Album Review Saturdays 2023 Episode 26

The singer-songwriters shine very bright on Album Review Saturdays this week! The elder states-woman of blues rock and R&B reaches the sincerest pinnacle with her latest, while what might be her protege (to some degree in the field of rock-R&B blues) takes on a more flashy, catchy mix to continue her trifecta of first releases. Both are very well done records, they grip in different ways but have a flavor that’s worthy of their skills as musicians, writers, and female vocalists. The male in the group has hit an emotionally wrenching home run that fits every fibre of human being, and is absorbing in a degree that is very very touching and hard to explain unless you’re “in it up to here.” Dazzlingly different are these records worthy of your attention and ear. Let Album Review Saturdays sing-songwriter prospectus begin.

See Mark Kuligowski’s review plus two additional reviews on the YouTube version, by clicking this as a link.

Joan Osborne – Nobody Owns You

There’s always been something about the vocal, this woman’s work blues and whispy-rasp blues crooning.  There’s depth to her voice and how it sometimes hangs a bit, rich, sometimes thick, and sometimes even biting.  On her latest album, Nobody Owns You, which is very rich in the musical depth and production, she’s really connecting with the songs and vocally swaying in and out of surrounding musicianship.  It feels like she is actually having fun, not struggling to write what the radio wants or a hit, but speaking and singing from the heart and mind together.  Something that those first records always felt like.

Her vocals on this record are the best recorded and separated by track than I can remember experiencing in quite some time.  Joan Osborne’s style is the lead and the lyrics are engaging enough to hold every track.  Her unique weak-ish (for lack of a better definition in vocal sound) finishes to poetic versus is more vibrant and prickly in this recording, and it might be what’s making it so enticing.  The notes she can always hang, but it’s that wicked finish that had been missing, and it’s present in a lot of songs like the spaghetti western motif ‘Time of the Gun’ as well in a different capacity in the plucky ‘The Smallest Trees’ and the touching ‘Child of God,’ which probably showcases this the best.

The album has wonderful guitar ranges, steel pedal, and acoustic, which are a rich accompaniment to the song writing.  If there was anything Nobody Owns You might suffer from is the low-key happiness.  It has a lullaby, melancholy that seems like it might have been better sometimes served by some gospel blues, which I thought was coming in ‘Tower of Joy.’  Reflective song writing can be very subjective, so I always love it when it’s vocalist can deliver the drama and enlightening moments, and Joan Osborne is always in that pulpit.  She has put this “in the world right now,” and I feel the timing is well placed, but the question is, will the right people be listening and expecting this ‘Lifeline’ of music, or will they be reaching for the angst and pitch records?  My wife and I will be seeing her on September 26th at the Riviera Theatre with Jill Sobule, and I can tell you that we’ve been longing to see her for a very long time!  Nobody Owns You is a very worthy addition to her excellent catalog.

The Band

  • Joan Osborne – Vocals, Guitar
  • Ben Rice – Banjo (also produced the record)
  • Jack Petruzelli – Baritone Guitar
  • Dave Sherman – Piano
  • Cindy Cashdollar – Lap Steel
  • Rachel Yamagata and Catherine Russell – Backing Vocals
  • Jill Sobule is also featured on “Child of God” and “Lifeline.”

Nobody Owns You Tracklisting

  1. “I Should’ve Danced More”
  2. “Nobody Owns You”
  3. “So Many Airports”
  4. “Woman’s Work”
  5. “The Smallest Trees”
  6. “Time of the Gun”
  7. “Dig a Little Ditch”
  8. “Secret Wine”
  9. “Child of God”
  10. “Tower of Joy”
  11. “Lifeline”
  12. “Great American Cities”

 

ZZ Ward – Dirty Shine

“I’m all right, and I got a good feeling.” Yep, think that sort of sets the tone for this blues-rock soul up-temp album from Zsuzsanna Eva Ward, known cooly — like her records — as ZZ Ward.  We’re still in the same category, genre of music, this one’s taking on heavy production, bigger sounds, and grooves that could pop up in the country-rock dance club.  ZZ Ward again is the lead, her voice has that fun rhythm and blues with great pitch and range that fits her fabulously.  She can sing it, talk-it, or belt it, and she spares nothing.  Neither does the band!  There’s some great bass, playful hidden western licks, and modern movements of Bishop Briggs, K Flay, hint of Pretty Reckless and sprinkle of Winehouse.

‘Friends Like These’ a perfect example of the slam and slithering genre snaking style applied cleverly to her song-writing and delivery.  It’s over the top.  It’s ride or die with bitches and hoes, but more so it’s going to have you straight up paying attention and feeling the slide guitar and purposeful, ripped up rhythms.  You come to understand the cover shot, as the record continues its slight western future bent pace, and there’s some great special guest appearances like Aloe Blacc (from the late 2022 released, ‘Tin Cups’) and more importantly at the production helm that really is where this record shines brightest, including the ridiculous hamonified hip-hop slanged ‘OverdoZZe!’

