Sherman Holmes, “The Sherman Holmes Project: The Richmond Sessions” (M.C. Records)
“The Richmond Sessions” is the debut album by Sherman Holmes, but the 77-year-old singer and bassist is no neophyte.
The Holmes Brothers were one of the all-time great American bands, alternating between gospel, R&B, soul and blues while reimagining tunes from Tom Waits, The O’Jays, and even Cheap Trick and Bob Marley as radically and triumphantly as Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
Drummer Popsy Dixon and guitarist Wendell Holmes passed away in 2015 and Sherman Holmes, who backed legends like John Lee Hooker before the trio formed in 1979, returns to his family and band’s Virginia roots for “The Richmond Sessions.”
Stirring harmonies were a Holmes Brothers trademark and the Ingramettes, also from the state for lovers, lay a granite foundation for Holmes on a pair of fellow Virginian Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass classics — “I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages” and “White Dove” — as well as Ben Harper’s “Homeless Child,” also covered by The Holmes Bros. in 2001.
Other great tracks include a dobro-in-the-swamp take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River,” Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane”, and “…Walk With Me.”
Erstwhile Holmes Bros. producer Joan Osborne is Sherman’s cheating partner on “The Dark End of the Street” and Sherman stays on theme with Ann Peebles’ “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” as if Virginia is really for adulterers.
“The Richmond Sessions” is Sherman’s Southern-style, stirring Irish wake for departed brother Wendell and bandmate Popsy. Think of them fondly as you clap your hands and stomp your feet.
Arcade Fire, “Everything Now” (Columbia Records)
Arcade Fire are darkly happy-go-lucky on “Everything Now,” applying Euro disco and new wave to somber themes on their fifth album like consumerism, flummoxed youth and suicide prevention.
Working with co-producers Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) and Steve Mackey (Pulp), Arcade Fire may have picked up a case of Stockholm syndrome, with abounding sonic similarities with those bands.
The title cut is one of the Montreal band’s most successful singles, it’s Abba-esque, Pulp-ish rhythms sparkling behind Win Butler’s narrative about information overload matched with a swelling emotional vacuum.
“Signs of Life” is about “cool kids stuck in the past” looking in the night for what they’ll never find there, only the mortal coil. “Creature Comfort” is back in Pulp music territory as Butler exhorts those thinking about ending it all to come off the ledge.
“Infinite Content” furiously claims “we’re infinitely content” and reprises itself in a Wilco-like Americana style, both detached and involved. Your choice. “Electric Blue,” sung in a crystalline falsetto by Regine Chassagne, laments a love that dissipated as quickly as the summer heat.
“Put Your Money on Me” has a pulsating synth bass line like Jean Michel Jarre and forms a neat pair of (relatively) straight songs about troubled-but-hopeful relationships with “We Don’t Deserve Love.” U2 and Bob Dylan producer Daniel Lanois adds pedal steel to both tracks.
A laid back version of the title song ends the album, similar to a snippet at the start. It creates a seamless loop should you choose now to listen to everything again.
Every Arcade Fire album has been nominated for a Grammy Award — “The Suburbs” won album of the year in 2011 — and “Everything Now” should continue the streak.
Lana Del Rey, “Lust for Life” (Interscope)
Lana Del Rey stays in character on “Lust for Life,” her fourth and lengthy album, expanding her takes on personal obsessions inside her fishbowl with observations about living in America.
A youthful lady of perpetual sadness, Del Rey still sounds like a torch singer but this time she also reflects on the flames in the world around her.
The 16-song album opens with the magnificent “Love,” capturing the natural ecstasy of “to be young and in love.” On the title track, the Weeknd helps her spell out exactly what it’s about.
The cinematic “13 Beaches” addresses the challenges of intimacy during life in the spotlight, while the second half of the record begins with three tunes — “Coachella — Woodstock In My Mind,” “God Bless America — And the Beautiful Women In It” and “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing” — which leave the fishbowl behind.
Stevie Nicks is a version of Del Rey further up the road on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” while Sean Ono Lennon has never sounded more like his father than on “Tomorrow Never Came,” which also tips its hat to George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Elton John.
Surprisingly, Radiohead aren’t credited on closer “Get Free,” which draws very much from “Creep” while expressing Del Rey’s “modern manifesto” — “Finally, I’m crossing the threshold/From the ordinary world/To the reveal of my heart.”
There’s plenty to absorb and few missteps on “Lust for Life,” a long, meticulous trip with rewards at every stop.
Mappe Of, “A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone” (Paper Bag Records)
A Canadian artist who spent time busking in Australia and playing heavy metal with his friends has taken his work in an ethereal new direction.
The result is an art-rock delicacy, “A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone.” It’s an airy mix of haunting, old-growth melodies and meandering soundscapes that bears a kinship to the music of Bon Iver but manages to find its own way home.
The artist, Tom Meikle, builds the work of Mappe Of on a folk foundation but leans on technology to take listeners on a dreamy sound-ride. On “Cavern’s Dark” and “Nimbin,” for example, delicate melodies rise and fall, mingling Meikle’s pleasantly-ranging vocals with finger-picked acoustic guitar and swelling accompaniment. (AP)
The spells cast here reward repeat listening — this is grow-on-you music.
Of course, work this self-conscious runs the risk of coming off as too precious, and Meikle has hinted in interviews at hidden layers of meaning here. If that’s the case, he’s pretty good at hiding them.
Still, airy, even obtuse lyrics in ornate sonic packaging have worked just fine for Bon Iver, and the music here occasionally captures similar magic. As background music — for an elegant cocktail party, say — it just might be perfect (yes, the hipsters will love it).
Better, then, to let listeners absorb the message right there on the surface on their own terms — that this promising young artist surely has more intriguing explorations up his sleeve. (AP)
By Pablo Gorondi