Saturday , November 18 2017

Jessie Ware shows her range – Downie’s farewell album intimately universal

Jessie Ware, “Glasshouse” (Interscope Records)

No doubt about it, Jessie Ware can sing. The London-born singer-songwriter has a versatile voice that can whisper and soar against a musical palette drawing from soul, R&B, jazz and pop.

“Glasshouse,” her third album, finds that powerful voice in search of a distinctive sound.

The 12 songs in the collection effectively showcase Ware’s range. She can go from a murmur to a scream against a disco bassline in lead single “Midnight.” She can croon soulfully on “Thinking About You.” She can bathe the listener in a soothing balm on the lush “Stay Awake for Me.”

In lyrics partly inspired by the birth of her first child last year, Ware reflects on love and loss. It’s not exactly Amy Winehouse-level soul baring but it delivers on the seductive, bossa nova-tinged “Selfish Love” (“Why do I do these things/I break you down just to get my way?”)

Ware is clearly an artist with personality, but at times seems overwhelmed by the album’s busy production. “Alone” is a catchy ballad honed to within an inch of its life. There’s more freedom on “Your Domino,” an appealing slice of Eurodisco fun.

The album is most effective when it slows down — as it does on the aptly named “Slow Me Down” and on “Hearts,” which lets the emotion in Ware’s voice shine through.

Album closer “Sam,” a lovely acoustic ballad about family co-written with Ed Sheeran, has a tenderness and directness that much of the album lacks. Sometimes simple is best.

Gord Downie, “Introduce Yerself” (Arts & Crafts)

Gord Downie was blessed with the chance to say goodbye and he makes the most of that opportunity on “Introduce Yerself,” a 23-song farewell to friends, family, bandmates and others which leaves a lump in your throat and a smile on your face.

Downie was the frontman of The Tragically Hip and a genuine Canadian icon. Mourning for his death from brain cancer at age 53 on Oct. 17, about 18 months after his illness was revealed, was led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The band’s tour in the summer of last year was his public exit and “Introduce Yerself” is its intimate counterpart.

Recorded over two, four-day sessions in January 2016 and this February, many of the songs, mostly co-written with producer Kevin Drew, from Broken Social Scene, are first takes relying principally on guitar, piano and drums. On one tune, clattering hockey sticks provide the percussion.

Some of the dedications are relatively easy to decode, as with “Bedtime” (tucking in one of his children), “Love Over Money” (about his Hip bandmates), or “My First Girlfriend.” For others, like album closer “The North,” it’s good to know about Downie’s advocacy for Canada’s indigenous peoples or, concerning the title track, his late struggles with memory loss. A handful, like “A Better End,” “Snowflake” or “Yer Ashore,” seem even more mysterious or intimate.

Emotional

The emotional charge of the tunes is impossible to miss and if you can sometimes hear the music stretching to catch up with the words, or vice versa, it’s an indication of the album’s urgency.

Downie said “each song is about a person,” but with so much being expressed in such a poetic way, it’s inevitable that many, many more will be touched.

Turnpike Troubadours, “A Long Way from Your Heart” (Bossier City/Thirty Tigers)

The sound of the road permeates the latest release from The Turnpike Troubadours, a hard-charging six-piece band out of Oklahoma that’s been honing its earthy sound for four albums now — and would displace some of the schlock at the top of the country charts in a world with a little more justice.

On their latest release, “A Long Way from Your Heart,” the band follows singer-songwriter Evan Felker into the space between country and rock with well-crafted tunes that, while they might not break into new and original regions of the stratosphere, do hurtle forward on the wings of muscular playing.

The Troubadours have honed their craft in the honky-tonks of Oklahoma and Texas for years now and it shows. The playing is tight, the songs conversational and engaging. It feels like having a drink with a friend who can’t settle down but tells stories that are warm, personal and funny.

Consider “The Housefire,” a narrative about waking up in a burning house that sounds like it really happened. It’s not deep, just vivid, and like much of the band’s work, honest and straightforward.

The same holds true on the album’s best song, “The Hard Way,” which matches vaguely confessional lyrics with the band’s natural forward propulsion.

“Now I’m headed out with the same unrest,” Felker sings with urgency. “Tried to tear it down but it was unimpressed.”

Restless? Absolutely. But headed somewhere great? Don’t bet against it.

Lee Ann Womack, “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” (ATO Records)

After a long sojourn, Lee Ann Womack got her mojo back on 2014’s “The Way I’m Living,” and now she’s returned to her native East Texas to make “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone,” as good an album as she’s ever done.

Produced again by her husband, Frank Liddell, the set relies more on Womack’s songwriting than before. She co-wrote six of the 14 tunes, including down-on-your-luck opener “All the Trouble” and the desolate “Hollywood,” portraying a relationship (barely) going through the motions.

The magnificent “He Called Me Baby” comes down somewhere between Charlie Rich’s version, a country chart-topper, and Candi Staton’s soulful reading, while her take on popular murder ballad “Long Black Veil” emphatically transmits its needless tragedy.

On “Mama Lost Her Smile,” she searches in vain through a box of photographs only to find that “you don’t take pictures/of the bad times/we only want to remember all the sunshine.” During “Somebody Else’s Heartache,” another Womack co-write, she makes a convincing case that the misery is still hers, too.

The album was recorded mostly at Houston’s SugarHill Studios, where Womack got to sing fellow Texan George Jones’ redemptive “Take the Devil Out of Me,” who cut his original version nearly 60 years ago. (AP)

Once a stalwart of contemporary country, Womack’s career has darted between categories. She scored a huge crossover hit with “I Hope You Dance” in 2000 and now you’ll find her in the Americana section of music magazines.

Whatever the label, she’s achieved a natural blend of styles bonded together by her country roots and her flair for evolving outside the box.

“The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” offers ample rewards to unprejudiced listeners. (AP)

By Jill Lawless

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