All American Made
(Third Man ***1/2)
Country singer Margo Price paid her dues for the better part of a decade in Nashville before breaking through with last year’s soul-searching Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis for Jack White’s Third Man label. All American Made builds on and broadens out from that success. There’s throwback honky tonk, to be sure, like the boot-scooting admission of vulnerability “Weakness” and feminist celebration of resiliency “Wild Women.” But Price also expands her musical palette and takes on real-world issues. She puts her excellent road band to use as she dishes out old-school soul on “A Little Pain,” and dabbles in Tex-Mex on “Pay Gap,” which addresses unequal compensation in the workplace for men and women. “Why don’t you do the math?” she asks. “You’re ripping my dollars in half.” Economic inequality is also addressed in a well-matched duet with Willie Nelson on “Learning to Lose,” and the title cut sings out in search of healing solutions, closing out with words from (of all people) Richard Nixon’s first inaugural address as it argues “the simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.” —Dan DeLuca
There’s something deceptively simple (or simply deceptive?) about the snaky, sophisticated body of work — and, of course the voice — of South London soul singer Jessie Ware. There’s that quietly British, flat-lined vocal hoot that puts one in mind of Tracey Thorn with quaint, often danceable melodies tailored to that barely-there quaver. In addition to that tone, there’s the “pow” of Carol Wheeler’s theatrical sonic boom — an emotionalism stored up like nuts for the winter. Ware — across all of her recorded collaborations and solo projects, Glasshouse included — has fused her fussy funk into something original and recognizably her. This time, however the fussiness plays a bigger role than usual in the proceedings.
The flittering “Midnight” with its pounding “Benny & the Jets”-ish piano and Mariah-runs, or the softly plucky “Stay Awake for Me” with its silvery trumpet bleats and vocal backgrounded ooh-ahs, are on the mid-tempo movement tip. “Alone” and “Thinking about You” are among Glasshouse’s cleanest cool ballads (the majority of the album). All of these songs sound thinner and more overly pristine than they need be. Thankfully the wet production of “Slow Me Down” (where you can hear every pucker) and the craggy “Hearts” add a needed oomph and texture. Ware’s swerving cosmopolitan chord changes and lived-in voice are exceptional – they just need more house and less glass. —A.D. Amorosi
Dan Bejar sat out participating in Whiteout Conditions, this year’s excellent New Pornographers album, to finish this one, his twelfth Destroyer record. It was worth it: ken is excellent, too, although in a different way. Whereas the Pornographers came at us in a joyful, dense, headlong rush, Bejar, who lives in Vancouver, stays “off in the corner doing poets’ work,” as he sings in “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood.” He’s thinking about the apocalyptic madness of late-capitalist culture, although the themes come through in glimpses and fragments. “I can’t pay for this, all I’ve got is money / And money don’t make the world spin,” Bejar sings in “Sometimes in the World,” a pulsing track that nods to the synth-rock hybrid perfected by New Order (they’re the patron saint of this album, as Avalon-era Roxy Music was for 2011’s Kaputt). It’s another cranky, cryptic, astute Destroyer record. —Steve Klinge