Many talented women making powerful music, San Franciscans help out a New Yorker, and a record producer shares the chill vibe of his studio...
Laurie Anderson / Kronos Quartet - Landfall
In 2012, Laurie Anderson lost a great deal of her personal possessions when Hurricane Sandy flooded her NYC home. Inspired by that experience, this album is an exploration of loss set to a marvelous mixture of electronic sounds and the expertly beautiful performance of San Francisco's Kronos Quartet.
Anderson's work is typically quirky, yet compelling. This collaboration was performed live with multimedia components beginning in 2013, and it's easy to get wrapped up in her unique storytelling, even without the curated visuals.
From the album's press release:
“These are stories with tempos,” Anderson says. “I’ve always been fascinated by the complex relationship of words and music whether in song lyrics, supertitles or voice over. In Landfall, instruments initiate language through our new text software, erst. The blend of electronic and acoustic strings is the dominant sound of Landfall. Much of the music in this work is generated from the harmonies and delays of unique software designed for the solo viola and reinterpreted for the quartet. In addition, there were elements of the optigan, a keyboard that uses information stored on optical discs.”
I'm With Her - See You Around
Sarah Jarosz is a singer-songwriter/mandolin player from Austin, TX who beautifully melds bluegrass and indie folk music.
Aoife O'Donovan is from Newton, MA and also a bluegrassy/folksy singer-songwriter but with a bit of Irish roots shining through.
Sara Watkins is from southern California and best known as one-fourth of the bluegrass superstar band Nickel Creek.
And this is their own super trio. I have enjoyed each of these women's music, and this collective is satisfying in all the ways I'd want it to be. Fantastic songwriting, satiating harmonies, notable depth, and a bit of whimsy.
This album has the additional plus of having been produced by Ethan Johns, a producer who has worked on some of my favorite recordings with a modern folk/alt-country flair. I really like this.
Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You
I've already established that I have a soft spot for folksy/country singer-songwriters, so let's stick with that for a moment. Here's another talented woman who makes outstanding records.
I don’t know if this is traditional, classic country music with a thread of folk or the other way around, but there’s no way that matters. This record has power. And that power is radiating from a single source. Carlile treates us to full-throated passionate singing on this record.
The first track, from which the album title is taken, hit me like a brick. After having forgiven a past partner for heartbreak, she says:
"That's twice you broke my heart now,
the first was way back when.
And to know you're still unhappy
only makes it break again."
Well, here's a live cut from one of the other great songs on the album, with Carlile’s full vocal power on display:
Everything is Recorded - Everything is Recorded
This is a producer album, and I find producer albums interesting. What does that mean?
Strong record producers shape the experience of a recording. Both for the artist and the listener. So in more powerful ways than you might realize, your favorite recording likely has as much to do with the efforts of the producer as it does the performance of the artist whose name is slapped on the front of the album.
Richard Russell is a producer and record label owner. This is his project. And the thing about producers’ own projects is that they get to collaborate with whomever they want and form the album in whatever shape they desire. Most of the time, these projects are collaborative efforts. Sometimes they end up being a mixtape of people the producer wants to work with, and it'll end up entertaining but not unified.
This project is impressively cohesive. Russell clearly had a moody, minimal vibe he was going for, and he used his collaborators (rising soulful singer Sampha, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, Peter Gabriel, French-Cuban twin-sister duo Ibeyi...among others) to paint within this world that exists between minimal electronic and modern soul with global influences.
Here, have a song featuring Sampha with a nicely placed Curtis Mayfield sample: