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MUSIC REVIEWS

New & Noteworthy

by Andrew Elias


Melody Gardot
Live in Europe

(Verve)

Fans of Melody Gardot know her as the consummate singer, one who seamlessly bridges the boundaries between pop and soul and jazz. Her highly acclaimed recordings exude contemporary class, a combination of sultry vocals, intelligent songs and first-rate musicianship. Her concerts are legendary.

Live in Europe presents Gardot with a small band (often only Gardot and stand-up bass, which is brilliant throughtout the album), making for an intimate performance that features her fantastic voice. Not that the instrumentation is unimportant. In fact, the band gets the opportunity to really stretch out and experiment, with most songs extended longer than recorded versions. A highlight of the album is March for Mingus, which is more than ten minutes longer here.

Other highlights include a rousing performance of ‘The Rain’ and her hits, ‘Our Love Is Easy,’ ‘Baby, I’m a Fool’ and ‘My One and Only Thrill,’ as well as her Latin-tinged take on ‘Over the Rainbow.’

Very much a unique artist, both in sound and style, Gardot will quickly win over fans of Adele, Alicia Keys, Diana Krall, Nora Jones, Cassandra Wilson, and Lady Gaga unfamiliar with her. Live in Europe, at more than 100 minutes long, is an excellent introduction to the range of her repertoire and the depths of her soul.


Bettye LaVette
Things Have Changed

(Verve)

What happens when you match Betty LaVette’s powerhouse voice with Bob Dylan’s powerful lyrics? You get greatness. Covering songs that span Dylan’s career, from the early-1960s (‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ and ‘Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind’) to the 21st century (‘Ain’t Talkin’ and the title track), from the well-known (‘The Times They Are A-Changin’) to the obscure (‘Political World’ from Oh, Mercy, ‘Seeing the Real You At Last’ from Empire Burlesque and ‘Going, Going, Gone’ from Planet Waves), and even from Dylan’s ‘gospel’ years (‘Do Right To Me, Baby (Do Unto Others)’ from Slow Train Coming).

LaVette has been making hit records since the mid-1960s, but has enjoyed recent, newfound popularity and appreciation for her ballsy, bluesy style of funky soul music. Backed by a top-tier studio band, and helped by special guests Keith Richards (‘Political World’), Trombone Shorty (‘What Was It You Wanted’), and Dylan’s one-time guitarist, Larry Campbell, Lavette blasts through the songs, singing with the weathered soul of a veteran entertainer while allowing the listener to hear the genius of Dylan’s poetry clearly.

Some things have changed, but Betty LaVette’s ability to make raucous, rockin’ soul music thankfully has not. At age 72, she is better than ever.


Sunny War
With the Sun

(Hen House)

After listening to Sunny War’s new album for just a minute you’ll be thinking, ‘Oh, this is different.’ After another minute or so you’ll be saying, ‘Oh, this is good.’ It might be her heartbreaking vocals, a delicate balance of vulnerability and toughness, or it might be her incredible and original guitar picking. Either way, you’ll be enjoying a bright new star on the Americana music scene. The album is a strong collection of bluesy folk music, usually just War playing acoustic guitar, sometimes sprinkled effectively with added strings (the gorgeous lament, ‘Gotta Live It’), fiddle (an oddly upbeat jig, ‘Til I’m Dead’), or tasteful electric guitar (‘Come Back’).

Somewhat in the tradition of Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, and Rhiannon Giddens, Sunny War is a new and unique voice worth hearing — as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. The opening track asks the question, How would you know you had a heart / If it wasn’t broken? If this album doesn’t have at least one song that breaks yours, perhaps you don’t.


The Wailin’ Jennys
Fifteen

(Red House)

The Wailin’ Jennys — Ruth Moody, Heather Masse, Nicky Mehta — are an acclaimed Canadian group that has twice received the Juno award (substantially the Canadian Grammy) for Best Roots & Traditional Album of the Year. On Fifteen, their beautiful three-part harmonies wrap around a collection of songs they have performed over the past 15 years, as well as a few other personal favorites.

There is no better tribute to the late, great Tom Petty than the Jennys’ cover of his ‘Wildflowers.’ And their versions of Emmylou Harris’ beautiful ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ and Warren Zevon’s heartbreaking ‘Keep Me in Your Heart’ would make them proud. Songs by the likes of Dolly Parton, Patty Griffin, and Hank Williams also show the reverence the Jennys have for these songs and showcase the extraordinary skills they have as singers. Yet it might be their take on Paul Simon’s ‘Love Me Like a Rock,’ a surprising choice, and sung acapella, that stands out.


I’m With Her
See You Around

(Rounder)

I’m With Her is sort of an Americana super-group, made up of Sara Watkins (founding member of the band Nickel Creek) on violin, Sarah Jarosz on banjo, mandolin, guitar, and Aoife Donovan (of the band Crooked Still) on guitar. See You Around, their debut together, showcases their amazing three-part harmonies and virtuosic musicianship. And the songwriting ain’t bad, either — the title track, ‘Game to Lose’ and ‘Ain’t That Fine’ being the best of the bunch. A great version of Gillian Welch’s wistful ‘Hundred Miles’ closes the album.

If you like gorgeous harmonies and incredible fiddling and mandolin playing, you are sure to enjoy See You Around, and will soon confess that ‘you’re with them.’ •


March-April 2018

Melody Gardot’s music
seamlessly spans the
boundaries between pop
and soul and jazz.




Sunny War’s bluesy folk music
is making her a bright star
on the American music scene.