Norah Jones’ album “Little Broken Hearts” is a remarkably smooth telling of angst, betrayal and murder. “Only the fallen need to rise,” Jones sings. This is an album very much about falling… not so much about rising.
The headline about Little Broken Hearts is that Jones has split from her long successful forumla and abandoned her old co-workers for uberproducer Danger Mouse. The headline is well deserved, but anyone walking into Little Broken Hearts expecting a greatest-hits sound from either will be stymied. By far, the two musicians travel beyond anything that you’ve known them for.
For Jones, there is a stunning stylistic choice to let her voice take a back seat. This sometimes is done with distortions to her trademark, but never to the point of morphing her voice into something else entirely. More interesting than the vocal distortions are the levels of her voice and where they place Jones’ vocals in the layers of each track’s sound. Clearly Jones is belting full on “Happy Pills”, yet her vocal levels are dimmed to the extent that they fall behind the instruments.
There is something quite affecting about leaning in to hear the dark lyrics told in her beautiful voice. The experience is akin to being told a campfire story by a siren. As for the departure shown by Mouse, he has had stellar fast paced albums and good slow albums, but he has never showed as deft a touch in navigating tempo as he does on Little Broken Hearts.
The “Dear John…” greeting track “Good Morning” says hello with a repetetive harp chord showing subtle signs of falling off key and tempo (intentionally) behind Jones, a soft guitar, intermittent lush bells and violins. The effect is one of utter hypnosis, certainly an admirable accomplishment for an opening track and a sign of the immaculate pacing to come.
The second to last track is a sleepy record called “Miriam”, which pairs a crawl paced tempo with Jones taking the role of a jaded lover literally draining the life life out of her competition. The instruments meet their own darkest edges on the next track, as creeping guitar slides bring your trance to it’s conclusion with “All A Dream”. Deliciously, this ending isn’t a “just kidding” track, but rather a regret laced wish for an unrealistic happy ending.
The slow motion calypso blues of “After The Fall” form one of the finest records of Jones career, and certainly this will be the benchmark for all of Danger Mouse’ future production. We have pondered whether there is subtext in the song title “After The Fall”, as “The Fall” was Norah Jones’ prior album. While the song tells of what happens after falling in love, the prior album is very much a tale of getting over love as well, and not one of “falling” in love. That’s where the similarities end. Where “The Fall” winds down with tales of Jones drinking whiskey and telling serenading her dog as the truest male she knows, “Little Broken Hearts” winds down with skitzophrenia, denial & delusions. Unless the hint here is that, after the fall, comes the bottom.
While there are few story parallels between Jones latest two albums, listening to them in conjunction is stunning in terms of absorbing how far Jones has come as a musician in 3 years… The richness and refined wildness of her new album seems like it is coming from a completely different person, certainly when compared to her breakout “Come Away With Me”. While the best selling female artist of the 00′s was no lyrical slouch, what she has going on here is leaps and bounds beyond anything we’ve ever known her for.
Anyone who has tried to follow Jones career over the past couple of years probably feels like an Andy Kaufman fan trying to chase down Tony Clifton in order to see Kaufman live. It is debatable which was more difficult- finding who you were looking for or being prepared for what you witnessed once you got there. Jones drifted though the Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi project Rome. She tackled the ultimate vocal challenge in creating a Ray Charles cover album with Wynton Marsalis & Willie Nelson. She cranked out boot stompers as part of the rock-em-sock-em country group the Little Willies. She created fem-punk in her other group Puss ‘N Boots. And, on all of these projects, her name was written very tiny in the margins, and not by accident.
With all this covert experimentation, it should be no surprise that a new album featuring the Norah Jones brand in bold letters is such an artistic heavyhitter. Still, we have little doubt that Little Broken Hearts will surprise you.
3 Cool Facts About Norah Jones
1 Jones has been known to craft her own apparel for charity auction. (source)
2 Despite being domestically panned, “My Blueberry Nights” (starring Jones) was nominated for the Spanish Cinema Writers Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (source)
3 Jones is the estranged daughter of grammy-award winning sitar player Ravi Shankar. (source)
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Gregory Porter’s new album “Be Good” is made with a loving reverence that makes listening with equal reverence irresistible.
“Be Good” is music alive with character. Horns are given enough space to conversate back and forth and preach profound monologues. Drums shuffle along like footsteps. The piano provides a tightening restraint that keeps the jazz in check and allows the elements of soul and blues to shine. The lyrics are intoxicating. The compositions are perfect and the covers are carefully selected and newly owned. But amongst all these spellbinding strengths, none is stronger than the voice of Gregory Porter. “Be Good” is an extremely vivid experience that every music lover will cherish.
Brian Bacchus of Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” fame lends his considerable production talents, and while matching the commercial success of that project is unattainable, the coffee house appeal of the entire “Be Good” disk is absolutely right there.
