(This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to new releases; simply some albums that have caught my ear in recent weeks)
Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What” (Concord)--This isn’t just another case of a great artist coasting on his reputation. “So Beautiful” is such a passionate and ambitious collection that it isn’t just the best Simon album since “Graceland,” but a work so inspiring that it deserves a place alongside that landmark work from the 1980s. Lyrically sophisticated and musically inventive, “So Beautiful” is a spectacular mix of ideas and emotions. Favorite track: “Questions for the Angels,” which includes this wise, witty line, “If you shop for love in a bargain-store/ And you don’t get what you bargained for/ Can you get your money back?” Essential.
P.J. Harvey, “Let England Shake” (Vagrant)--This is a serious and substantial project—dark reflections on England and its history of battlefields—that conveys Harvey’s brilliance as a writer and record-maker. Most unforgettable tune: “Hanging in the Wind,” which includes the heartbreaking war zone image, “Walker’s in the wire/ Limbs pointed upward/ There are no birds singing, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’.” Highly Recommended.
Anna Calvi’s “Anna Calvi” (Domino)--This British newcomer writes, sings and plays guitar with an intensity and urgency that is reminiscent of P.J. Harvey, and her songs, too, often offer hits of mystery and lust. Wonderfully alluring. Among many highlights: the instrumental “Rider to the Sea.” Highly Recommended.
Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” (Lost Highway)--Few people write about conditions of the heart with as much eloquence or depth as Williams, whose latest batch of songs adds nicely to a remarkable body of work that stretches back to the 1970s. Coolest song: “Kiss Like Your Kiss.” Sample line, “There’ll never be a spring so perfect again/ You’ll never see a yellow so rich/ The grass will never be quite as green/ And there’ll never be a kiss like your kiss.” Recommended.
Ron Sexsmith, “Long Player Late Bloomer” (Ronboy Rhymes)--Sexsmith’s sweet, smart, heartfelt songs have been praised album after album for more than 25 years now, but there is also much to be said about his vocals, which are as customized and caressing as his best melodies. The songs remain impressive, but the vocals seem especially engaging this time out. Favorite track: “Get in Line,” which opens with these taunting lines, “Heavy clouds all hanging around/ And the sun refuses to shine/ If you’re bent on bringing me down/ Better get in line.” Recommended.
Adele’s “Adele21” (XL/Columbia)--Adele Adkins’ voice leaps from the speakers with captivating, star-making force on the opening track of her second album, although, of course, she’s already a star (Her debut CD (“19”) established her as a major young hit-maker.) Not everything is as ear-catching as the opening number (which Adkins co-wrote). You wish at times she had more challenging material and she sometimes seems uncertain about her artistic direction. But she is a contender and it’s noteworthy that someone as demanding as Rick Rubin produced four of the tracks. Worth checking out.
Eagerly Awaiting These Albums:
The Kills’ “Blood Pressure” (just out)
Robbie Robertson’s “How to Become Clairvoyant” (just out)
Alison Krauss & Union Station’s “Paper Airplane” (April 14)
Steve Earle’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (April 26)
Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” (May 3)
Randy Newmans’ “The Randy Newman Songbook, Volume 2” (May 10)
Danger Mouse & Daniel Luppi’s “Rome” (May 17)
Moby’s “Destroyed” (May 17)
My Morning Jacket’s “Circuital” (May 31)
Eddie Vedder’s “Ukulele Songs” (May 31)
Arctic Monkeys’ “Suck It and See” (June 6)
Dr. Dre’s “Detox” (this year?)