Spring Arts - Pop Music: 10 shows, 10 albums to watch for
Even today, when privacy seems a thing of the past, stars are getting good at keeping secrets. Last year, David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, and Beyoncé all managed to spring new music on an unsuspecting public, so be sure 2014 has plenty of surprises in store.
What follows is a selection of 10 concerts (some by performers who also have new albums) and 10 albums (some by those who are playing shows) to highlight the winter-spring season as we wait for Memorial Day to get here - not soon enough.
Of course, there's lot of other stuff happening, too, from noteworthy shows from tough-minded Texas songwriter James McMurtry at the Ardmore Music Hall on Feb. 7 to beardy, sweet-singing rockers Band of Horses at the Merriam Theater on March 1, to Sting and Paul Simon at the Wells Fargo Center on March 7, to Miley Cyrus, who's at the South Philadelphia arena on April 22.
New albums are on the way from British dance-pop singer Katy B (Little Red, Feb. 4), German techno band the Notwist (Close to the Glass, Feb. 25), L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q (Oxymoron, Feb. 25), Brooklyn rockers the Hold Steady (Teeth Dreams, March 25), Brit rocker Damon Albarn (Everyday Robots, April 29), and rapper-actor Common (Nobody Smiling, to be announced). If we're lucky, there will also be an album by reunited rappers Outkast, who are getting back together for Coachella in California in April before headlining the Firefly festival in Delaware in June.
- Dan DeLuca, Inquirer music critic
The Districts (Jan. 28 at a.k.a. music and Feb. 27 with White Denim at Union Transfer). What did you accomplish in 2013? In 2013, the Districts graduated from high school, moved from Lititz to Philadelphia, and got signed to indie rock label Fat Possum. The rock quartet fronted by singer Rob Grote have a busy 2014 in front of them, as well. Their five-song self-titled EP comes out Jan. 28, they'll be headed to the South by Southwest Music festival in March, and they will have a full-length debut, produced by Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man).
Jay Z (Jan. 29 at Wells Fargo Center). Yes, he played Citizens Bank Park last summer on a double bill with Justin Timberlake. And his Made in America festival is on its way to becoming a Philadelphia Labor Day weekend institution. But Jay-Z hasn't actually played a solo headlining, non-festival date here since the Blueprint 3 tour in 2009. So ignore, if you can, the lame verse Hova drops on Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love" and get your fill of two decades of hits from the ruling hip-hop kingpin.
Leyla McCalla (Feb. 8 at the Tin Angel). This New Orleans cellist and banjo player of Haitian descent recently was a member of the African American old-time string band Carolina Chocolate Drops. She steps out on her own on the consistently lovely and unfailingly intelligent Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, on sale Feb. 11, which mixes traditional tunes with poems by the Harlem Renaissance giant set to music.
Courtney Barnett (Feb. 10 at Union Transfer). Lorde isn't the only Down Under female songwriter to demand pop fans' attention in 2013. Australian singer Courtney Barnett turned heads with her arresting The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, which introduced the whip-smart 25-year-old to American audiences. Barnett was supposed to make her Philadelphia debut at South Philadelphia's Boot & Saddle, but when that venue quickly sold out, the show was moved to a larger space.
Angelique Kidjo (Feb. 18 at the Prince Music Theater). This singer from the west African country of Benin has a new autobiography called Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music , which came out this month, and an ebullient new album, Eve, on the way, featuring contributions from Dr. John, Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, and Philadelphia bass player Christian McBride. The album is named after Kidjo's mother and sets out to showcase "the positivity" African women "bring to their villages, cities, cultures, and the world."
Kings of Leon/Gary Clark Jr. (Feb. 19 at the Wells Fargo Center). Southern alt-rock band Kings of Leon bounced back from 2010's Come Around Sundown with last year's Mechanical Bull, containing hints of country twang and gospel yearning rattling around in the musical Followill clan's arena-sized roar. More than half of the attraction of this show, however, is opening act Gary Clark Jr., the blues guitar champ due for a follow-up to his promising 2012 album, Blak & Blu.
Arcade Fire (March 17 at the Wells Fargo Center). Don't sweat the dress code: When this anthemic Canadian American rock band announced their tour behind the new album Reflektor in November, they included a request for fans to "please wear formal attire or costume." Once Internet outrage cranked up, however, the band quickly backpedaled from the idea that fancy outfits are compulsory. So come as you are to the initial arena headlining tour of the band whose latest studio album is unnecessarily bloated but whose sound has always been grand enough to fill the biggest of rooms.
Suzy Bogguss (March 21 at the Sellersville Theater). Way back in the Garth Brooks early 1990s, Suzy Bogguss was a Horizon Award-winning rising country star who had her fair share of agreeable chart hits. Over time, however, she was cast aside by the Nashville major-label establishment and was forced to remake herself as an indie artist. Left to her own devices, she's gotten inventive with her forthcoming album, Lucky (on sale April 11), a sobering and sad-eyed collection of Merle Haggard covers, in which she rises to the challenge of doing justice to classics such as "Today I Started Loving You Again" and "You Don't Have Very Far to Go."