Picking a particularly strong track is difficult, as this is a top to bottom solid album, each record packed full with meaning and merit. But, if a signature song most be selected, “On My Way to Harlem” is probably. Not the strongest track on the album mind you, but when Porter convincingly talks down to the jazz and soul credentials of the likes of Duke Ellington & Marvin Gaye, you get a pretty clear picture of the confidence this artist has in his abilities. And the confidence is well placed.
The album slows to a near crawl on “Mother’s Song” and “Our Love”, making you feel like you are receiving a sonic kiss goodbye. This gives the final three tracks an enthralling encore feeling that comes to a fitting a capella ending. “Be Good” to yourself and give this album a listen.
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Inevitably, it takes me a solid 3 years to truly appreciate each album by the Black Keys. So it is no surprise that I am considerably late in writing a review of El Camino by The Black Keys.
With “Brothers” still dominating my headphones years after release, El Camino had stiff competition from its own, well, Brothers in The Black Keys library. The Black Keys have become a marketing phenomenon, their tunes set as the backdrop in seemingly every major motion picture that comes out these days. So it is quite a feat that this album instantly found its place on the strength of a true standout track.
“Sister” has driving guitars and wailing vocals that evoke a level of emotion I can only liken to the Rocky soundtrack classic “Eye of the Tiger”. “Sister” will undoubtedly provide the spark for many people trying to power their way through workouts and many rap producers searching for mosh pit inducing samples, for years to come. Quiet the poetic wax that the strength of the follow up to “Brothers” is “Sister”.
While not a convoluted sound by any stretch, El Camino is a departure from the 2 men acting as one, as the mighty Danger Mouse was brought in to share production and song-writing responsibilities. Adding another musician results in the tightness losing something and a departure from the trademark soulful renditions amongst the driving guitars. That said, there is a frantic pace set and kept by the three musical masters. I imagine listeners who come from more of a punk lineage than myself will consider this album their favorite effort from The Black Keys.
As a net result, El Camino is not The Black Keys finest work. However, the gum off these guys shoes has more energy and expertise than the best work of most GREAT bands. I suspect these are works that will end up developing into something greater than their album versions once they are road tested. As always, I’m already there mentally with this band, forgetting myself completely in the music and dancing around like a damned fool. What other reason is there to listen to music?
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The lyrics of singer Yukimi Nagano are occasionally mind bending, frequently brilliant in metaphor, often sweet, and always expertly timed…
On their last couple of albums, the Swedish group Little Dragon have displayed a mastering of infectious song writing.
Upon hearing their catchy tracks, the listener’s first reaction is a feeling of nostalgia, as though they’ve heard the tracks before and already know them. Then the tracks crawl into the brain and stay there, playing on a constant loop. “Looking Glass” from Machine Dreams and “After the Rain” on their self titled “Little Dragon” album were full blown epidemics on my subconscious.
Tracks from Little Dragon’s First 2 Albums:
With that expectation, my first listening of their newest album, ‘Ritual Union’, was sweet, but underwhelming. Then a funny thing happened. I listened again. And again. And here I am, still listening daily to an album I picked up 3 weeks ago.
Indeed, Little Dragon has produced an outrageously infectious album. There’s no particular track that will stick in your head, but you’ll find yourself wanting to listen to the entire album repeatedly. The light catchiness of the groove is an indulgence granted on every track. The entire experience is worthy of standing up, throwing your hands behind you and rockin back and forth to the beat… And the love given to the larger experience means you can leave the album on repeat without even noticing you’re listening again . . . There is nothing about this album to grow tired of.
The light touches of the Erik Bodin’s snare have been the hallmark of Little Dragon albums, and they are present, but the synths have really matured and taken their rightful place at the forefront. Their droning presence does a beautiful job of setting the atmosphere for each track, as is expertly displayed on “Please Turn” and it’s sister track “Silverfilm”. On tracks like “Brush the Heat”, “Precious” and “Shuffle a Dream” they explore downright funky ranges. Without question, this is Little Dragon’s most party friendly product.
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The lyrics of singer Yukimi Nagano are occasionally mind bending, frequently brilliant in metaphor, often sweet, and always expertly timed. One of the treats of this album is that she’s a little less willing to play second fiddle to the groove here. Yukimi probably has the cutest sounding voice in music, but here she frequently lets loose with more emotion in her voice than on previous efforts and experiments with different styles throughout. On “Please Turn”, as the tempo quickens and the synths rise, she seems almost competitive with the urgency of the instruments, to brilliant effect.
If forced to name a standout track, I would side with “Nightlight.” The funk infusion combined with Egyptian chords and echoing xylophone make for a delightful high point.
Little Dragon fans who read the glowing reviews this album has received should temper their expectations slightly for the first listen, but have faith in the group you’ve come to love. Without question, Ritual Union is a step forward in the evolution of Little Dragon & past the initial experience this album is rich and rewarding and deserving of a permanent place in your catalog.
Where the music breaks loose, the results are magical…
If love at first sight takes your breath away, then true love surely fills your lungs and sustains you. ‘Agadez’, the new album by the incredibly talented guitarist Bombino, is very much a story of true love. And, indeed, the opening moments of the first track, titled “I Greet My Country”, hit you with an instant reflexive need to breathe in deeply.
