Sunday , September 23 2018

Connor’s fierce blues on ‘Six’ – Spears is not winning, even if we want her to

This CD cover image released by M.C. Records shows ‘Six String Stories’, by Joanna Connor. (AP)
This CD cover image released by M.C. Records shows ‘Six String Stories’, by Joanna Connor. (AP)
Britney Spears, “Glory” (RCA)

All signs pointing to new Britney Spears music screamed disaster: Her Billboard Music Awards performance reminded us, for the 100th time, she’s a robot, and her last album, 2013’s “Britney Jean”, had some of the worst songs Spears ever recorded even though Sia, David Guetta and worked on the project.

Her new album, “Glory”, also seemed rushed as its announcement and release came in the same month and the amateurish album artwork looked like it was edited with an Instagram filter. Even as she appeared on “The Late Late Show” in the ever-popular “Carpool Karaoke” segment, which aired Thursday night, Spears barely sang and barely seemed present.

It begs the question: Why are you releasing music today Britney Spears?

You won’t get a clear answer from her new album, but if there’s any hope that Spears could return to pop-star status, “Glory” is her best bet.

The 12-track groovy set is much better than “Britney Jean” and brighter than 2011’s “Femme Fatale”. While pop wanes off of electronic dance music and borrows again from R&B — thanks to the success of acts like Beyoncé, Miguel, Rihanna and a slew of lesser-name acts blending R&B with other genres — Spears has taken note and jumped on the bandwagon. And right, Britney Spears and R&B should never be in the same sentence, but these songs aren’t authentically Britney (has she ever been authentic?)

Lead single “Make Me …,” featuring rapper G-Eazy, is a slick, sexy tune that showcases a stronger side of Spears, as does “Slumber Party”, “Love Me Down”, “Just Luv” and album opener “Invitation”. And while the album has missteps — “Clumsy” sounds, well, clumsy, and “Hard to Forget Ya” is easy to forget — it is a sign that Spears could finally make some real movement after years of basicness.

She’s slated to perform at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards, and while there’s a high percentage she will fail, here’s to hoping she hits it baby one more time.

 Joanna Connor, “Six String Stories” (M.C. Records)

“Six String Stories” is her first studio album in 14 years, but thousands of gigs in the interim have only enriched Chicago-based Joanna Connor’s fierce guitar skills and expressive, bluesy vocals.

Written mostly with longtime bandmate Marion Lance Lewis, Connor goes from blues to rock to near-gospel and back in a striking mix.

The time off to raise a daughter has sharpened Connor’s songwriting while also enhancing her dynamic range — the powerful drive of her earlier work remains but some tracks take it down a notch or two and provide breathing room.

“It’s A Woman’s Way” kicks off the album with a distinct female perspective but Connor’s solos erase any gender bias. Her cover of Jill Scott’s “Golden” is more relaxed but just as passionate as the original, while also referencing Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City”.

“Heaven” starts with rolling percussion like Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland” but then builds a tower of a song with sinuous acoustic guitar lines, a horn section, Bonnie Raitt-like vocals, a trumpet solo and a passionate sermon.

Instrumental “Halsted Street” purrs like medium-paced acoustic Al Di Meola until a brief drum solo paves the way for fretboard frenzy and Connor shreds any preconceptions you may harbor about a woman who describes herself as looking “like somebody’s mom”.

 De La Soul “and the Anonymous Nobody” (A.O.I. Records)

Twenty-five years after releasing the mercurial classic “De La Soul is Dead”, the Strong Island trio of Pos, Dave and Maseo return with “and the Anonymous Nobody” — a modern treatise of anti-establishment hip-hop.

For their first full-length album in 11 years, they used hundreds of hours of live music played with session musicians as a sample bank — and you can feel the analog warmth.

The musical styles are all over the place. “Lord Intended” could be an early Rick Rubin production before The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins spirals into the abyss. It’s a long way from Pete Rock’s beat knock “Memory of.” and the slurred funk of “Sexy Bitch”.

