Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 17

Who’s afraid of little old me?  Something we small people in the grand scheme of things can always feel, right?  I mean, Beyond Your Radio, it’s not like the giants of the music information arena need to be fearful of what we do and say.  We’re doing this out of pure love and addiction to music!  Our chances of taking over the world of music information and the ears of the masses from little old, four time Super Bowl losing, two Stanley Cup losses (13 straight season without a playoff experience), taxed and worked to death Upstate New York are probably up there with having our first album’s music multiverse queen wanting to show up for an interview on our YouTube Channel!  It’s Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 17, and we’re taking on the new album from the chosen one.  And since it seems song-writing and delivery are the landscape of this weekend, we’re going to also go with a legendary producer, guitarist song-writer with a real gritty solemn performance, as well as one that we think really should harbor deeper attention and listening from a backing vocalist who deserves a real, true center stage!  Welcome to Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 17!  Let’s get into these three singer-song writer albums from completely different places in the music multiverse!

 

LINK TO OUR YOUTUBE VERSION
[Mark Kuligowski & Panelists The Grateful Dude & DAHM discuss these (3) albums + adds three (3) more reviews!]

 

Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department [The Anthology]

Let’s get this out of the way.  She is probably one of the greatest forces, solo artist to grace the music world in a very very long time.  Not only is she a force in the singles and radio play, as well as fan base craziness, but she’s shaping, changing and helping the industry in all facets.  She is also increasing record sales and exposure to what seemed to be an untouchable demographic.  She’s got people buying records, albums, and not just singles, and not just downloads.  So, she is, truly an artist, a performer, and a mogul that seems to hold to a certain principle (but make no mistake, that can change, so time will continue to tell).  What is telling, is this years colossal The Tortured Poets Department, whether you go for the standard version or the Anthology (although to be honest with you — why wouldn’t you have it all)?

That force to be reckoned with comes on slowly on this new album, in my opinion.  What does maintain is Ms. Swift’s lyrical dominance in story, metaphor, intelligent rhyming schemes, and vocal wavery.  Yes, the songs are dominated by attachments love and hate mostly, but they are utterly engaging for the most part, especially as the album builds.  ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’ kind of starts that heavier climb from the near Drake-ian drab musical background, giving Taylor Swift more of musical accompanied platform to ascend to the mountain top of The Tortured Poets Department, getting beyond the lyrical cleverness into the overall connection of lyric and musicianship.

What is also amazing is that she does not forsaken any root that was once hers.  There is a tint of country and pop, and she is masterfully manipulating current music trends to be her own, which is a formula that hear ear (in the studio) must be one her greatest assets.  She can flow in lyric like Alanis, or she can make a Shania-like pop melody. or she can hook a refrain that rests forever on your ears or someone else’s, which is what gives her the honest popularity that she deserves.  Need an example?  “I’m so depressed I act like it’s my birthday – everyday.”  Or wait, maybe another, where she let’s the refrain’s end hang?  “You told me I’m the love of your life, the love of your  life – you said I’m the love of your life — about a million times.”  Oh, hook. Ouch.  There’s very little lyrical throw aways here, or times where you don’t feel included (to be honest I thought there was going to be a lot of that, considering the situation she’s in versus the rest of us).  It only happens when she’s name dropping discretely.

The only problem I have, would to be a friend of hers — or worse and enemy?  Could I even do a scathing review of this album?  Would she let me get away with, or suddenly put me in with ‘The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived’!?  Oh man those poor sons-a-bitches!  Yikes.  Yes, it’s a lot of love and mood, but it does have tempo, reason and connection.  She is definitely attached at the hip to her heart and song connections to it.  She uses her mind, intellect to deliver that, and it’s a formula that bloody works like that of Phil Collins in the 1980s.  And, in that same vane (Phil Collins), it always seemed odd when he dropped an F-bomb, and I’m still not there with it for her either.  Seems forced to me.