Mali and Niger have produced a bounty of the world’s greatest guitar players of late, so it is no surprise to find that Bombino hails from the arid lands of western Niger. It is to this land, and for his people, that he lovingly sings and strums.
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Throughout the experience, the progressive scales feel like a perfectly rythmic stair climbing. Even in portions where the chords repeat, the throbbing drums give the music a living heartbeat that charms your own heart into falling in line. A major part of the album’s charm is in the restraint shown in keeping rhythm and harmony at the forefront . . . A noticeable achievement given that guitar chops like these nearly always lend towards highly experimental experiences. In rare moments where the music breaks loose, the results are magical. During the ending of “You, My Beloved” an ethereal yelling ushers in a particularly wonderful unrestrained portion of the album, one of many little treasure chests of sound you’ll find throughout the album.
The soundscape you travel during ‘Agadez’ is vast, with each track marking a unique path on the larger journey, but the album is constructed in a strikingly professional manner that leaves you feeling uplifted and optimistic from start to finish . . . a striking tone since the background of objects of affection have been in a perpetual state of conflict and persecution.
Sung entirely in Bombino’s native Taureg tongue, Tamasheq, the album is still accessible and does everything possible to be so- offering English translations of all song titles and lyrics as well as pictures of Agadez playing to his homeland.
This horn and distortion filled production is downright beautiful and I suspect that adding a vinyl copy of ‘Apollo Kids’ to a DJ’s arsenal would be a winning shot indeed.
WU TANG IS FOR THE CHILDREN!!!
Reading up on the new Ghostface Killah album, ‘Apollo Kids’, I keep seeing terms like “nostalgia” and “raw” amongst the critics cipher. I have no disagreement with the mass critical appeal. ‘Apollo Kids’ has well-deserved props, it is a dope album with some of the best storytelling you’ll ever come across. You’ve absolutely got to purchase ‘Apollo Kids’, but allow me to digress before explaining why. In order to shorten this rant I’ll quote directly from one of my favorite critique sites.
‘The Needle Drop’ says-
“Screw the r&b hooks, auto-tune . . . all the BS that I think was weighing Ghostface down”
“There was even a spot where I heard the song ‘shout’ sampled.”
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Seriously? Sampling ‘shout’ is indicative of being old-school and raw? What critics these day define as gangster is truly the definition of borderline-of-overproduced ala Eminem’s ‘What is Love’.
Which comes to the heart of my issue, which is that rather than commenting on ‘Apollo Kids’ I’m finding myself defending Ghostface’s ‘Ghostdini & The Wizard of Floetry.’ I often feel like I live in a different listening reality than most folks… Wherein they can’t seem to hear the difference between:
Kanye West using electronic pitch correction and distortion techniques to enhance chord progressions and dope lyrics
Soulja Boy using fruity loops and a monotone robot voice (in full disclosure I don’t have a dog-gone-clue what Soulja Boy sounds like or his production techniques but I’m guessing he’s the type of musician your hate stems from).
Don’t-write-down-a-word and do-one-take and let-the-producer-deal-with-it Sean Carter may have requested (on the Kanye West produced track) ‘Death to Auto-tune’, but, let us be frank, all auto-tune is NOT created equal. Autotune is a music-making tool, folks, and saying that anyone using auto-tune is simple is just about as dumb as saying that anyone using a sample on a record is simple.
Anybody lightly dismissing Ghostface Killah’s quiet-storm classic ‘Ghostdini & The Wizard of Floetry’, heavily featuring neo-soul master Raheem Devaughn as well as masters such as Stevie Wonder, is as ignorant as Sarah Palin discussing Eastern Asian politics. If you haven’t copped it already, be sure to buy the ‘Wizard of Floetry’ album while you are grabbing ‘Apollo Kids’ because they are both must owns in your Wu-Tang library.
What ‘Wizard of Floetry’ was for sex-infused neo-soul, ‘Apollo Kids’ is for heroine-infused funk-70′s-soul, featuring treasure chest samples by Marlena Shaw, Roy Ayers and Them Two. Suffice to say that you will get more storyline of crimes, guilty pleasures and intense visuals out of this album than a season of ‘The Sopranos’.
Fan favorite ‘Drama’ features The Game and Slaughterhouse star Joell Ortiz. In addition to ‘dramatic’ floes (indeed) by the always solid Ghostface and Ortiz this is, IMO, the best Game rap I’ve heard in years and a hopeful sign of things to come in the much anticipated upcoming Game-Interscope project the ‘R.E.D.’ album.
Despite the nostalgic hoopla surrounding this album, RZA is AWOL, but, putting the misleading critiques aside, this horn and distortion filled production is downright beautiful and I suspect that adding a vinyl copy of ‘Apollo Kids’ to a DJ’s arsenal would be a winning shot indeed.
Buy this album, pour a chilled glass of your favorite drink or roll your favorite smoke, lay back, and enjoy. Like any great piece of art, you’ll find yourself fiendish for more. Like I told you at the top, this album is dope.