• culture

    June Music Review: Mavis Staples, The National, Bob Dylan, Brad Mehldau, Tyler The Creator

    A roundup of some of our favorite new album releases

    Mavis Staples “We Get By” (Anti Records). This is Mavis Staples’ 12th solo album, released just before her 80th birthday. There were celebrations held in her honor in New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles that included an impressive roster of fellow musicians performing with her. Filled with funk, soul, folk, and blues, the album was written and produced by Ben Harper and continues to deliver Mavis’ message of a call for change. Her enemy on this release is the status quo. On this collection of songs she won’t let things be and sings the word “change” throughout the record some 20 times. Mavis has had an incredible musical career and overall it’s an incredibly cohesive collection of songs. It is consistent from start to finish. She’s truly a national treasure. Stand out tracks are  “Change,” “We Get By,” and “Heavy on My Mind.”

    The National “I Am Easy to Find” (4AD Records). This, The National’s eighth release and first new release since 2017’s “Sleep Well Beast,” takes a slight departure from previous collections by featuring female harmonies by various guest artists which take the band and these new songs to a beautiful place. The National have stayed on the top of the alternative and rock charts by continually evolving as a band and trying something different each time out. Working with the writer/director Mike Mills on this one, the band chose to bring on a non music producer to see where all of these new songs could go. Accompanied by a short film which can be streamed on the artists’ website, guest vocalists such as Leslie Feist and Phoebe Bridgers take the band to beautiful places with perfectly complementary vocals. This is a truly beautiful collection of songs. Standout tracks: “Quiet Light,” “Hey Rosey,” and “Rylan.”

    Bob Dylan “The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings” (Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings). Easily one of Dylan’s most creative and dynamic periods and my personal favorite. This is a comprehensive anthology of music from the mythic first leg of Bob Dylan’s groundbreaking Rolling Thunder Revue. It was an experiment on a conceptually grand scale to create music on an intimate scale. The shows took place between 1975 and 1976 and found the musician playing theater shows with little advance notice. The tour famously featured Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, while one-off special guests included Ringo Starr, poets (Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith), a playwright (Sam Shepard), David Bowie’s former guitarist Mick Ronson, and Joni Mitchell. This tour, which featured Dylan as the ringmaster-troubadour, has been described as part side-show performance and minstrel act. Standout tracks: “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below),” and “Hurricane.”

    Brad Mehldau “Finding Gabriel” (Nonesuch Records). On this latest ambitious effort from prolific artist Brad Mehldau, he journeys back into experimental territory as he did on 2014’s “Year of the Dragon.” This is music beyond category. Throughout the album the intricate arrangements of wordless vocals are completely fascinating. This collection of songs is more about using the voice literally as an instrument, wordlessly, for texture and color as a call to communion in our current troubled times. Sadly, the weakest and the most in-your-face track is “The Prophet is a Fool” which is his most conventional tune on this record and the least successful, marred by dialogue about Donald Trump, which is unfortunate, politics aside. Overall this is an ambitious project and one that finds this talented artist traveling to new territories. Standout tracks: “The Garden,”  “Striving After Wind,” and “O Ephraim.”

    Tyler, The Creator “Igor” (Columbia/Sony). As the father of a teenage daughter, some of the new music I listen to comes from paying attention to what she is currently interested in and it’s often music that I wouldn’t normally gravitate to on my own. This often times makes for a very pleasant surprise and the ability to connect on music together. This new collection is built upon breakups and the act of moving on. Life begins anew and on this, Tyler, The Creator’s fifth official solo album, he bares his soul and builds on that message. Tyler proudly produced, wrote, and arranged the entire collection of songs and overall it’s a gracious and giving breakup album. These songs are crafted on a layered patchwork of harmony, rhythm, manipulated vocals, out-of-key synths and singing. There are also high-profile guest appearances, including Kali Uchis, Solange, and Kanye West. The up-tempo tracks are all very pastoral and rooted in late ’60s and ’70s soul. It’s a feast for the ears. Standout tracks: “Igor’s Theme,” “Earfquake,” and “Running Out of Time.”


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