Various Artists: Fifty Shades Of Grey (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Republic) In the same way one has to applaud the Super Bowl clowns who plopped ultra-femme fave Katy Perry smack dab in the middle of the halftime show last week—thus bringing a whole new demographic constituency to the party and concocting the most-watched TV show in US history—this wacky soundtrack, accompanying the movie of a book that could not be more squarely female-focused, throws in just enough general interest goods to reap similarly unexpected benefits. Timely? Opening track is Annie Lennox’s “I Put A Spell On You,” which just happened to be the highlight performance of this year’s Grammy Awards. Score! Also Grammy-showcased and displayed here are Beyoncé and Sia--and between that trio, additional showings by Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware and Skylar Grey, the manly Rolling Stones’ “Beast Of Burden,” Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft,” some Weeknd and the inevitable Danny Elfman—you’ve really got an exceptional, well thought-out soundtrack guaranteed to appeal to humans of every shape, size and sex. There now is no shame in going Grey.
Father John Misty:I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) Clever, lyrical but never to the point of pain, and bubbling over with a perspective that really even now appears to be only his, Father John Misty—aka Joshua Tillman, solo artist, former Fleet Fox, guy whose latest music-on-demand system SAP is conceptually better than anyone’s—actually has the musical goods. There’s great stuff galore here: Well-written, well-sung, well-produced (by Tillman and Jonathan Wilson) and especially well-arranged tracks, and personality that completely sells what could be the aggressively dopey (“I Went To The Store One Day”) as pure essential narrative. Absolutely fascinating how this guy was found his way into the mainstream by merrily going his own way from Day One. Exceptional, intelligent stuff that in 2015 could not be more on the mark.
Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch) Many eyes are turned toward this exciting, impeccably recorded solo debut of Carolina Chocolate Drops founding member Giddens--who has lately managed to be all over the place, culturally speaking, but in a very good way. She is methodically on her way up. Having already won a Grammy with the CCDs, she was part of 2013’s Another Day, Another Time concert celebrating the music of Inside Llewyn Davis; more recently she was heard with the celebrated New Basement Tapes, garnering an even larger audience. Producer T-Bone Burnett has been central to all of these things, and is also central here; to call him a fan would be understating things. “It was clear the first time I heard her at rehearsal,” he notes in her bio, “that Rhiannon is next in a long line of singers that includes Marian Anderson, Ethel Waters, Rosetta Tharp, Odetta, Mahalia Jackson, and Nina Simone.” This is a very good, classy debut album that oozes musicality and begs to be admired. And it’s not very difficult to do exactly that.
Various Artists: Punk 45: Burn, Rubber City, Burn - Akron, Ohio: Punk And The Decline Of The Mid-West 1975-80 (Soul Jazz Records) In exactly the same manner that those mid ‘60s radio-station sponsored anthologies provided a public service by assembling every hit of the era you’d ever want without any annoying filler, so too does Soul Jazz Records here in 2015. On this go-round, the conspicuously cool reissue label focuses on that briefly celebrated Ohio scene of the late ‘70s--including Devo, the Waitresses, Tin Huey, the Bizarros, Rubber City Rebels, Jane Aire & The Belvederes and the still underrated, oddly monikered 15 60 75 The Numbers Band. It’s all good, sometimes surprisingly so, but more relevantly, it puts together in one package all the goods that can spell out the story to younger music fans who who may have heard about the fabled “Akron Sound” but can't figure out what anyone is actually talking about. A whole bunch of their good stuff can be located here , and you might want to investigate.
Mike Osborne: Dawn (Cuneiform) Continued congratulations to the Cuneiform label for digging up some very fine, spectacularly rare music regularly; this unexpected set by late British saxophonist Mike Osborne is one of its best yet. Osborne was an adventurous, extraordinary player who during the course of his recording career--which began in the late ‘60s and tapered off by the early ‘80s—played some of the brightest and most innovative improvisations out there. As part of that still undersung cast of UK jazz players including Mike Westbrook, South Africa’s Chris McGregor, Michael Gibbs and many others, Osborne created a very rich, but slim, recorded legacy. Records like this can make all the difference. Including three separate sessions between June 1966-December 1970, Dawn is a thoroughly impressive outing for Osborne, a great reminder of his talent, and all these years later, still distinctly modern sounding. All part of his talent. Find out—and hear--more here.
Blackberry Smoke: Holding All The Roses (Southern Ground/Rounder) With its superfine cover pic—really, what could that photo ever be but an album jacket?—Holding All The Roses is an entirely complete representation of all that is good about Georgia’s Blackberry Smoke: It kicks traditional butt, in the timeless, facial-hair heavy Southern Rock tradition, it hints at country music but of course never really gets there, and, if anything, evokes that same bar-band, high-energy ethos pioneered by the likes of Mose Jones in the early ‘70s. That whole thing would, of course, be further extended by the Humble Pie/Free-happy Black Crowes in the years that followed, and like that band—or, more relevantly, ’38 Special--should Blackberry Smoke ever come up with that absolute, master-class, certified pop smash, they'll be absolutely set for life, and all will be right with the world.
Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (ECM) A new appearance by much-acclaimed pianist Iyer, whose trio here manages to consistently impress on both emotional and technical levels. And within this flowing and well-programmed collection of 12 tunes are 1) a tribute to Detroit techno producer Robert Hood, 2) a similar nod to major influence Thelonious Monk and 3) a solo take of Billy Strayhorn’s final written composition “Blood Count.” Within the tradition, but equally outside it, Iyer’s music knows no bounds—and it sounds thoroughly delightful here. Recommended.
Paperhaus: Paperhaus (Huge Witch) Have been playing this loud and on repeat for the past week or so, and it’s great: The first full album from a Washington DC quartet who've been amusingly described as playing “psychedelic kraut-pop,” not all that inaccurately, this is loud guitar stuff you simply have to love. There are few wasted notes, lots of well-played rhythms, and those sort of odd, near-hypnotic passages that once used to be produced only by accident but now appear to be an increasingly sophisticated art form. And it’s just hype-less enough to love. “This might sound like a bunch of hippie bulls**t,” notes the band’s bio, “but Paperhaus are not a band of hippies.” Feel free to turn it up.