The smartest thing Emmylou Harris did on “All I Intended To Be” was to invite musicians she had success with in the past to record with her. Dolly Parton, Buddy Miller, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and long-time producer Brian Ahern all contribute to this back-to-basics, tranquil country/folk effort. Harris wrote half of the songs on the album, including “Gold” a lovely, waltzing lament with harmonies from Parton and Vince Gill and “Take That Ride” which finds her contemplating her own longevity. Throughout her career, Harris has always excelled at mining the work of other songwriters to find the gems that suit her to a tee. Here, she records “All That You Have Is Your Soul” by Tracy Chapman, offering sage advice about not being “tempted by the shiny apple…Hunger only for a world of truth” and Merle Haggard’s “Kern River”, a sad tale about a dear friend who lost his life in the waters. Harris turns to one of her favorite auteurs, Patty Griffin, for the track “Moon Song”, a heartbreaking song of constant longing. The album is one of Harris’ gentlest and wraps up nicely with the vintage traditional sounding “Beyond The Great Divide”.
Elvis Costello returns to his rock roots on “Momofuku”, curiously named in honor of Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant noodles. Okay?! Seems Costello rounded up a bunch of musicians, added water and came up with a dozen tasty tracks. “American Gangster Time” is vintage mid-70’s Costello thanks to a rollicking organ and rich lyrical content. “My Three Sons” will bring a tear to your eye as Costello, the father, lovingly sings of his offspring. Among the musicians joining the three original Imposters are Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo and Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis, who contributes harmony vocals throughout “Momofuku”. It’s quite nice to hear a female ride along vocally with Costello, especially on the saucy rocker “Go Away” and “Song With Rose”, a gentle tune he co-wrote with, fittingly enough, Rosanne Cash. Loretta Lynn contributed the sly title “Pardon Me Madam, My Name Is Eve” for the second to last song. Nice to know he and Loretta share a similar sense of humor. And nice to hear these songs. Costello had sworn he was through with recording and, more precisely, the “nonsense” that is the music industry. Lucky for us, he rediscovered the joy of making good music with good people.
The debut album from Welsh singer Duffy (nee Aimee Duffy) is a 60’s pop soul gem. Awash in orchestral violins, sparkling electric guitars and a voice that hints at Dusty Springfield and Ronnie Spector, “Rockferry” is classic from start to finish. With her raspy, sweet, sexy voice, it’s hard not to hear the comparison to other girl singers the UK press has dubbed the “New Amys”, as in Winehouse. Which is fine. The world could stand to have more exceptionally talented singers with, what Duffy sings so appropriately on the title cut, “a bag of songs and a heavy heart”. The comparison to Amy Winehouse is most vivid on “Syrup & Honey”, a languid and sparse instrumental that showcases Duffy’s emotive chops as she demands more time with her man. I first thought the track “Mercy” was a cover of a classic Al Green song, what with its groovy bassline and cries of “begging you for mercy”. Nope. It was written by Duffy, along with one of her writing partners Bernard Butler, former guitarist for the British band Suede. Having already hit number one on the UK charts, “Rockferry” is a too short, 10-song disc that’s a summertime listening must have.
Martha Wainwright should get honors for one of the best album titles ever! The wickedly clever Wainwright returns with her sophomore effort that’s overflowing with tales of love gone wrong and self-doubt. Songs such as “You Cheated Me”, “I Wish I Were” and the title track, well, the title says it all. On “Niger River”, Wainwright’s deep, dark poetry comes through with lines like “I’m caged in chains of my own sad nature”. Sounding like Kate Bush if she ever hit the Great White Way, Wainwright gathers a talented group of musicians (including her brother Rufus, Pete Townsend and Donald Fagen) to back up her melancholia. At times, she’s big and booming (“Jimi”) or girlishly ethereal (“Tower Song”). Whatever she sings, it’s weighted down with richness and intelligence. Covers of The Eurythmics “Love Is A Stranger” and Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” round out the 13-song disc.
Beaming from the cover wearing vintage aviator frames and a slight afro, it’s as if no time has passed since the Reverend Al Green first graced the world with his glorious music. “Lay It Down” is classic soul that was conceived as a project for Green to join forces with younger contemporaries like Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and Questlove of The Roots, who serves as one of the album’s producers. His duet with Rae on “Take Your Time” is a deliberately, slow-as-molasses love song about getting out of life’s fast lane. “Stay With Me (By The Sea)” with John Legend finds the younger Legend matching the Soul legend’s smooth R&B delivery note for note.
Although he’s the son of political alt country rocker Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle sounds more like the progeny of Hank Williams or Jimmy Reed. On this, his debut disc, Earle offers up vintage country leanings and sentimental longings far beyond his 25 years. He gets dark on “Lone Pine Hill”, empathetic on “What Do You Do When Your Lonesome” and rolls out classic country on “Hard Livin’” and “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving”. The final cut, a heart breaker called “Far Away In Another Town”, wraps up this admirable introduction to Earle’s exceptional talent.
Louisville’s “It” band of the moment delivers a wonderfully dense assortment of 70s musical stylings while contemplating the world’s perceived evils. “Evil Urges” is at once ambitious, warm, raucous and brilliant. Stand out tracks include “Thank You Too!”, a song of heartfelt love and sincere gratitude, “Two Halves”, which features bits of Beach Boys-like harmonies, and the southern rocker “I’m Amazed”. Lead singer Jim James has a voice that’s the perfect anodyne for what ails you and uses it to its loveliest on the simplest and sweetest track, “Librarian”, an ode to loving someone from afar and how vanity could cause one’s own undoing.
It’s been five years since Van Morrison’s last album of original material and even longer since he released one for which he wrote each and every song on. “Keep It Simple” contains 11 self-penned songs featuring his signature laid back, tender voice that’s as strong as ever. This most famous son of Belfast delivers tender ballads (“Love Come Back“), gospel/country (“Song Of Home”) and timeless soul (“How Can A Poor Boy?” and “Don’t Go To Nightclubs Anymore”). Morrison’s voice is as brilliant and emotive as it was on his classic “Astral Weeks” and is a must for his most devoted fan.