Tinariwen (March 21 at the Prince Music Theater). The members of the desert-blues band Tinariwen are Tuareg musicians from the Saharan region of northern Mali. But when the players found themselves displaced by political instability in their home country, they relocated to the Mojave desert and recorded their new album, Emmaar (on sale Feb. 11), in Joshua Tree, Calif. Despite the topographical change, the band's guitar-trance music remains as universally hypnotic as ever.
Lady Gaga (May 12 at the Wells Fargo Center). ARTPOP, Lady Gaga's fourth album, which came out in November, is short on hit songs and has thus far performed below Stefani Germanotta's lofty standards from a commercial standpoint. Whether that means Gaga is past her peak as a cultural force remains to be seen. She's regrouping with a series of sold-out shows in the relatively intimate confines of the soon-to-close Roseland Ballroom in New York in March and April before heading back out on the road on the artRAVE: the ARTPOP Ball Tour, which gets here in May.
Beck, Morning Phase (on sale in February). The first of two albums Beck Hansen plans to release in 2014 features the changeling singer in a bittersweet blue mood and again employing musicians - like Joey Waronker and Smokey Hormel - whom he used on his 2002 album Sea Change. The idea for his Capitol Records debut is to explore the tradition of "California music," embodied by bands like Gram Parsons, the Byrds, and Neil Young.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes (on sale Feb. 4). The fabulously named folk-soul band Hurray for the Riff Raff is the showcase for Alynda Lee Sagarra, a 26-year-old singer from the Bronx with an arresting voice. She hopped a freight train when she was 15 and wound up in New Orleans. Small Town Heroes follows last year's stellar My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, in which Sagarra had her way with songs by George Harrison and John Lennon, among others. HFTRR play April 8 at World Café Live.
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness (on sale Feb. 14). On her terrific second album, Missouri-born indie-folk songwriter Angel Olsen makes music of startling intimacy, just as she did on her 2012 debut, Half Way Home. This time, though, Olsen turns up the volume and sings out in her remarkable voice in songs that drop Hank Williams hints and '60s girl-group references into her singular sound.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent (on sale Feb. 25). The most recent creative endeavor by Annie Clark, the Texas art-pop singer and guitarist who goes by the stage name St. Vincent, was a collaborative album with David Byrne of the Talking Heads. Clark wrote St. Vincent in a frenzy of activity after getting off the road, and her propulsive, rhythmically driven fourth solo album works an angular groove that uses the work with Byrne as a starting point. She plays Feb. 28 at Union Transfer.
Neneh Cherry, Blank Project (on sale Feb. 25). The stepdaughter of avant-jazz trumpeter Don Cherry has had a fascinating if sporadic career. Once a member of feminist punk pioneers the Slits, the black Swedish rapper-singer broke through to American audiences with "Buffalo Stance" in 1988. After a long layoff, she returned to music-making with last year's covers album The Cherry Thing. Now she's back at it with The Blank Project, an all-originals collaboration with British electronic producer Four Tet that also features Swedish pop heroine Robyn.
Real Estate, Atlas (on sale March 4). North Jersey suburban rockers Real Estate are experts at making wistful, breezy, beautifully gleaming guitar pop, as exemplified by "Talking Backwards," the lead track from the band's follow-up album to 2011's superb Days. They play April 3 at Union Transfer.
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (on sale March 18). Philadelphia trance-inducing indie heroes the War on Drugs return with the follow-up album to their 2001 artistic breakthrough, Slave Ambient. They'll play on that release date at Union Transfer. Recorded in Philadelphia, New York, and North Carolina, Lost in the Dream finds Drugs main man Adam Granduciel and bandmates refining the richly immersive, momentum-gathering musical treatments that make for a transporting experience.
Johnny Cash, Out Among the Stars (on sale March 25). You can never have enough of the Man in Black. After Cash died in 2003, two albums of outtakes from his American Recordings series came out, in 2006 and 2010. This album is not another of those. Instead, it's a collection of songs produced by Billy Sherrill and recorded in 1981 and 1984. Never released, they recently were recovered from a box in the attic by Cash's son John Carter Cash.
Pharrell, [title and release date to be announced]. After he's taken featured roles on the two biggest songs of 2013 - Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" - it stands to reason that Neptunes producer and N.E.R.D. singer Pharrell Williams would step out with a solo album in 2014. The as-yet untitled follow-up to 2006's In My Mind will differ from that album, Williams told Complex magazine in December. He won't be rapping on it. "Now I'm 40," the baby-faced singer said. "And I'm not rapping."
U2, [title and release date to be announced]. Expect the world's biggest Irish rock band to be back in action in an outsize way in 2014. Bono and Co. took home a Golden Globe for their song "Ordinary Love" from the Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom soundtrack, and it's widely expected that the band will use an ad during the Super Bowl next Sunday to announce a new album. Stay tuned.
For expanded coverage, go to www.inquirer.com/springmusic