Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/3/2020 (500 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Color Theory (Loma Vista)
Even if the music world weren’t rather forgiving of awful artist names, Soccer Mommy’s second album, Color Theory, is good enough to overcome any obstacle.
A 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Nashville who attended a performing arts high school, Sophie Allison began posting music as Soccer Mommy to Bandcamp in 2015, and was signed to Fat Possum and released her first "professional" record, Clean, in 2018. That album’s fresh, fuzzed-out take on the dramatic urgency of young love was a refreshing blast, especially when combined with her indie-guitar sound and her sweet voice (imagine Molly Rankin of Alvvays combined with the softer, more reflective songs of Courtney Barnett).
Soccer Mommy’s newest release is made of sterner stuff — a deeply personal confessional that addresses Allison’s struggles with depression, anxiety and her fears for her ailing mother. The title relates to its construction as three colour-coded sections — the first four songs are blue (for sadness); the next three are yellow (for physical and mental illness); and the final suite is grey (for darkness and decay).
Not much fun, right? Well... Color Theory isn’t a party album, but it is a rich and rewarding sonic experience, as Allison, her four-piece band and producer Gabe Wax have given these songs a swirling, dreamy vibe (lots of reverb) which conjures a sense of floating rather than sinking. The rich sound belies the real angst of lyrics such as "...try to seem strong for my love, for my family and friends but I’m so tired of faking..." (from Circle the Drain, a "blue" tune).
Even on the album’s magnum opus, Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes, a seven-minute, "yellow" song about Allison’s feelings about her mother’s battle with cancer, the music’s chiming, atmospheric density suggests the singer is beginning to resolve her greatest emotional challenges — even as they continue to hurt.
Stream these: Circle the Drain; Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes; Lucy
— John Kendle
El Dorado (Fantasy / Concord)
The first thing you notice when the needle hits the grooves on South Carolina singer-songwriter Marcus King’s latest is the tone and timbre of his voice. King follows in a long line of husky-voiced vocalists, from Rod Stewart and Frankie Miller to Bobby Bland and others, but he is still something of a rarity.
Relying on a sandpapery throat is one thing, but singers need a few other arrows in their proverbial quivers to get through to a broader audience; on El Dorado, King is wholly on target. He is able to create a mood with his vocals, whether it’s expressing disappointment and regret at lost opportunities in love on the soulful One Day She’s Here ("She disappears just like the dawn / One day she’s here and then she’s gone...") or offering generous accolades to a partner (Love Song), he gets the point across with consummate skill.
The slow-moving blues track Wildflowers & Wine is reminiscent of classic Joe Cocker during his Mad Dogs & Englishmen era and comes complete with a set of honey-throated female backup singers.
King has some pretty out-of-this-world guitar chops and they’re fully on offer on the riffy The Well and the Albert King-informed Say You Will. Album producer and vintage guitar amplifier collector Dan Auerbach likely had some specific input when it came to capturing new tonal variants for King to try, as there are a ton of splendid six-string sonics here too.
Turn It Up channels James Burton by the use of Elvis’s Polk Salad Annie with unabashed abandon and it works the charm, while the country-soul mover Too Much Whiskey steel-guitars its way down the Waylon Jennings highway with brawny zeal.
By respecting and crafting his songs built on his influences, King has shaped his own unique rendering of soulful, country music-informed blues. Without a doubt El Dorado is the start of something bigger for this golden-throated singer. ★★★★
Stream these: Say You Will; Too Much Whiskey
— Jeff Monk
8: Kindred Spirits (Live From the Lobero) (Blue Note)
Saxophonist and almost mystic jazz master Charles Lloyd celebrated his 80th birthday in March 2018 by recording a concert at the Lobera Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif., a venue that has been a hometown base over the years. (This review is based on the single CD with four extended tracks; Blue Note is also releasing a limited-edition box set that includes another CD, a DVD, LPs and photos.)
Lloyd’s music typically flies, skitters and soars over his material, featuring lengthy solos and passionate involvement with the tune and its meaning. Over the years, Eastern cultural and religious references in his music have been profound, not to mention spiritual influences. The same is true of this wonderful birthday gift Lloyd has given us.
His unique persona informs every note. With him here are musical friends from over the years: Julian Lage on guitar; pianist Gerald Clayton; bassist Reuben Rogers; and Eric Harland on drums. The four tracks include well-known tunes, such as a 21-minute version of Dream Weaver that Lloyd considers sacred ground. Throughout the album the ensemble plays with tangible emotional involvement and beautifully intertwined solos. A record producer in California once told me that as a personal friend and as a man, Lloyd "has already earned his wings."
The music here is never forced. The length of the tracks allows a flow and development that reflect the saxophone player’s constant striving to find "the right notes" — an acknowledged life reality. For example, the recognizable melodic theme of Dream Weaver doesn’t appear until six minutes or so into the track.
If you can afford the whole boxed set, it’s no doubt wonderful, but to continue (or begin) your knowledge and appreciation of a true icon, this "basic" album is perfect. May there be many more birthday concerts. ★★★★★
Stream these: Dream Weaver; Requiem
— Keith Black
National Symphony Orchestra
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 & Copland: Billy the Kid (NSO)
The National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda, celebrates its newly minted record label, NSO, by featuring two composers hailed for creating the "American sound."
The first of those is Aaron Copland, with his Billy the Kid "cowboy ballet" suite (1938), which chronicles the exploits of the legendary gunslinger. His renowned expansive writing style, derived by open harmonies, is particularly on display during Introduction: The Open Prairie, Prairie Night: Card Game, as well as finale The Open Prairie Again, skilfully led by Noseda, who also serves as guest principal conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra.
Other highlights include Mexican Dance and Finale, as well as the climactic Gun Battle, in which the full fury of the percussion section is unleashed against biting brass. Another is Celebration with its jaunty theme suitably rhythmic and ear-catching.
The second offering is Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, colloquially known as the "New World Symphony." It’s always been one of classical music’s greatest ironies that the Czech composer, who first arrived in the U.S. in 1892, is considered among the most American of composers, with this four-movement work infused with African-American spirituals and American folk songs, now regarded emblematic.
An expected highlight is its second movement, Largo, with the composer’s plaintive original theme performed by the English horn and eventually morphing into the melody Goin’ Home, brought to life with liquid sensitivity and wistful nostalgia for places of the heart — either real, or existing only in imagination. ★★★★
Stream this: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Largo
— Holly Harris