Seven new friends… with no order or preference, these are some thoughts relating to what makes them so special and worthy of your time and attention.
Toni Braxton – ‘Sex & Cigarettes’
Toni is a legend. Her eighth solo record is another exquisite collection – completely gorgeous. It is an exploration of love, the complexities of relationships and the fallout when that connection breaks down. This is an album from a woman who knows and is forced to embrace the darker side of love, the longing, the despair, regret and the unknown. As ever, it is the vocal that truly binds this collection – Toni’s intensely impassioned, smoky vocal underpins the emotion carried in the lyrics and the result is masterful beauty. Production too derives a note, blending contemporary sounds against a timeless template.
Highlights: ‘Long As I Live’, ‘Sorry’, ‘Deadwood’, ‘Coping’
All Saints – ‘Testament’
During an interview on BBC Radio 2 when premiering the magnificent lead single ‘Love Lasts Forver’, Nicole Appleton referred to the then unreleased album ‘Testament’ as a “masterpiece” and she was absolutely right. Building on their triumphant return with the excellent album ‘Red Flag’, All Saints have created their finest record to date. Rather than chasing hits or trends ‘Testament’ presents a bold spectrum, a raft of ideas that push their unique sound forward further still. The songwriting is on point, the production is sleek and the vocals are irresistible. This is a mighty set of songs, an album that offers wisdom and inspiration.
Highlights: ‘Love Lasts Forever’, ‘After All’, ‘Three Four’, ‘Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder’
Lucie Silvas – ‘E.G.O.’
At the time of release, I wrote this on my Instagram page…
What a record! Everything about #EGO is a triumph! It’s loud and bombastic yet tender and sincere. Lucie’s shape shifting vocal will rouse the spirit with its soulful tones that bite.
Lyrics that cut through to stop the heart dead, production from Bonfires that is vivid and compelling. Even the @battletapes studio where it was cut adds energy and drive into the mix. Utterly thrilling.
Since that point, the album has continued to provide such joy and comfort. It is a testament to the quality of the work because it sounds so tight and fresh under the weight of repeated listens. ‘E.G.O.’ is spirited, arresting and full of truth and beauty.
Highlights: ‘Kite’, ‘Black Jeans’, ‘First Rate Heartbreak’, ‘Changed My Mind’
ELIZA – ‘A Real Romantic’
‘A Real Romantic’ is an elegant collection that effortlessly fuses the sound of live instrumentation with loops, crossing and borrowing inspiration from jazz, retro soul and RnB lines to create a hybrid sound that is classic and timeless yet contemporary and innovative. The vocal arrangements and delivery are equally thrilling, they slink and exude class. ELIZA’s writing is as ever accessible and creative – the way in which songs are structured appear related to poetry. This is an exciting and hugely satisfying body of work.
Highlights: ‘Game’, ‘Livid’, ‘Alone & Unafriad’, ‘All Night’
KT Tunstall – ‘WAX’
The second part in KT’s soul, body and mind concept album trilogy is concerned with the ‘body’, and so the album utilises the guitar, the garage band urgency to create a record that makes you physically move, whilst cleverly enabling the listener to be moved emotionally and spiritually. The sound is big and it has everything, sing-a-long hooks, instrumental breaks, rousing choruses set against wistful reflections… even the flute makes a couple of appearances (Iook out for these, they are SERIOUS). The tight production and jaunty sounds across the album are set against lyrics that pose questions about the self, life and the interconnectedness of society. It is a defiant, unapologetic and truly uplifting record.
Highlights: ‘Human Being’, ‘The Mountain’, ‘Dark Side Of Me’, ‘In This Body’
Tracey Thorn – ‘Record’
Tracey described ‘Record’ as comprising “nine feminist bangers” and she is absolutely right. This is an optimistic pop album of varying shades and textures. This format fits the lyrical narrative of the album perfectly as it documents the stages of her life by vividly recounting the experiences that shaped her pathway – childhood, adolescence into adulthood and motherhood. One of the most intriguing aspects of Tracey’s work is her ability to write what might be considered taboo (by the mainstream) and she does so with such intelligent warmth and self-awareness. The vocal throughout is sublime, the wistful tone magnifies the meaning of the lyrics with such beauty. ‘Record’ is magnificent and spellbinding.
Highlights: ‘Air, ‘Smoke’, ’Sister’, Dancefloor’
Gabrielle – ‘Under My Skin’
Gabrielle’s first full studio album in eleven years once again demonstrated her unparalleled ability to write insightful, meaningful lyrics of hope and understanding. Gabs is an everywomanman – the stories in her music are personal yet are relatable because they are shared experiences. It is these honest and truthful observations, the sharing of thoughts and feelings that make ‘Under My Skin’ such a triumph. There is a joyful celebratory tone across the album, the songs fizz with life. The downtempo moments are gorgeous, offering comfort and strength in that unique way only Gabrielle can. Glorious.
Highlights: ‘Shine’, ‘Signs’, Won’t Back Down’, ’Show Me’
Here are sixteen further albums that have also provided joy this year, they are also worthy of your time and come highly recommended.