Willie Nelson/First Rose of Spring, Legacy Recordings/Sony Music
Two weeks after Bob Dylan released his 39th studio album Rough And Rowdy Ways, another old-timer Willie Nelson released his 70th. On the 11-track, First Rose of Spring, country legend Willie Nelson is in great form, showing no signs that he’s 87 years old. That voice is still rich.
Though the flavour is a vintage country, with its nasal vocal twang and trademark acoustic guitars and violins, most songs could pass off as easy listening gems. Producer Buddy Cannon provides a lush tone, beginning with the opening title track that talks of first love.
There are some absolute beauties here. Toby Keith’s Don’t Let the Old Man In is classic country, with its beautiful string arrangements and steel guitar. On Charles Stapleton’s Our Song, which has echoes of Frank Sinatra’s My Way Nelson sings, “I need you like a singer needs a song”.
We Are The Cowboys is full-on Americana, and Yesterday When I Was Young is an intense and autobiographical piece that talks of his achievements in life.
“The time has come for me to pay for yesterday when I was young”, he sings to conclude a marvellous set of songs.
Rating: 9/ 10
Lianne La Havas/ Lianna Le Havas, Neo-Soul/ Warner UK
The music of UK-based singer Lianne La Havas has been categorised Neo-Soul, which is a 21st-century blend of soul and rhythm n’ blues. Other artists in this category are Eric Benet, India.arie and Alicia Keys, though the sub-genre is sometimes traced back to Sade and her ilk.
This is the half-Greek, half-Jamaican’s third studio outing, and it’s interesting she goes in for a self-titled one. It comes five years after her album Blood, and having gone through romantic upheavals, it ends being very personal and heartfelt. The problem is that despite some brilliant singing and the cleverly-worded opener Bittersweet, it sounds monotonous in the beginning.
There are a few amazing tracks like the hook-filled Can’t Fight and the fabulously-arranged pop tune Please Don’t Make Me Cry, which is capable of causing a mental loop. A version of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes is at best an addition to Havas’s catalogue. And though one can’t find any technical fault with the album, one wished it was more catchy on the ear.
Rating: 7/ 10
Jessie Ware/ What’s Your Pleasure?/ Dance-Pop/ Virgin-Universal Music
Of late, the 1980s club-style seems to be back in vogue, be they disco sounds or straight-ahead pop melodies. We heard a lot of that earlier this year on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and The Weeknd’s After Hours.
On her album What’s Your Pleasure? British singer Jessie Ware takes the formula to another level by focusing on early 1980s disco, adding a bit of 1990s house for variety. From the opening number Spotlight through the title track and Ooh La La, this is perfect music for the dance floor.
The sound relies heavily on synths, bass and rhythm loops. The lyrics are the typical dancefloor material, just good enough to hum along without getting serious.
There are some killer tracks, like the catchy Save A Kiss, the melodic closer Remember Where You Are and the funk bass-driven Read My Lips, where Ware sings, “If you wanna know the truth, read my lips”.
And the best thing is that the songs cut across two generations.
Rating: 8/ 10
Kansas/ The Absence of Presence/ Progressive Rock/ InsideOutMusic
Rock fans would remember American band Kansas for its iconic 1977 track Dust In The Wind and fan-friendly Carry On Wayward Son. They’ve been around almost 45 years, and despite a few line-up changes, have kept churning out stuff.
The Kansas sound is very American-flavoured progressive rock, with hints of country and constant theme changes. The violin is used regularly, giving its music a distinctness. The band’s 16th album The Absence of Presence pretty much follows the same formula, and as such, the boys play safe.
Ronnie Platt’s lead vocals merge wonderfully with the instruments, whether it’s the eight-minute prog opening title track or the ballad Memories Down the Lin, where he sings “Send me memories down the line, let them know we tried”.
The twin guitars (Rich Williams and Zak Rizvi), keyboards (Tom Brislin) and violins (David Brigsdale) coordinate well.
The Song the River Sang has a Deep Purple kind of energy and keyboard improvisations.
Though the tracks Circus Of Illusion and Animals on the Roof are too routine, this is overall a good showcase of the Kansas style.
Though they have had only a couple of memorable hits, the band has always been highly listenable.
Rating: 8/ 10