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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.
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Musically, it has been a strange year – the ways in which we consume music, what is deemed to be popular, the charts and the way in which they operate have shifted into otherness.
Some great albums appeared this year, the latest Kelly Clarkson record is really superb, Tove Lo’s surprise album is a delight and Bleachers shone across his second solo outing. St Vincent released her most accessible record and Beth Ditto unveiled an array of sounds and ideas within her debut.
Music has always been a great joy but for lovers of music, it has become trickier to source this year. The focus in choosing these six records was clearly about how we felt about them, what they taught or offered.
The six below (in NO particular order of preference), are not only the six finest albums of the year, but six of the finest you will be likely to encounter ever, ever!
Loreen – Ride
With ‘Ride’, Loreen has produced an opus that is achingly beautiful, it broods with longing intensity and revels in the ethereal, sensual and atmospheric.
The distorted and ambiguous vocal is unmistakable – a beacon throughout the ten tracks as it transforms tone, shape and colour to reflect the lyrical narrative and the longing emotion felt – Loreen uses every aspect of her gift and it is astounding to encounter. The slow burning, lo-fi sounds mapped against vivid, cinematic string arrangements are thrillingly elegant. These are modern day torch songs that speak of yearning, need and death – it is refreshingly honest and open.
‘Ride’ is an unmatched beauty and it boldly showcases the sound of an artist creatively fluid and enriched by her freedom, embracing the limitless possibilities of her enrapturing talent. This album is EVERYTHING.
Sheryl Crow – Be Myself
‘Be Myself’ is a social commentary about modern values and perceptions of reality. Across the eleven tracks, Sheryl explores her own place in the world as a result of the advancement and decline in a seemingly self obsessed, egocentric society.
Sheryl’s vocal radiates warmth throughout and as is typical for a Sheryl Crow record, there is bite, urgency and insight in the lyrics. She liberally spreads the iconic lyrical phrases across the set (‘Did you ever see a man have a heart attack? It’ll open your eyes and stop you in your tracks’), these punctuate the verses which are set against big, sing-a-long choruses. The varied production styles and techniques ooze class and timelessness.
There is genuine tenderness and affection in tracks such as ‘Love Will Save The Day’, which offers comfort and hope “Feels like a boat that is lost, being tossed out on the waves. Grab my hand if you can, hold it tightly, and be brave, for a time, time can change”. The raw vocal and distortions on ‘Heartbeart Away’ will rouse the spirit. It’s also a fun, playful, tongue-in-cheek record, which is most evident in tracks such as ‘Woo Woo’ or ‘Grow Up’. ‘Be Myself’ is Sheryl at her most present, focused and arresting.
Steps – Tears Of The Dancefloor
We all know that nostalgia is for losers – stop looking backwards, it really wasn’t that great! ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ represents Steps in the present and showcases a band together and strong. With this album, Steps have produced a focused, concept record with a clear sense of direction and purpose and which holds together as their strongest, most cohesive work to date. It’s modern, effortlessly classy and retains the groups knack for producing high quality, infectiously catchy pop.
Faye, Lisa, Lee and H share vocal duties and use the opportunity to showcase their impressive abilities, naturally Clare’s powerhouse vocal, soars and intrigues throughout.
The musical journey explores the pain of love that ends and subsequent heartbreak such as ‘Happy’, ‘Story Of A Heart’, ‘Glitter and Gold’ to finding your feet again with tracks ‘Firefly’, ‘No More Tears On The Dancefloor’, ‘I Will Love Again’, being prime examples – it is sorrowful yet joyful at the same time and dancing your tears away has never sounded so fabulous.
Forget your perceptions and embrace this record – it will bring you the greatest happiness and freedom in doing so.
Nelly Furtado – The Ride
‘The Ride’ is a record of liberation with Nelly in full control. As a result, she has revealed her most personal, bare and autobiographical record to date. The lyrics are informed from experiences that have shaped her and her writing transcend so these observations result in a record of openness, acceptance, being true whilst honouring your own individual self.
It is a seemingly sad record – there are lyrics, aspects of delivery and production flourishes which will break your spirit but ultimately make it stronger; ‘Tap Dancing’ will destroy you – it is forlorn with a hopeful sincerity. ‘Carnival Games’ cleverly inspires the need for questioning what you encounter and value. ‘Phoenix’ is hypnotising, sounding like a prayer or promise. Whilst ‘Cold Hard Truth’, ‘Flatline’ and ‘Right Road’ offer a unflinching, unapologetic focused attitude.
This is a pop record at heart whilst the Jon Congleton production adds a stylistic hue and it is a joyous connection. ‘The Ride’ endures – it is an album you will return to and often in order to glean knowledge or gain understanding from its expressive tales, wisdoms and truths.
The Sound Of Arrows – Stay Free
“I believe in you, I believe in me, I believe there is so much life to see and I don’t know yet who I want to be, so I’ll stay free”
…these lyrics are evidence enough of what sort of almighty triumph this album is.
