Album reviews: Jeff Goldblum, Earl Sweatshirt and Van Morrison
What we're listening to
The Prophet Speaks
(Caroline *** stars)
The Prophet Speaks is the latest in an exceedingly prolific stretch for Van Morrison —– the album is his fourth since the start of 2017. It also follows the pattern of the previous three, with the famed Irish soul man and mystic focusing on the vintage R&B and jazz — mostly the former this time — that originally inspired him while mixing in a handful of originals. He and his band are also joined again by Joey DeFrancesco, although the Hammond organ and trumpet virtuoso is not co-credited on the cover, as he was on April’s You’re Driving Me Crazy.
Morrison remains thoroughly committed to this source music, as he puts his stamp on numbers by immortals including John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, Willie Dixon, and Solomon Burke. (He must be having fun, too: The cover shows the famously difficult Morrison shushing a ventriloquist’s dummy.)
The new originals hold up well in this company. “Got to Go Where the Love Is” is a buoyant slice of pop-soul, “5 A.M. Greenwich Mean Time” and “Love Is Hard Work” swing with all the aplomb of the performances of the older material, and the moody “Ain’t Gonna Moan No More” fittingly references Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and Hooker, among others. If the title song finds Morrison hectoring a bit, “Spirit Will Provide” reveals him at his gentlest, offering some comfort and reassurance in turbulent times. — Nick Cristiano
Some Rap Songs
(Tan Cressida/Columbia *** ½)
Most hook-averse rappers use studio obscurantism to hide their lack of pithiness, but Earl Sweatshirt’s got a hell of a defense: “Stuck in Trumpland watching subtlety decaying,” he mumbles on “Veins.” So this an argument for subtlety. He still abjures choruses entirely, and depression is still his lone subject, maybe even more so now that he’s lost a world-renowned father and uncle. And yet his inauspiciously titled third record is easily the most musical thing he’s ever done, with outsourced loops on “Nowhere2go,” “The Mint,” and “The Bends” that are downright gorgeous, like classic Kanye soul samples pitched down and knocked off their 4/4 time signature. He even delivers the rewinding Curtis Mayfield sample on “Veins” himself. And his late uncle Hugh Masekela provides the entirety of “Riot!,” a closer that bridges the death and depression that fog his work on the regular, with the melodic brightness that is their salvation here. — Dan Weiss
Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
The Capitol Studio Sessions
(Decca ** ½)
Jeff Goldblum is a jazz man? Well, kinda sorta. The scene-stealing Jurassic Park and Independence Day actor has been a pianist since he was a boy in Pittsburgh, and he holds down a weekly gig in Los Angeles with the band he calls the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, named after a friend of his mother’s. An impromptu performance backing vocalist Gregory Porter on a British TV show led to a recording contract, and now at 66, the 6-foot-4 bespectacled hepcat has released his debut album.
Like the title says, it was recorded in the Hollywood studio where Frank Sinatra cut his classic sides in the 1950s. An audience is brought in to create a festive mood as Goldblum leads a lively band whose featured soloists include German trumpeter Till Bronner, who shines on Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.” It’s probably a real kick in the head to see Goldblum do his lounge lizard shtick in person, but on the record, the between-song stage patter adds little, and the jokey duet with Sarah Silverman on “Me and My Shadow” is a low point. But guest vocalists Haley Reinhart and particularly Imelda May distinguish themselves, and Goldblum is an able, engaging, never showy player smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let the professionals do their thing. — Dan DeLuca