At the same time, the ill flows are constantly in flux. Roc Marciano has a tongue that’s “forever under the weather”. On “Trainwreck”, Pos’ word association could go on for days. They all embody guest 2 Chainz controlled tenacity: “When I’m in the booth, I’m MJ with his tongue out”. During the lush intro, Jill Scott encapsulates, “The sky takes notes when we speak”.

The project was self-released and Kickstarter-funded, and even with all the guests (Damon Albarn, David Byrne, Snoop Dogg and Usher) this is really a De La thing. Late in the album Dave sings, “We’re still here now”.

De La Soul is alive. And well.

Glass Animals, “How to Be a Human Being” (Harvest Records)

For their ambitious sophomore album, the members of the indie-electronic band Glass Animals got some creative help from an unlikely source — total strangers.

Each song on the terrific “How to Be a Human Being” is told from the perspective of someone inspired by a person the band encountered on the road, from taxi drivers to fans. The result is a complex, exciting tapestry of a CD which switches musical styles and reveals new things each time it’s played.

The foursome, hailing from the southern England city of Oxford, had a breakthrough with the 2014 album “Zaba”, which featured the band’s melding of ’90s R&B and deft electronic touches. This time, they’re mature, layered — and hypnotic.

From the orchestral swell of “Mama’s Gun” to the tropical percussions of “Life Itself” and the video game loops in “Season 2 Episode 3”, Glass Animals make each of their 11 songs as individual as the 11 folk pictured on the album cover, like a dysfunctional family portrait.

The lyrics profile people who can’t get off the couch, who hear voices, who use drugs and whose general reality never matches their dreams. They’re regretful, sometimes arrogant and often clueless. But a deep well of empathy runs through the album.

Singer Dave Bayley can be funny — “My girl eats mayonnaise from a jar while she’s getting blazed” — to deep, as in: “Guess life is long when soaked in sadness”. He also has the terrific spoken-word rant “Premade Sandwiches” about over-commercialization of food.

 Florida Georgia Line, “Dig Your Roots” (Big Machine)

Whatever roller coaster ride country music is on these days, Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard are surely riding in the front car with their arms raised. And if the early returns on Florida Georgia Line’s latest release, “Dig Your Roots”, are any indication, it might be a while before the bro-country duo’s ride comes to a complete stop.

The band’s current single, “H.O.L.Y.,” a love song with overtones — “you’re my kinda” is the closing line to an effusive jumble of gushy devotion — has grabbed the top spot on Billboard Hot Country Songs for weeks. The song won’t stop philosophers in their tracks with its theological underpinnings. But it’s one of many signs that the rambunctious party ramble the band is known for may have softened a little.

Love, faith and family are consistent themes here. The boys hint broadly that they have done some growing up.

Not that there isn’t rambunctiousness on the album. Any portrait of the state of country music in 2016 would have to account for a reggae-infused pairing with Ziggy Marley on “Life Is A Honeymoon” — and a grab-bag of references to Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and George Strait helps sustain the pedal-to-metal party vibe that made the band popular in the first place.

 On their new album, the rock band need to breathe have a song about the dangers of indulging in a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in which lead singer Bear Rinehart boasts that he “found the bottom from the top somehow”.

The song, “money & fame”, was mostly a metaphor, as the Grammy-nominated South Carolina-based band is at the top of their game with a collection of Dove Awards, singles being used on TV commercials and a major headlining tour.

“We asked the producers as we were writing the song a bunch of times, ‘Does this sound too arrogant? Because we’re not rich and we’re not famous’”, Rinehart said while in Nashville, Tennessee, rehearsing for their new tour that kicked off this month.

But Rinehart, 35, said the band has learned after more than a decade together sometimes you can do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

“We definitely were guilty of that for a while and it caused us to fight a lot as brothers and really as a whole band,” Rinehart said. “It gave everybody who worked for us a lot of turmoil because success was sort of the goal. I think that’s what that song is about. Making sure you are true to who you are and you’re doing it for the right reasons”. (AP)

By Mesfin Fekadu


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