Sonically, the duo explore a varied landscape – the grandeur of strings add depth to 90s house, trip hop beats and synth led pop. Thematically, the album documents snapshots of feelings which explore pain, fear and self doubt alongside the need for individuality, being true to yourself and never compromising. It is a wonderful exploration of the complexities of being alive – the stories told transcend, so they offer succour in the here and now but will still be a true friend, relevant in the years ahead.
‘Don’t Worry’ and ‘Hold On’ are poignant, heartfelt anthems borne from life experience both of which contain example of what are surely the saddest yet uplifting lyrics ever, “don’t worry, give it one more day and we will be okay”. With such uplifting melancholy throughout, the band have created the most beautiful album.
Nerina Pallot – Stay Lucky
Nerina’s self produced record is a elegantly gorgeous affair and ranks as her finest musical offering to date. There is beauty and majesty within the writing, the stories told can be deconstructed in varying ways and each listen reveals fresh perspective. There is a sweeping, grandeur to the songs which have a timeless, classic and enigmatic quality. Similarly, the multi-layered instrumentation and arrangements are incredible and captivating. ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ is as broken, tender and bittersweet as the title suggests, ‘Man Didn’t Walk On The Moon’ is spine-tingling, sun-soaked gorgeousness whilst the strings across ‘Bring Him Fire’ add urgency to match the passion within the lyric. The album is bookmarked with songs that reference nature, and this cleverly gives the record a sense of purpose and completion.
Nerina’s vocal is supreme throughout and is an instrument captivating and unafraid, and which makes ‘Stay Lucky’ such an irresistible listen.
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Having released one of the finest albums of her career ‘Stay Lucky’, the divine Nerina Pallot heads out on an extensive tour in support of her new material.
The dates and venues below, are on general sale now…
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Wasn’t Louise an amazing popstar?
Yes, is the correct response. In the mid-nineties Louise was the biggest solo female pop star – a regular fixture in the charts, dominating music TV channels with her sultry pop style.
Her last musical outing was in 2003, when she charted with ‘Pandora’s Kiss’. Marriage, family life and kids combined with TV documentaries, presenting and modelling gave way to her music and as the years passed and trends changed, any sort of musical output from Louise seemed a pipe dream for fans.
So the recent announcement of a now sold-out in minutes live date in London in late December, give rises to a series of shows across the UK in the new year which is super great.
Get your tickets and relive all those pure pop feelings once again.
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With two new singles recently released (‘Just For The Record’, ‘My Old Habits’) and an album set to be recorded later this summer, Lucie Silvas has now announced a UK tour for November.
Dates and venues below, with tickets on sale now. What a joy this will be…
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With a new album entitled ‘Stay Lucky’, set for release on 13th October, the sublime Nerina Pallot has announced three live dates to promote the record.
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Following the announcement of a new single and album, Martine McCutcheon has now revealed details of her first ever tour.
Martine’s single ‘Say I’m Not Alone’ continues to be a what the youth might refer to as an ‘earworm’ – the big chorus, unapologetic attitude and rousing vocals – it’s clear to hear why it is garnered such support already.
The single is out now, whilst the album ‘Lost And Found’ is available from 11th August.
Martine’s tour takes place in the autumn. Dates and venues below, with tickets on sale now:
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In celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest, which takes place tonight in Kiyv… let’s revisit the ultimate and finest entry that the UK has ever sent.
‘Lonely Symphony’ is one of THE best songs ever – Frances’ sweepingly effortless soaring vocal, her cool rock n’ roll style swagger, the dramatic arrangement and production alongside the intensity of the performance, made it one truly remarkable, unique and unforgettable.
Here is the version performed during the Song For Europe selection evening… Frances is unstoppable here, it is a thrill and pleasure to witness such majesty and grace.
Ravishingly exquisite in all forms…
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The queen of all things, Beverley Knight has been forced to postpone her upcoming UK tour dates – sad face :(
A statement made across Beverley’s social media channels reads:
“Beverley Knight’s I ❤ Soulsville Tour dates, scheduled for the latter half of June 2017, have been postponed until October. This is due to Beverley having to undergo a medical procedure later this month, following diagnosis of Uterine Fibroids, a common condition amongst all women, more prevalent and often more aggressive in women of Afro-Caribbean descent. Doctors have advised surgery should take place as soon as possible to avoid escalation of complications. Beverley will need complete rest for several weeks after surgery in order to recover, after which she should return to full fitness. The dates have been postponed until October 1st-18th this year- see details below. All tickets will be valid for new dates or may be refunded at point of purchase. Beverley is very disappointed not be able to tour in June as planned but is looking forward to seeing everyone in October.”
Sending enormous love, gratitude and best wishes for a speedy recovery Beverley.
Below are details of the rescheduled dates:
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