely out of the limelight in the years since. At the end of this month, Perrett releases his first-ever solo album, and the title track — which features a voice that has long ridden the fine line between a creak and a wheeze — finds him at his acerbic best.
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “In My World.” It seems so logical, but, man, it took a long time to happen. The history of Fleetwood Mac is long and complicated, but the band reached the stratosphere in 1975 when it added a musical duo whose only recorded output had been the commercial flop “Buckingham Nicks.” And while the musical and personal relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks generated the sparks that ignited the Mac’s career, the musical chemistry between Buckingham and longtime member Christine McVie helped anchor the band’s sound. From “Don’t Stop” to “Hold Me,” the melding of their voices resulted in some of Fleetwood Mac’s most memorable songs. But with the band’s inner turmoil and oft-shifting lineups, the two hadn’t made a studio album together since 1987’s “Tango in the Night.” Now, 30 years later, they’ve released their first album as a duo (backed on most tracks by the Mac’s rhythm section, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie). It’s a low-key charmer, with McVie’s warmth balancing Buckingham’s cool pop quirks. The absence of Nicks is in the air, and you can sometimes hear your brain layering in her harmonies. But if it’s not Fleetwood Mac, it’s awfully close.
Justin Townes Earle, “Champagne Corolla.” Like John Moreland, Justin Townes Earle has made an album likely to excite the masses that are currently following Isbell, Stapleton and Simpson. “Kids in the Street,” his seventh album, is full of self-assured, easy-swinging country-rock tunes colored by swoops of organ and cries of pedal steel guitar. None is better than the opening track, which finds Earle wishing he could get to know the girl who keeps driving by in the fuel-efficient import.
Feist, “Any Party.” It’s been a while, Leslie Feist; six years to be precise. “Pleasure” is her first album since 2011’s “Metals,” and it’s a prickly, jagged affair likely to challenge anyone who first found her through the breezy pop of “1234.” But it’s certainly worth the effort, with many gems to be found beneath the thorny arrangements.
Kamasi Washington, “Truth.” It’s not exactly that no one else is currently doing the kind of thing that Kamasi Washington does — it’s that not enough people are listening. The audience for jazz in 2017 isn’t just a niche; it’s a slot within a niche, a place occupied by a few hardcore believers and a smattering of folks who sit in the spot when the Venn diagram overlaps with jam band culture. But Washington, who has worked with jazz giants like McCoy Tyner and Freddie Hubbard and hip-hop lions like Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels, is doing his best to expand the music’s territory with his tenor saxophone and tenacious ambition. His 2015 release “The Epic” delivered on its name, with 172 minutes of music spread over three CDs. Then, earlier this year, he released “Truth,” which was said to be from a forthcoming EP called “Harmony of Difference,” though information about that project has been hard to come by. If “Truth” ends up being a stand-alone release, it’s a triumph in its own right, a 13-and-a-half-minute opus with roots in the mid-1960s style of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. Add fluid, modern rhythms and wordless vocals that call to mind Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Happening Brother,” and you have one of the most memorable pieces of new music in ages.
White Reaper, “The World’s Best American Band.” Like Kamasi Washington, White Reaper works within the style of another era, but their challenge isn’t that few are listening to classic rock, it’s that hardly anyone is listening to new classic rock. Operating in the space between Cheap Trick and the Cars, White Reaper makes guitar-heavy, hook-laden rock and roll. Guaranteed to put your fist in the air and a smile on your face.
Harry Styles, “Carolina.” OK, OK, hear me out. Harry Styles’s music isn’t exactly off the beaten path. The ex-One Direction singer’s first solo album did debut at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in June. But in our fragmented musical world, there’s a good chance that if you’re listening to The Bridge, you’ve never heard a note of it. If you’re predisposed to dismiss Styles because you think he’s a prefab commercial creation, there’s not much I can do to persuade you other than to say this: I love this record, unashamedly, unreservedly and unironically. Stylistically, it’s a bit all over the map, bouncing from ethereal ballads to full-on glam rock. But the influences are great, and almost exclusively British, from The Beatles to Bowie to Blur. The melodramatic first single (“Sign of the Times”) soars like Harry Nilsson, and the penultimate track (“Woman”) stomps like “Bennie and the Jets.” This is prime ear candy, through and through.
—Michael Atchison writes about music for The Bridge. He is the author of three books, including the novel “Mellow Submarine,” which Publishers Weekly calls “a fast-paced delight.” He’s on Twitter at @MichaelAtchison.