POP / ROCK
Folklore (Republic Records)
In the years since Taylor Swift released her killer pop album 1989 in 2014, the singer has amped the production of her music, adding sounds including electronica, synth pop, R&B, dubstep, dance and even trap to her songs. Not everyone was ready for the rap style of ...Ready for It? though it worked.
But while pop star Taylor, with all the bops and beats, is enjoyable and entertaining, her new singer-songwriter album is a welcomed return. In a time of madness, folklore feels like a moment to escape.
Her eighth record has a calmness and coolness reminiscent of the 2008 masterpiece Fearless and 2010’s charming Speak Now, as poetic lines about life are brought to life thanks to Swift’s sharp songwriting, with the light but piercing production doing its job by lifting the lyrics.
Swift is a grand storyteller, and folklore explores a lot. On some songs, she’s singing about life before she moved to Nashville as a teen to embark on her musical career. On other tracks, she’s telling the stories of others — doing it so well and vividly that you can paint the picture as the tracks play.
Jack Antonoff, a frequent Swift collaborator and one of contemporary music’s best producers, assists on most of the album, while the National’s Aaron Dessner should be saluted for his massive contributions to the project. And epic vocals from Bon Iver match well with Swift’s soft tone on exile.
The 16 tracks weave into each other nicely, blending to make this folk-pop-country-Americana-guitar rock-singer-songwriter album work. Whatever the genre, folklore is first-class.
— Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
POP / ROCK
Hate for Sale (BMG)
Chrissie Hynde has an unmistakable singing voice, a contralto she uses in a sing/speak snarl when she wants to get a point across but which is also heartachingly sweet when she bares her vulnerabilities. In many ways, that voice mirrors her personality, which is by nature warm and empathetic but can also be bristly and blunt.
Thankfully, these things are still true on the 11th Pretenders studio album, on which Hynde, 68 (!?), reunites with drummer Martin Chambers and producer Stephen Street to create a collection of 10 songs that capture the essence of the original quartet’s initial appeal — making for a short, sharp half-hour of jagged and tender rock ‘n’ roll.
Rounded out by guitarist James Walbourne (whose work is excellent) and bassist Nick Wilkinson, this year’s Pretenders are given rein by Street to do what Hynde does best. The title track is a harmonica-fuelled rocker on which Chrissie spits out lyrics describing a detestable man with "curly tongue and a curly tail" who could well be Donald Trump (her aside of "so predictable" makes it seem as if she’s reading his Twitter feed while singing). That opening salvo is immediately juxtaposed with The Buzz, a gentle, knowing ode to the effects of new love that echoes the classic Kid. An excursion into reggae comes next on Lighting Man before Turf Accountant Daddy, a classic, uptempo stomper about a two-timing dirtball.
The album’s centrepiece, though, is a ballad called You Can’t Hurt a Fool. A classically understated tune that recalls the tone of I’ll Stand By You. Unlike its predecessor, though, this song is far more revealing, especially when Hynde sings: "Look at her now, she’s centre stage, Too old to know better, Too young for her age…"
Long may Chrissie reign.
Stream these: Hate for Sale; You Can’t Hurt a Fool; Junkie Walk
— John Kendle
Raphaël Pannier Quartet
Faune (French Paradox)
This excellent album is the debut release of French drummer Raphaël Pannier. It might do well to remember that name.
Especially of note for a debut release are Pannier’s flawless drumming and compositional skills. His drumming is never intrusive; it’s always an accompaniment for the tune.
Unsurprisingly, there is a French flavour to much of the music, with impressionistic arrangements of Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen, along with fascinating covers of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman and Wayne Shorter’s ESP. The arrangements of these jazz classics make them sound fresh and new while respecting the familiarity of the originals.
Apparently the mentor and stimulus for the album was alto sax player Miguel Zenón, referred to as Pannier’s "musical director and ‘big brother." Zenón’s usual energy and scope rounds out the quartet with pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist François Moutin.
Zenón sits out on some tracks and the group becomes a trio, showing off Goldberg’s extraordinary piano skills. Pannier’s Monkey Puzzle Tree is a tour de force for the quartet while Lullaby is quietly evocative. Pannier’s arrangement of Messiaen’s Le Baiser de L’Enfant Jesus exudes a sense of peace that bends concepts of "classical" and "jazz" into something that is simply lovely music.
Jazz is constantly reinventing itself, so it is always fun to hear a new voice for the first time who sounds like someone to assist in the re-invention. This album has thoroughly wonderful music, which flows with ease from gentle tracks to up-tempo moments that somehow never leave the lyrical mood.
It is at once sophisticated and complex while presenting ideas that are just right for the moment. The Pannier originals sound like the work of a fully mature musician. This young drummer has a great future. As I mentioned, remember that name.
Steam these: Lonely Woman, Ravel: Forlane
— Keith Black
With Pablo Heras Casado and the Freiburger Barockorchester
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.4 & Overtures (Harmonia Mundi)
Beethoven recordings are still being released thick and fast these days in honour of the 250th anniversary of the German composer’s birth. They’re also ostensibly morphing into the Beethoven 250 celebration itself, following the widespread cancellation of live concert events around the globe owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
This latest offering marks the third Beethoven collaboration between South African-born pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout and the Freiburger Barockorchester led by Pablo Heras-Cassdo, as well as the second instalment in an ongoing series of complete Beethoven piano concertos performed on period instruments.
The album’s cornerstone is Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58 in G major, notably the last concerto Beethoven performed in public as his deafness took hold. It also shook up traditional concerto form and style, and Bezuidenhout follows that by immediately launching into the opening Allegro moderato movement on his replica fortepiano with aplomb.
He likewise tackles the Andante con moto after its declamatory orchestral opening, skilfully phrasing the melodic material into lyrical crests of sound. Finally, the Rondo, Vivace, is tossed off with ebullient spirits and rhythmic precision, with Heras-Casado keeping the performance moving along crisply.
Also included are two overtures: Corolian, Op. 62," and The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43. The maestro infuses the first of those with particular dramatic punch by the older instruments, while the latter piece bursts out of the gate with brilliant passagework after a more dignified, solemn opening, setting the stage for notably the sole ballet score penned by this year’s feted birthday boy in 1801.
STREAM THIS: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto, No. 4, Op. 58 in G major, Allegro moderato
— Holly Harris