I could go on and on about this album.  I’m still digesting it outside my wheelhouse and in the overall landscape of 2024.  What I do know is, if you don’t like this, it’s a personal preference, and has nothing to do with style, delivery and production, because this album has a fantastic mix of it all despite the avoidance of over-the-top crescendos.  Yes, I’m sure there’s autotuning and studio engaged mechanics, but it’s a very very good listening experience that encompasses a solo artists that continues to mesmerize and weave a spell over the listener without selling out to some idea of what people want.  She is an artist all her own, tortured or not.  A poet for the future?  More than likely, as I see no reason for her to fall away from taking life and making it into hear-felt music for the masses.  And, if you’re reading this Ms. Swift, I wanted to use a type-writer for this, but it would have taken me a ‘Fortnight’ to find one of the strips for auto-correction.  Make your next song, Long Live Word Press.

The Band

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, piano, background vocals
  • Jack Antonoff – synthesizers, programming, guitars, cello, percussion, organ, Mellotron, Rhodes, bass, background vocals
  • Sean Hutchinson – drums, percussion

Guest appearances

  • Emma Stone – oddities (on track 8)
  • Post Malone – vocals
  • Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine) – vocals, drums, percussion, piano
  • Aaron Dessner (The National) – piano, synthesizer, drum programming, acoustic guitar, mandolin, synth bass, bass, banjo, drums
  • Bryce Dessner (The National) – piano, synthesizer, drum programming

The Tortured Poets Department Tracklisting

  1. Fortnight (feat Post Malone)
  2. The Tortured Poets Department
  3. My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys
  4. Down Bad
  5. So Long, London
  6. But Daddy, I Love Him
  7. Fresh Out the Slammer
  8. Florida!!! (feat Florence Welch)
  9. Guilty As Sin
  10. Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?
  11. I Can Fix Him (Really I Can)
  12. Loml
  13. I Can Do It With A Broken Heart
  14. The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived
  15. The Alchemy
  16. Clara Bow

The Anthology Edition [Additional Tracks]

  1. The Black Dog
  2. Imgonnagetyouback
  3. The Albatross
  4. Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus
  5. How Did It End?
  6. So High School
  7. I Hate It Here
  8. Thank You Aimee
  9. I Look In People’s Windows
  10. The Prophecy
  11. Cassandra
  12. Peter
  13. The Bolter
  14. Robin
  15. The Manuscript

 

T-Bone BurnettThe Other Side

T-Bone Burnett takes full center stage on The Other Side with his acoustic guitar in hand and skillful song-writer’s aging mentality that suits both him and the deep, simple melodic structures that enrapture the ears.  It is relevant like that of Johnny Cash’s final records, and that reason is because of the musical partnership and mutual understanding of this kind of sound by him and Colin Linden (Canadian folk legend guitarist and singer-songwriter).  While folk is at the true center on The Other Side, the heart of this album lies in Burnett’s sincerity and complete, inviting honest writing and pure delivery.

The roots of everything that T-Bone Burnett can thank and base his career on is beautifully pressed and picked.  The country blues and folk entanglements are as majestic as he has produced for others.  And he’s done some magnificent albums; Raising Sand (Plant & Krauss), O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, The Story (Brandi Carlisle), Low Country Blues (Gregg Allman), The Diving Board (Elton John).  Not to mention Grammy Awards for his soundtrack compilation work on Walk the Line, Cold Mountain, and Crazy Heart.  And, he also worked with Jim James, Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford Taylor Goldsmith, Rhiannon Giddens, and Johnny Depp on The New Basement Tapes that was put together to write songs based on the new uncovered written documents from Bob Dylan and the Band Basement Tapes.  So you get an idea of the man’s overall encompassing talent.

It’s all on display.  The songwriting, the adaptiveness to recreating other’s works, and allowing collaboration.  The connection to the Cash family is present with Roseanne Cash, as she joins him marvelously on ‘(I’m Gonna Get Over This) Some Day.’  It’s playful and it’s haunting, which is another feather in the sound-cap of this album.  I love the wonderment of ‘The Town That Time Forgot’ and the pause and tempo of the intentional delivery.  So genuine, and that’s the truth and connection to this record, and how the sound fits so well.

