In honour of the annual most watched televisual event, I thought I would attempt a Superbowl reference to introduce our best (or worst) this week. So, without further ado, shall we see which albums are a fumble on their own 1 yard line and which are a 97 yard kick return? Are we going to be lumbered with benchwarmers or might we just wrangle a GOAT? Let's find out...
Firstly, we focus on Eliza Carthy and her latest album Big Machine. Although credited with a plethora of previous albums, this is technically a debut as it is Carthy's first collaboration on record with The Wayward Band – a group of musicians collected together for the purposes of an earlier Carthy tour. It is not difficult to see why they have decided to release an album together – the musical talent on offer is nothing short of exceptional as they make their way through a selection of traditional and contemporary tunes.
Though grounded in folk and sung with the intoxication of a troubadour, this album makes abundantly clear that Eliza Carthy is not one that will allow her genre to stand still. Opening track Fade & Fall (Love Not) is a slow building song that begins with an accordion accompaniment and ends backed by what sounds like a full brass orchestra. The brass sound is one that then continues through the album with a fluidity that sways from potent to powerful.
There really is a lot to love about this album and it will take a few listens to really appreciate it all. The gorgeous sounds of the fiddle on instrumental track Jack Warrell's (Excerpt)/Love Lane before it acquiesces to the punch of the electric guitar. The fusion of folk and rap with the assistance of MC Dizraeli on You Know Me. The captivating duet with Damien Dempsey on the haunting I Wish That The Wars Were All Over. Eliza Carthy is a musician that continues to make brave choices and is rewarded with music that sounds unlike any other artist.
Next, let us delve into People We Become by Devon-based singer Jo Harman. After achieving a level of success with independently released debut album Dirt On My Tongue that saw her performing with legends such as Patti Smith and Joan Baez, Harman is now ready to give us another taste of her acclaimed blues voice.
Recorded in Nashville, it is unsurprising to see the country influence. Opening track No One Left To Blame slugs in with the vigour, panache and attitude of Carrie Underwood. Silhouettes Of You feels old-fashioned in such a good way – infusing a timeless familiarity with tender vocals and lazy guitar. When We Were Young, a duet performed with US soul stalwart Michael McDonald, reminds me of the time where I was actually excited by the prospects of Joss Stone. With People We Become, Jo Harman has created an album that combines sublime vocal ability, frank and illuminating songwriting and a musical gusto that fills me with promise for any future records.
Finally, we have Sampha with his debut album Process. As a producer, he has worked with the likes of Katy B, Drake and Jessie Ware but this is his first solo record.
Towards the end of last year, we reviewed Starboy by The Weeknd. To summarise, I think the overall verdict was that it was 90% trash. Listening to Sampha, this feels like the album The Weeknd thinks he made. It may not have the obvious single on it but what it does have are solidly written, instrumentally experimental, very well executed tracks that don't feel the need to have an expletive every other word. Lead single Blood On Me invokes Edgar Allan Poe's Tell-Tale Heart as a coursing drum beat soundtracks guilty sentiments and consuming regrets. (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano is a touching tribute to Sampha's Mother who passed away from cancer in 2015. Closing track What Shouldn't I Be? basks in an oasis of hope as it explores the infinite possibilities of life and the role our families play in unlocking our potential.
Adopting an approach of one man and a piano against the world, Sampha allows the audience to interact with his music free of boundaries. He doesn't try to be something that he isn't. He doesn't allow his ego to dictate the conversation. He is comfortable in humanity – flawed, humble, reflective and constantly learning. It is refreshing to see an artist put themselves out there like this and it is something I hope to see a lot more of in the future.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Eliza's folk collective
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