Khalid - Free Spirit
Tsk - young people nowadays! It feels like a long time since Taylor Swift declared in song that “Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22”, and Miley Cyrus was enjoying a Party in the USA. Look at Billie Eilish, heading for today’s No 1 spot at 17 with her creepy songs about death and misery.
Now her friend Khalid Robinson, 21, is back with his second album, the five-time Grammy nominee having staked a strong claim as the voice of his generation with his 2017 debut, American Teen. Today he seems to be weighed down by something heavier.
On the grandiose opener, Intro, he’s already singing: “Couldn’t have known it would ever be this hard.” A pair in the middle, Talk and Right Back, have an appealing electronic lightness, but otherwise across an excessive 17 songs he’s wallowing in echoing electric guitar notes. There’s a clear debt to enigmatic balladeer Frank Ocean in the woozy meanderings of Paradise.
His marvellous, husky voice always made him sound older than his years.
In the past he’s been valued as someone who brings emotional depth to dance music, with guest spots on hits by Calvin Harris, Marshmello and Martin Garrix. His weary tones help to create a late-night atmosphere across his own material. Songs blur into one another. Little leaps out. As mood-setting background music it works, but he can offer something more captivating than this.
by David Smyth
Sara Bareilles - Amidst the Chaos
In the six years since her last album, Sara Bareilles, right, has carved out a career in musicals, including Waitress, in the West End now. The US singer’s recent track record belting out big numbers on the stage suggests that her comeback should be approached with caution. But while there’s vocal heft behind these songs, there’s also an appealing intimacy to the rootsy single Fire, the brooding Eyes on You and the smoky soul of Miss Simone, which sounds like Norah Jones in her pomp. Show-tune sentimentality creeps into a few of the big ballads. It’s to the credit of Bareilles, though, that she has steered clear of modish reinvention and simply focused on some classy tunes for her sumptuous voice.
by Andre Paine
The Breath - Only Stories
Spacious, nuanced and skilfully crafted, this acoustic album by jazz guitarist Stuart McCallum, a mainstay of The Cinematic Orchestra, and singer/flautist Rioghnach Connolly — in vocal poise and power an Irish Adele — is a treasure. The duo is the creative heart of alt-folk band The Breath, and the songs performed here, two of them new, six taken from last year’s acclaimed album Let the Cards Fall, are all the more affecting for their simplicity. Lyrics telling of family and love, of grief, injustice and cultural dislocation are buoyed by flute riffs and melodic, deftly wielded guitar — Spanish-style on Boat Song, gentle but insistent on No, You Keep It. The title track, a standout, has a quiet, shimmering beauty.
by Jane Cornwell
Various Artists - Songlines Music Awards 2019
Pulling together 20 of the year’s best “world music” tracks is a big ask, given the range and increasing access to music from elsewhere. Luckily for Songlines magazine, whose 2019 awards champion everybody from Grammy-winning Beninese diva Angélique Kidjo to Small Island Big Song, a collective of musicians from the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it’s their readers and contributors who choose. So we have Portuguese fado icon Mariza, Turkish glam-rocker Gaye Su AkYol and late Indigenous Australian singer Gurrumul, all grouped geographically. Jordanian-Palestinian electro outfit 47SOUL vie for Best Group. Malian sensation Fatoumata Diawara is a shoo-in for Best Artist. A journey of discovery and cross-cultural understanding, then, at a time when such things feel more important than ever.
by Jane Cornwell
Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Weyes Blood is singer-songwriter Natalie Mering, 30, from Los Angeles. More specifically, she is from Laurel Canyon, 1972, but has somehow pitched up in 2019 in a Biba maxi-dress by means of some astral portal. If you haven’t swooned to her spectral balled Used to Be (2016), please do so. Titanic Rising takes that enormous song, as well as girlhood memories of the 1997 movie, as a starting point for eight lovelorn intergalactic ballads about “living on the faultline”, plus a couple of instrumentals. There is more than a touch of Karen Carpenter to her voice, a touch of Minnie Ripperton in the gospel-tinged arrangements. But it pushes forward too: the way the lush electronics of Movies give way to nervy modernist violins; the clattering percussion of Everyday. Glorious.
by Richard Godwin
Circa Waves - What’s It Like Over There?
Circa Waves’ debut, Young Chasers, had little in the way of innovation, born out of the identikit indie formula of the early Noughties. Follow-up Different Creatures was a hopeful change in direction: an assured sound with a message about male depression, it signified purpose and a new sound. This album feels like somewhere between the two, confidently combining classic rock with more pop-tinged melodies, such as on the infectious Sorry I’m Yours and Me Myself And Hollywood. More mediocre moments follow. But in the strongest (and closing) song, Saviour, Alan Moulder’s influence (The Killers, Foals) feels most evident. But this is an ambiguous, disjointed affair that feels like a missed opportunity.
by Elizabeth Aubrey