If anyone is going to take us to The Other Side, sincerely and purely, I can think of no better than Mr. T-Bone Burnett.  The Other Side is the best album in his solo works, and should be something that new folk fans appreciate, as well as those that follow T-Bone across the music multiverse in all he does from production to accompaniment to soundtracks.  ‘The Race Is Won’ here by the turtle, so to speak.  Steady and eloquent wins the race!

The Band

Guest Appearances

The Other Side Tracklisting

  1. He Came Down
  2. Come Back (When You Go Away)
  3. (I’m Gonna Get Over This) Some Day [Feat. Roseanne Cash]
  4. Waiting for You [Feat. Lucius]
  5. The Pain of Love [Feat. Lucius]
  6. The Race Is Won [Feat. Lucius]
  7. Sometime I Wonder
  8. Hawaiian Blues Song
  9. The First Light of Day
  10. Everything and Nothing
  11. The Town That Time Forgot [Feat. Lucius]
  12. Little Darling [Feat. Lucius]

 

Judith HillLetters From A Black Widow

When you hear her soulful vocal, the reach and range, you are probably wondering (if you’re hearing her for the first time) how someone like this kind of slipped through a crack in the music multiverse.  Right?  Judith Hill, backing vocalist for Prince, Michael Jackson, as well as Josh Groban, and part of the critically acclaimed documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (which I believe was nominated for Academy Award, as well as garnished her a Grammy win for her performance in the film).  She also toured with Groban and John Legend.  And, in case you watch The Voice, she was a Top 8 finalist in 2013, too.  Her elimination from that competition was considered one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history.  And then, her debut album, co-produced by Prince, was given the purple-royal treatment!  And, here we are today, with her fourth record, Letters From A Black Widow.

Darkness to light.  Been there, done that kind of record before, but not quite like this.  Ms. Hill is an astounding vocalist against the rock and roll groove format of most of this record.  She’s ‘One of the Bad Ones’ for sure!  Bad meaning good, my music multiverse traveling friends.  She is fearless here, starting off with a ready-for-prime-time ballad worthy of Whitney or Adele.  Bad to the vocal bone, and a great way to quickly engage your listener, making them aware of the power and command of her voice.  The arrangement is classy and a warning shot to James Bond theme-ists everywhere.  There’s very little on this album that takes a backseat to her delivery, but the music that surrounds her carefully, bombastically, and cinematically (in places) is very worthy of attention.  In fact, this is a ginormous recording against all that she has done!  So damnit, take ‘Black Widow’ and put it up against the palette of today (that Prince-like guitar solo after her empowering speak-sing atonement), it’s absorption at it’s finest soul-clenching moment.

I don’t want to overshadow her piano playing, or her overall ear to putting this recording together.  They are the strongest I have heard in recent years (against that young woman mentioned at the top of this Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 17).  She even plays a lot of the instruments on the recording, and she has a very deep connection to the formulas surrounding the recordings from Jazz to Funk to Soul to R&B to her section of rock and roll.  The energy and artistry and attention to details that might get lost in album production and timing to get the recording out are NOT present here.  She is a dedicated craftswoman, and Letters From A Black Widow is an absolute pleasure to listen to, groove to, and behold when it calls.  Hopefully, the music multiverse opens a bit more to Judith Hill as the dark and light of Black Widows everywhere looking to hear an absolute voice in the fight and love of this thing call life.  This is beautiful, sustainable power to the ear and heart.

The Band

  • Judith Hill – vocals, piano, guitar
  • Michiko Hill – piano
  • Robert Lee “Pee Wee” – Bass
  • John Staten – drums, percussion
  • Daniel Chase – strings
  • A group of her friends apparently provided backing vocals

Letters From A Black Widow Tracklisting

  1. One of the Bad Ones
  2. Flame
  3. My Whole Life Is In the Wrong Key
  4. We Are the Power
  5. Black Widow
  6. Touch
  7. Dame de la Lumiere
  8. Let Me Be Your Mother
  9. You Got It Kid
  10. Runaway Train
  11. Downtown Boogie
  12. More Than Love
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