This blues-rock bender is exactly that, an overdose of all things we just love!  We’ve got cool guitar solos, stomp worthy clapping, soulful funky tracking, and a charismatic crazy blues singer-songwriter at the helm — or in this case on a mechanically demented hell-bound horse?!  Oh yeah, doesn’t that sound awesome!?  It should, as this record does just all of that and even has a few tricks up its Wild Wild Westian sleeves (picture her as Will Smith’s character armed with a harmonica and the best wireless mic contraption you can buy).   Don’t let her down, go to her website and have a bourbon and saddle up with your best headset and get your Dirty Shine on!

The Band

  • ZZ Ward – Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Harmonica (at the time of posting we did not have the physical copy of album for credits)
  • Guests:  Aloe Blacc, Vic Mensa, and Jean Deaux

Dirty Shine Tracklisting

  1. Welcome to Dirty Shine
  2. Ride or Die (feat. Vic Mensa)
  3. Fadeaway
  4. On One (feat. Jean Deaux)
  5. Slow Hum Hymnal
  6. Dead or Alive
  7. Forget About Us
  8. Friends Like These
  9. Baby Don’t
  10. North Bank Blues
  11. OverdoZZe
  12. Cut Me Loose
  13. Tin Cups (feat. Aloe Blacc)
  14. Don’t Let Me Down

 

Noah Gundersen – If This Is the End

The sign on the album says shiny happy people may not need apply.  That is probably correct.  But, if you were to pass this one up, because of the title and the emotional depth and depression thematics, you might actually be missing out on one of the most honest and impassioned song writings of the year.  From the lead, title track through, If This Is the End, is a lyric listener’s dream.  You can’t turn this on in your kitchen and start cooking.  You can’t throw this one amidst your daily routine.  You need to sit down, listen, plug in.  The connection made from Noah’s daring truthfulness and stoic delivery is truly a powerful audio experience.  Again, like the two prior albums I’ve reviewed, Noah’s vocal is the lead.  While it’s much more sparse than the two female’s mentioned above, it is utterly gripping and beautifully sung to deliver the desperate goods within his word choices and contemplative structure.  I did not get this in my first listen — why?  Because I was trying to listen to it in the background — it won’t work that way.  I plead with you — relisten.

The lachrymose feeling crept in so fast, as ‘Better Days’ just came crashing into my soul.  It was some of the exact words and despair that I have fought to this very day.  I have an immediate connection to Noah’s plea, his wonderment, his disappointment, and his position of self doubt.  These are hard things to shake.  It’s self-absorbing, while we realize how destructive it is to the people that care the most about us — around us.  The effect of the ferocious speed and demands thrown upon us is so universal to most people (those that have to or have had to “make a living”).  I’m wondering just how many listeners out in the music-multiverse should actually connect with Noah Gundersen?  It should be millions.

He knows depression.  This I am certain of (considering his lead off track for Lover album was ‘Robin Williams’), but it is a beautiful, educated depression that has a sincerity that’s engaging, provocative, as well as promisingly hopeful somehow.  I leave you with this quote from Noah in a recent article that kind of might just sum up how to digest an album of this nature, or why it hits me as hard as it does.  “My hope is that these songs will find you in the ways you need,” adds Gundersen. “Here’s another message in a bottle – I hope it washed up on your shore at just the right time.” [Americansongwriter.com article    This album is a continuation of a song-writer very self aware, but aware that what he’s feeling and experiencing and struggling with is real beyond himself, which is the gift and salvation he has in his career, and I hope he knows the beauty of that.  If This Is the End is right up there (for fans of Noah Gundersen) with Carry the Ghost and should be in your collection of Best of 2023.

PS:  I know we’re really nothing much here at Beyond Your Radio, but Noah, if you happen to read this, I truly appreciate your album, your talent, and if there was ever an opportunity to have you on one of our shows to share your musical insight — I would be honored.  Thank you.

The Band

  • Noah Gundersen – Vocals, Piano
  • Harrison Whitford – Guitar
  • Tyler Carroll – Bass
  • Dave Dalton – Keyboards
  • Abby Gundersen – Violin, Vocals
  • Sean Lane – Drums, Percussion, Sounds
  • Andy D. Park (co-composer on Better Days)

 

If This Is the End Tracklisting

  1. If This Is the End
  2. Swim
  3. Better Days
  4. Moment Like This
  5. Everything Is New
  6. Painted Blue
  7. Haunted House
  8. Headlights
  9. The Future
  10. Terrible Freedom
  11. Love Is Blind
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