New albums: Tribute to Emmylou Harris; The Weeknd; Kate Bush is back
Like an avant-garde R. Kelly, alt-R&B Canadian crooner Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. the Weeknd) has always sung about sex, drugs, vulnerabilities, and compulsions. Whether singing about the hurt and joys of cocaine, rough sensuality, or wearied
The Life and Songs
of Emmylou Harris
nolead ends nolead begins nolead ends Notice how the title refers to the "songs of Emmylou Harris." Though the silver-haired songbird developed into a fine writer, she wrote only three of the 19 selections on the CD version of this all-star tribute concert (seven of 25 on the DVD that's part of a two-disc package). It's a testament to this godmother of Americana's power as a singer and her visionary artistic instincts that these numbers are associated with her.
So, with a band led by Buddy Miller and Don Was, you get selections such as Gram Parsons' "Sin City" (performed by Steve Earle) and "Hickory Wind" (Lucinda Williams), the Louvin Brothers' "When I Stop Dreaming," and Delbert McClinton's "Two More Bottles of Wine" (Sheryl Crow), as well as relatively newer fare, such as Daniel Lanois' "Blackhawk" (Lanois and Harris) and Mark Knopfler's "All the Roadrunning" (Mary Chapin Carpenter).
As Vince Gill says at the show in Harris' original home turf of Washington before delivering Buck Owens' "Together Again": "She has been the most amazing teacher at showing us where this music came from."
nolead begins - Nick Cristiano nolead ends
nolead ends nolead begins Starboy nolead ends nolead begins
(XO/Republic nolead ends nolead begins ***1/2 nolead ends nolead begins )
nolead ends Like an avant-garde R. Kelly, alt-R&B Canadian crooner Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. the Weeknd) has always sung about sex, drugs, vulnerabilities, and compulsions. Whether singing about the hurt and joys of cocaine, rough sensuality, or wearied romance beyond the velvet rope - through the haze of post-punk guitar samples and downtempo electronica - the Weeknd always commits with a grand theatricality and a tremulous falsetto to go with his cool composure. You're rarely going to see the glad-to-be-unhappy Weeknd sweat.
In Spaceboy, the Weeknd now stands on familiar New Wave-y ground (the dramatic Tears for Fears-sampling "Secrets") with his usual menace ("Six Feet Under") and slow, dazzling quirkiness ("Reminder"). Starboy includes Auto-Tune (the breathlessly contagious "Party Monster"), Ramones-esque rah-rah choruses ("False Alarm"), and several new friendships and sounds that push the singer to new, weird heights. Speeding up his tempos, he offers "Rockin'," top-notch house music with high-riding cymbals in the mix. "Sidewalks" features Kendrick Lamar and a simple drum-guitar track surprising in its sparseness. Palling around with French robots Daft Punk was the best move the Weeknd could have made: Their melancholy melodies and swelling, ascending feel in "I Feel it Coming" and "Starboy" lifts him beyond mopey sensuality and doe-eyed dreariness. nolead begins - A.D. Amorosi nolead ends
nolead begins Kate Bush
nolead ends nolead begins Before the Dawn nolead ends nolead begins
(Concord nolead ends nolead begins ***1/2 nolead ends nolead begins )
nolead ends When Kate Bush returned to the stage in 2014 after a 35-year absence, her 22-show London residency sold out in 15 minutes. Before the Dawn is an audio document of that show (a planned film version was scrapped), and it makes those of us who could not attend even more jealous of those who did. Divided into three acts (and three discs), the album is ambitious, dramatic, and inspiring.
The set list draws mainly from 1985's Hounds of Love and 2005's Aerial, including the song-suites "The Ninth Wave" and "A Sky of Honey," which constitute the second and third acts (the first is a brief career sampler). Bush is one of England's great eccentric rock stars, and Before the Dawn is full of quirky moments: She sings along with birdsong, she caterwauls and coos, she is intimate and inimitable (although many, most notably Tori Amos, have tried). The show was a theatrical production, and some of the spoken narrations by actors and midsong audience reactions are intrusive without the visuals, but Bush's powerful voice and the expansive arrangements are captivating.
nolead begins - Steve Klinge nolead ends