During the past year, all most of us have wanted to do is escape life for at least a little bit. The COVID pandemic has restricted not just daily life but the ability to explore other places. Lana Del Rey is no exception to this with several tracks from her seventh studio album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club speaking of escaping. On “Let Me Love You Like a Woman” she sings, “80 miles north or south will do” and her voice floats over the percussive track “Tulsa Jesus Freak” where Del Rey remembers it’s Arkansas where “the kids in their hoodies, they dance super slow”. First single “White Dress” breathlessly escapes back to the early years of listening to jazz, The White Stripes (when they were white hot), and the Kings of Leon.
Once again working with Jack Antonoff for most of the tracks, Chemtrails gets better as it goes along. “The cameras have flashes, they cause the car crashes/but I’m not a star” she sings on what sounds like a fading 70s star falling apart. “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” borrows the title from a Tolkien quote and is mostly acoustic guitar and a repeated chorus. She works with Rick Nowels on the haunting “Yosemite” and adds a 70s strut to “Dance Til We Die” where she further namechecks Stevie Nicks, Joan Baez, Courtney Love and Joni Mitchell.
That last name is where the album ends, with a cover of Michell’s 1970 track “For Free” that she performs with Zella Day and Weyes Blood. While not as consistent as career highpoint Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Chemtrails still offers up it’s share of memorable moments. While the world seems to stop somedays, Del Rey keeps busy having released a poetry book/spoken word album last year and has already announced her next album will be out on July 4th.
A mere 8 months after releasing The Times They Are A-Changin‘, Bob Dylan returned with his fourth studio release, Another Side of Bob Dylan. The album title is appropriate. While Dylan continued to mostly feature just guitar and harmonica, all of which were played by himself, the songs take on a more personal nature versus the politically charged folk songs of previous efforts. All the tracks were recorded in just one day of recording with Producer Tom Wilson.
“All I Really Want to Do” is more of his new style as he sings and yodels, “…is baby be friends with you”. Dylan adds piano to “Black Crow Blues” that has a 50s rock and roll mixed with a bit of blues. Lighter tracks like “I Shall be Free No. 10” and “Motorpsyco Nitemare” add a dose of humour to the album. Even though it’s just played with an acoustic guitar, “Spanish Harlem Incident” could be a garage rocker where Dylan sings of a girl who’s “temperature is too hot for taming”. “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We never Have Met)” describes the morning after the night before with a lover where the “morning’s clear/It’s like I ain’t here/She acts like we never met”. The refrain really brings “My Back Pages” home with its earworm lyric, “Ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now”.
Dylan returns to his political folk song roots on the seven minute “Chimes of Freedom” where he watches a rain storm that tolls “for the luckless, they abandoned and forsaked”. The only track here that appears on most compilations is the vulnerable, “It Ain’t Me Babe”. Here Dylan tells a girl that he’s not the one for her and that she should find someone else. It’s one of his classics that has endured to present day and was later covered by The Turtles and Johnny Cash. Many other tracks here were covered by The Byrds and popularized through their folk rock movement including “Chimes of Freedom”. While Another Side of Bob Dylan may not be as beloved as some of his other massive albums from the 60s, it is one that newcomers to Dylan may be able to get into easier as it mixes some of the political with love, humour and a healthy dose of genius.
Flock marks Jane Weaver’s first album to hit the top 40 in the UK. The English singer from Liverpool’s 11th album is a varied recording taking in many different sounds. This is the follow-up to her remix album of tracks from Modern Kosmology and a reimagined soundtrack for the animated movie Fehérlófia. The title track here sees Weaver exploring cosmic 70s soul. “Stages of Phases” uses cascading synths before turning into a dreamy stomping glam number.
Weaver gets funky on first single “The Revolution of Super Visions” and adds a chiming guitar to second single “Heartlow”. The album really shines on the six minute “Modern Reputation” that is powered by a throbbing beat where “ahhhhs” are sung at various tones. The album closes on a its poppiest note with the upbeat dance track “Solarised”. Flock is experimental, atmospheric and organic sounding. The contrasting styles come together, often in the same song, taking the listener for a starlit pop journey.
In Lizzy Goodman’s excellent book, Meet Me In the Bathroom that focuses on the New York rock scene of the early oughts, tellingly The National appear in a chapter entitled, “The Uncool Kids”. However, over the years they would become one of the biggest bands to emerge from that burgeoning scene having now released 8 studio albums. Back in 2001 though, they would release their self-titled debut on Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s Brassland Record label.
Featuring drummer Bryan Devendorf on the cover, this is before Bryce had officially joined the band but plays on several tracks. “Cold Girl Fever” is a catchy acoustic led track with a squiggly synth and a drum that kicks things up before the end. “Beautiful Head” and “The Perfect” are solid college rock songs. Elsewhere the album strays into country influenced sounds on the upbeat “Pay For Me” with a twang in Matt Berninger’s vocals. The laid back “Bitters & Absolut” has fine backing vocals courtesy of Nathalie Jonas and a lovely piano towards the end. The National’s debut is a well-played album with Berninger still trying to find his voice that would eventually lift the band to far greater heights.
Open Door Policy is The Hold Steady’s eighth studio album and second since the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay. ODP has all the hallmarks one comes to expect from The Hold Steady, the wordy wordplay of vocalist Craig Finn along with the driving rock sound of the band. There are cool little moments in each song. The “woooo” background vocals of “Unpleasant Breakfast” and the horn section courtesy of Stuart Bogie and Jordan McLean, formerly of Antibalas, that adds lift to third single “Spices”.
“The Feelers” is a solid introduction to both the album and The Hold Steady. A varied track with some piano and strings before the drums and guitar really start to pump. “All the things you never really noticed before/Turned out they don’t even matter/’Cause when someone hits the switch in the kitchen/All the insects just scatter”. The more straightforward rock songs don’t quite hit the same way, unlike lead single “Family Farm” that comes out with blazing horns and guitar or the handclapping pop rock of “Riptown”. The best parts here are when the band is really cooking rather than just focusing on Finn’s intricate lyrics. There’s more than enough of those moments to carry this very good early 2021 album.