Jason Lewis is listening to way more albums - mainly so you don't have to. However, when he says you should listen, you know you gotta do it right! Of course, Jason, perversly, is kicking off January's selections, deep into February. Because only he can.
A crackle of vinyl and a sample of a glorious gospel choir provide an ecstatic introduction to 'Isle of Arran' which opens Loyle Carner's outstanding debut album. Carner is a 22 year old rapper from South London and ’Yesterday’s Gone' is an extraordinarily personal and soulful record. The album offers a candid glimpse into Carner’s life with lyrics handles such delicate subjects as his own ADHD, his family life, relationships and the death of his stepfather.
There's also touching humour on the spoken word interludes including an amusing conversation with his mother about his swearing. Elsewhere the brief '+44' feels like the introspective late night regrets of a character that Kate Tempest may have created.
The infectious ode to his music collection ‘NO CD’ reflects on his condition ‘(I) place them up in perfect order cause my OCD’. However, the most touching moment on ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is delivered by his mother on ‘Sun of Jean’ who recalls her child ‘… he used to draw on anything, fantastical creatures with ferocious fangs, and now he draws with words...he turned the world upside down and were richer for it'.
'Yesterday's Gone' is a powerful, thoughtful and unabashed collection of songs, it’s an early contender for album of the year.
Boots No.1 (the Official Revival Bootleg)
Albums of outtakes and demos can often delight and frustrate in equal measure. For every previously unearthed gem there can be a wealth of extraneous material. Not so 'Boots No. 1 (the official Revival Bootleg)' by Gillian Welch, which brings together alternative recordings of songs from her landmark debut album. The result is breathtakingly pure and intimate. Welch's evocative song writing and bluegrass tinged vocals creates vivid images of faith, love and dustbowl era strife whilst David Rawlings stark guitar playing brings these passionate folk tales to life.
As well as the alternative versions, there's a handful of unreleased numbers that didn't make it to the Revival album. It's remarkable that the delightful 'Wichita' and the thrilling swing of '455 Rocket' have not seen the light of day until now.'Boots No. 1' is a perfect accomplishment to a classic album.
The Blue Aeroplanes first album in six years is a dazzling mix of everything that's remarkable about this idiosyncratic band. Gerard Langley's beguiling spoken word poetry combines with the vibrant wall of guitar sounds (led by the vital new addition Bec Jevons), to enthralling effect. 'Elvis Festival' offers poignant humour, ‘Walking Under Ladders for a Living’ mixes darks verses with one of their most euphoric choruses and the mesmerizing 'Poetland' offers a swirling, swaggering climax. 'Welcome Stranger' is one of the finest albums in the Blue Aeroplanes unique canon.
Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White
Gentlewoman, Ruby Man'
During the grey days of January the only real sunshine could be found in the warmth of Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White's album of cover versions 'Gentlewoman, Ruby Man'.
It's an eclectic and frequently audacious collection. Songs by artists as diverse as Frank Ocean, The Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, James Blake and Barry Gibb are all re-invented often to joyous effect.
American musician White and young English singer Morrissey met at a Lee Hazlewood tribute show and there’s a distinct air of Hazlewood’s work with Nancy Sinatra to this album. White’s light tenor and Morrissey’s sweet and unaffected vocals may seem like an odd combination, but the result is enchanting.
Reimagining the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ as an upbeat anthem may feel like an act of blasphemy, but Morrissey’s passionate singing and White’s layers of harmonies bravely shows the classic song in a new light.
Most startling though is the reinterpretation of ‘Grease.’ – the song Barry Gibb wrote for the risible musical about 1950’s America. White’s house band from Spacebomb records adds a subtle reference to ‘I can’t stand the rain’ to the tune whilst the singers expose the emotional depth of the original lyric: ‘This is a life of illusion, a life of control…mixed with confusion, what are we doing here?’ Rarely has previously bubble-gum hit sounded so profound.
I have a very clear memory of the first time I heard Brian Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’, I was 15 years old and at a friend’s house, after I’d put the needle on the record, it felt that time stood still. Here was music without introductions, verses, choruses, middle eight’s, solos, etc. Instead there were slow keyboard melodies, serial tape loops and embedded voices. I felt weightless listening to it.
Eno’s ambient albums have continued to enthral me ever since, I feel somehow hypnotized listening to ‘Thursday Afternoon’ , ‘Neroli’ or ‘Lux’ . To describe these pieces as background music is disingenuous. The revelation of his work is how he manages to make so little seem so utterly engaging.
Very little seems to happen throughout the 54 minutes of ‘Reflection’ – there are rising and fading tones, bells, swathes of synths, the occasional chime. That’s all. Yet, this is well navigated territory for those of us who know and adore Eno’s ambient world. The result is as entrancing as any of his previous work.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.