The Apartments: the evening visits … and stays for years(Expanded Edition) (Captured Tracks) While this column typically leads off with that album likely to cause the biggest stir of the week—whether itbe commercially, critically, or, due to the amount of flesh displayed on its cover—it would be no fun if truly extraordinary records weren’t allowed their moments of glory. And that’s the case with this unexpected reissue by Australian combo the Apartments, led by brief Go-Betweens member Peter Milton Walsh, and first issued by Rough Trade Records in 1985. It was and is one of those very rare records that sounds complex and emotionally resonant upon first listen and then simply sounds better by degree every time you next play it. While there have been few records by Walsh over the years, I’d very seriously call his 1995 set A Life Full Or Farewells (issued here in real time on Restless Records) one of the very best album ever made, and if you haven’t heard that, you should probably pick this up first. Beautiful, wistful melodies, minor chords, thoughtful lyrics, mature and tinged with regret: The sort of music you’d hate as a teenager but absolutely fall in love with 10 years later. Thanks to Captured Tracks here for reissuing this gem, adding the rare singles and demos, and bringing this masterful album back to the forefront of popular discussion.
Boz Scaggs: A Fool To Care (429) While it’s easy to keep score over the years with those artists who’ve had the biggest hits, or the biggest string of hits, not quite so easy, but maybe more interesting, are those artists who’ve simply only gotten better over the years, regardless of the public’s fickle taste. Certainly since his early days in the Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs has oozed credibility and class; since then, whether it be his early solo work on Atlantic, his superb stretch of slick, jazz-inspired work leading up to Silk Degrees, or the comparatively few albums he’s released since 2001’s Dig, there are no wasted notes and even fewer moments of less-than-inspired performance than ever before. And sure enough, A Fool To Care features impeccable production by Steve Jordan, a dozen excellent Scaggs tracks veering between blues, Memphis-inspired R&B, and on “Full Of Fire”—gloriously so—that sort of funky backbeat for which he may be best known. Throw in guests Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams and you’ve got an excellent Boz Scaggs album, a classy recording, and one of the better records you’ll be hearing in months. Subtle, but with repeated listenings, extremely solid.
Föllakzoid: III (Sacred Bones) Anyone who doesn’t think the music industry is folding up into itself in 2015 need only take a listen to this rather spectacular rendition of contemporary space rock, performed by a trio consisting of longtime friends Diego, Juan Pablo and Domingo, from Santiago, Chile, who manage to evoke prime Hawkwind, acceptable Sonic Youth, and all that might be in between here, in a fascinating, highly listenable manner. The album is on a fascinating record label with art direction oddly recalling the early ‘70s graphical approach of budget classical imprint Odyssey Records; the band’s albums, or at least most of them, can be heard simultaneously, all at once on Spotify or other similar streaming platforms, and you can either love them from now on, or hear them, over-hear them, and then get sick of them all in the course of a few months. This is probably progress. But it still doesn’t diminish the artfulness of what Föllakzoid is now doing. Give them a listen.
Ringo Starr: Postcards From Paradise (Rockabella/Universal) Anyone expecting groundbreaking, earthshaking, primordial rock ‘n’ roll from former Beatle Ringo Starr at this late date—he’s 74 years old, this is his 18th studio album here—might be slightly bonkers, but there’s enough pleasant, workmanlike, catchy stuff here to do Starr’s Beatle legacy proud. With opening track “Rory And The Hurricanes”—the man’s nod at his pre-Fab Four gig with Rory Storm—Ringo and his unavoidable guest-star crew (Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather, Greg Rolie, Richard Page, Wally Palmar, etc.) roll out 11 rocking, memorable tracks that would be fun to see performed live (which might be the general idea), and still maintain Starr’s upbeat, funny-guy persona. Not a small thing.
Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) Anyone listening can’t help but be enthused by the growth displayed by Chicago-based guitarist Ryley Walker, who in the course of a few records—this is his third album, there have been EPs, etc.—is veering off in that same manner of joyous experimentalism that touched some of his obvious inspirations long ago, the Tim Buckleys or the Nick Drakes, say, but doing it in an admirable, steady, completely non-derivative way. And his records sound great. This new one is likely his best; the songs are well written, the guitar-and-voice approach sounds fully formed and completely confident, and there is a personality and temperament on display on every song here. And if the cover art suggests a 27-cent album pulled out of a vinyl cut-out bin 30 years ago…well, that’s probably the idea.
José James: Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music Of Billie Holiday (Blue Note) Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection (Sony Legacy) A well-timed, well-coordinated dual barrel approach celebrating the legacy of legendary vocalist Billie Holiday, who would have been 100 years old this year: A surprisingly comprehensive, cross-label collection from Sony featuring most of the singer’s very best-known works, and a new, sensual collection of Holiday covers by modern-day singer/songwriter José James, who takes the material on with, largely, surprising success. Maybe predictably, James’ album ends with the Holiday’s memorable “Strange Fruit”—a song that has taken on more emotional resonance than ever these days, and maybe it will bring him a bit of pop semi-success. But that said, there are few compromises here, Don Was’s production and the playing of pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland could not be more fluid, and it’s a good look for everyone, including Billie Holiday.
Simple Minds: Sparkle in the Rain: 30th Anniversary Edition (Virgin) I’m not sure time has done Simple Minds as much justice as it might’ve: The desire to play any of their records post-1990, at least on this end, has substantially declined, and the perception—again on this end—is that of a Scottish band whose shining moment came via an association with the films of John Hughes and not much more. And yet…playing the four discs here in this blown-out version of 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain was a surprisingly enjoyable, upbeat experience. The pounding sound, the upbeat, direct call-to-action of the band’s Big Music, the still fascinating name-dropping of “Up On The Catwalk”—here in four permutations, undoubtedly to Nastassja Kinski’s delight—makes this deluxe edition the sort of celebratory experience these big Box Things are supposed to be. A reminder that Simple Minds were a very big band once, for very good reason.
David Lyttle: Faces (Lyte Recordings) Must pay respects to one of the best, most polished albums I’ve heard this year: Irish multi-instrumentalist Lyttle has crafted an immensely listenable, genre-spanning set mixing jazz, R&B and a host of voices including Talib Kweli and Cleveland Watkiss, and the marvelous saxwork of Joe Lovano. The arrangements and flow are sophisticated and sharp, the commercial polish at times recalls, of all things, the sophisticated, poppish air of “Ai No Corrida,” and it is one of the best, robust listening experiences you’re likely to have all year. Recommended, and available here.