Although its darkness is a little too unrelenting, Unravelling is a virtuoso performance, but it is much more than that. The long-awaited follow-up to Mosaic of Disarray was born of a terrible period in singer-songwriter Nick de Grunwald’s life when he felt he was coming apart at the seams. This new album dazzles the listener with the sheer variety of the songs, constantly delighting the listener with new soundscapes and characters stuck on the wrong side of life.
The music of Villagers is an articulation of life and relationships, shaped by desire, perception, and conscience. The first song on Where Have You Been All My Life? is light, mellow, slow-paced, and focused on a man who prepares to leave place and person for the open plains despite the new promises of a lover’s good intentions.
Lianne La Havas—a British girl of Jamaican and Greek heritage (her Greek father was a musician)—has been a part of music scenes large and small (associated at one time or another with Paloma Faith, Bon Iver, Alicia Keys, and Prince); and her work has won her critical respect and popularity. Yet, though young, recognized, and rewarded, there she has had to fight for her integrity.
Every generation asks and answers its own questions—and those become culture, history. Aye Nako’s The Blackest Eye considers how matters of self are shaped by world matters—especially regarding class, race, gender, and sexuality. “Leaving the Body” has a fast, thrashing introduction, churning, dense, spinning, with lyrics in which a narrator recognizes bad influence but also claims her own spoilage.
The roots of Armenian music are ancient—and its past is told in its stories of country and city, and in its melodies and rhythms, and by the instruments—cornet, drum, cymbal—that have been found by accident or excavation, as well as in the notes others have made in texts and paintings. The music, a folk art, is yet known for its singular voice—out of many, one. Of course, a classical art—an art of notation and study, of theory and excellence—began to be born too.
David Honigmann of The Financial Times wrote of the performers Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonsecaand of the audience’s affection for the two artists alone and together, and of the developing harmony of the concert, the variety of Diawara’s singing, and the delicacy and power of Fonseca’s keyboard playing. The conscientious Diawara and the experimental Fonseca brought compassion, drama, friendship, and rhythm in their creation and exploration of a shared international musical palette.
Jackie Allen has a light, sensuous, pretty voice—and that is a very good thing: her voice has personality, and is given to sensitive expression on her album My Favorite Color, a good and varied collection of songs. Consequently, Jackie Allen’s handling of a song such as Arlen and Capote’s “A Sleepin’ Bee,” about a test of love, is lively and sweet.
The rock band Rotary Downs’ album Traces is the work of a band that seems intent on suggesting consciousness—the cosmopolitan and the local, the enlightened and the deranged. Its passion is roving. Lead singer and guitarist James Marler and guitarist Chris Colombo, keyboard player and percussionist Anthony Curccia, bassist Jason Rhein, bassist and guitarist Alex Smith, drummer Zack Smith are Rotary Downs. “Orion” is fast, with light beats and expanding rhythms, fine and intense; for a song that is broadly existentialist—about individual life and the human condition.
Sometimes Shelby Lynne, a musician and visual artist, speaks as if there is a great deal to say but she is not sure whether she can find the precise word or whether her listener will understand: she can sound as if she is arriving from a very private place. Honest, eccentric.
Jose James is a wonderful singer! He is suave and thoughtful, and thoughtful yet light and sensuous, when performing “Good Morning Heartache,” a song that is part of the great Billie Holiday’s legend. Jose James has the sensuality of youth, and that gives certain songs something special—that sensuality gives him another weapon against despair, against a too predictable pathos. His mastery of “Body and Soul” is incantatory and impressive, as it is a difficult song that maintains its difficulty despite its popularity with singers.