Time once more to tend the garden of new album releases. Which are the perennial weeds, destined for composting and which are the prize blooms, resplendent in the Springtime sunshine? Let's get horticultural...
We begin with the superlative Alison Krauss and her latest release, Windy City. This album represents Krauss' first solo record in nearly eighteen years, ordinarily choosing to record with band Union Station. Also in the interim, she has released what I consider the best duet album of all time – 2007's Raising Sand, a collaboration with Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. Furthermore, she has appeared on the soundtracks to two of my favourite films – O Brother, Where Art Thou? And Cold Mountain. Windy City is her fifth solo album and eleventh studio album overall. It's safe to say I was quite excited about this album – more fool me.
The structure of the album is a series of covers from country legends ranging from Willie Nelson to Glen Campbell. Ordinarily, I would list highlights but, alas, the song selection is so safe that all the tracks have dissolved into a goopy grey sludge from which nothing of value can really be extracted. Saying this, Krauss' voice is technically superb, if completely underused and unchallenged.
Windy City is a long way from the desert dirt grit of Raising Sand where the melodic warbling of Krauss tangled with the rich, earthy sound of Plant like two hawks mating in flight. On this album, she has opted to plough the same furrow as Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart and so many talent show contestants before her – selecting songs that in no way showcase the astronomical level of talent she possesses. The result is a phoned-in album that is lackadaisical, uninspired and unimaginative. A good Mother's Day present if you're stuck for ideas but if you're after originality and creativity, try one of her earlier releases.
Next up is American Teen, the debut album from Khalid, and there is a lot to like about it. His voice reminds me of the best moments of Adam Levine and there is a definite 80s vibe running through the tracks. Title track American Teen sets the tone – this is an album of hedonistic reflection. It is about the uncertainty of the road ahead and the desperate desire to cling to youth. It is long summer nights, smooth soulful reminiscences of the battles fought, hearts won and lost.
It was hard for me not to draw comparisons between this album and last year's Album Of The Year – American Boyfriend (A Suburban Love Story) by Kevin Abstract. Both are young, black men who grew up in Texas. Both have chosen to release albums that focus on the transcendence from adolescence to adulthood. The reason I loved Abstract's album is that it reflects the changing world that we inhabit from the viewpoint of a young person dealing with living in a society in which he feels marginalised. The emotions were complex and it makes for difficult listening at times. On the whole, it is a spectacular endeavour.
Khalid approaches it in a different way, viewing his teenage years with rose-tinted, almost cinematic spectacles. Contrary to Abstract, his problems feel idealized – script-plucked notions of teenage misfortune. It is the equivalent of saying that the major concerns of all 80s teenagers were getting Saturday morning detentions and their family forgetting their birthday. As much as I would not wish the struggles of Abstract upon anyone, Khalid spent some of his younger years travelling with a military family so you would think that there would be more substance into which to dip. Coated in sugar, it is tricky to get to the real nut of Khalid's album. As talented as he may be, it is very difficult to locate the wizard behind the curtain.
Let's finish with my favourite album this week, Bruises by Dia Frampton. Starting her career as one half of sister act Meg & Dia (can you guess which half?), Dia entered the first series of holier than thou talent contest The Voice and finished as runner up. Bruises is her second solo studio album, a follow up to 2011's Red.
The album is a wonderful collection of atmospheric songs. Opening track Hope is a cinematic masterpiece that reminded me of the work of Sigur Rós. Wordless, it is punctuated only by Frampton's vocal cross-hatching to add further emphasis to the majestic musical arrangement. Gold And Silver is a song about family, specifically Dia's sister Meg. It's honest reminiscence is magnetic and all I could think is how we hide our true feelings behind the words we never say. The album closes out on Die Wild, a track with James Dean sentiments that preaches living life without consideration of the consequences.
The artist that I find it easiest to compare Dia to is Regina Spektor. Her music has a depth – it is three dimensional music, each aspect crafted very carefully to convey emotion. Dia flits from sombre lows to ecstatic highs with a glorious effortlessness, her oft floaty tone disguising a hidden edge. There are a few tracks that are a little disposable but when Bruises is good, it is very very good.
Dia has The Voice
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