Tag Archives: Review

Melody Gardot: Live in Europe – The Review

Jazz chanteuse Melody Gardot paints the aural canvas like few others; and Live in Europe, which collects live performances from 2012 through 2016, is a testament to that fact. In the studio, she blends the primary colors of music – the heart and soul – into a wide array of hues, both light and dark, colorful and monotone. On the stage, however, she expands the palate even further, fusing together jazz, R&B and traditional pop into a hypnotic listen.

The album opens with “Our Love Is Easy,” one of many standout tracks from her 2009 album My One and Only Thrill, as performed in 2012 Paris.

Another of that album’s tracks is presented twice – “Baby I’m a Fool.” The first, from Vienna 2013, is spellbinding in its seductiveness; the second, from London 2016, is equally wondrous and luscious. Why she chose to include both, however, is a bit of a mystery. (She curated the set herself, as she explains in the liner notes.) But I have no complaints – it’s a great song.

In the studio, her songs are often marvels of singer-songwriter precision, with the placement of each note serving a purpose larger than itself. Live, however, she and her band often transform the same songs into intricate jams that extend and explore each note as if they’re songs unto themselves. For example, the studio version of “Who Will Comfort Me,” also from My One and Only Thrill, is a fairly compact, finger-snapping plea of a beaten-down soul. The live rendition here, recorded in Amsterdam 2015, features a Paradise Lost-like swirl of torment courtesy of trumpeter Shareef Clayton.

Likewise, in its studio incarnation, Currency of Man’s soulful “Morning Sun” has all the earmarks of a lost singer-songwriter gem from the early or mid-1970s. In Paris 2015, however – much like Philadelphia 2015 – the song mimics a sunrise in more faithful fashion, slowly cascading from the horizon and into the sky until, at last, light overwhelms darkness. It’s soulful and dramatic, stirring and hypnotic, and no longer conjures one era but all eras, past, present and future. It’s magical and mystical, like Live in Europe as a whole.

It’s well worth checking out, in other words.

The set is available as a double-CD, triple-LP or digital download (and is also available to stream on the usual outlets). The track list:

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First Aid Kit’s Ruins – The Review

Love, lust, loss, regret, recrimination, and reflection – those are the raisons d’être for much, though certainly not all, popular music. From alternative to zydeco, and all the in-betweens, songwriters chart matters of the heart and soul with lyrical laments and exultations set to melodies and rhythms that, they hope, impart similar sentiments. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And success or failure depends not upon a strict set of rules, but who’s listening.

Which is to say, Ruins is a sterling set of songs from sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, that grows stronger with each listen. One way I know an album has staying power is that, when I’m not listening to it, snippets splash from the back of my brain like a soft rain in the summertime. And just as often happens with a soft rain, those initial drips gradually pick up in intensity and, within minutes, a downpour ensues. Such was the case this week with this album. First one song…

… then another…

… and then another.

By now, I’d wager, most fans know the backstory to Ruins: After the Stay Gold LP and tour, the sisters parted ways – not from an acrimonious falling out, but because of life. Klara followed her heart (and boyfriend) to Manchester; Johanna stayed put in Stockholm. By the time they came together to begin work on their next project, however, Klara’s relationship had ended…and, thus, an album was born. (Klara delves deeper into it in this informative Paste interview.) In short, it’s a 10-song quest for the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Pitchfork calls “Fireworks” and several of the other tracks “bold stylistic departures.” Honestly, they’re no more radical a departures than “Wolf” was back in 2012. As FAK (or their social-media person) said in a Facebook post at the time, it’s “very different from anything we’ve ever done before.” It’s called evolution. Growth. The willingness to tackle a new style – or, in this instance, old, given that the song conjures the R&B ballads popular during the 1950s – is what happens when artists follow their muse.

As a whole, the songs delve into heartache, heartbreak and hard truths, and often attempt to wish away the pain – “Lately I’ve been thinking about the past/How there is no holding back/No point in wasting sorrow/On things that won’t be here tomorrow” – while being unable to do just that. It’s a shame, indeed, but that oxymoron is the grist that’s often milled by living life.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final song, “Nothing Has to Be True,” an emotional epic about self-doubt and self-awakening, and the vagaries of both. It’s one of their greatest works, easily, and is the song I’m most excited to hear live.

I’ll close with this: A relationship-gone-wrong has resulted in many a great song and album through the decades. While it’s far too soon to say where this LP lies in that pantheon, it’ll be interesting to see how it grows in stature (or not). The songs may not become a Parthenon for heartache, but my hunch is that these Ruins won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Springsteen on Broadway, 11/24/17

The lights dimmed; and a spotlight zig-zagged across the stage. Suddenly, a silhouette appeared as if out of thin air. It belonged to that noted song-and-dance man, Bruce Springsteen, who was decked out for the occasion in top hat, black tie and long tails. He also carried a cane – not for walking, but dancing. The orchestra swelled into a jaunty rhythm and the Boss began a soft shoe, tap-tap-tapping his way across the stage. “Give my regards to Broadway,” he croaked, “remember me to Herald Square…” He extended an arm; and the longtime Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire, Patti Scialfa, twirled into his embrace, and delivered her patented lush harmonies on the next lines. “Tell all the gang at 42nd Street/That I will soon be there…”

Nah. Just kidding.

Prior to the show, on our way to the Walter Kerr Theater, I found myself – much to Diane’s chagrin – singing “On Broadway,” the classic Drifters song. In many ways, it’s apropos to Springsteen on Broadway, in which the Boss mixes monologues about his life’s experiences with curated songs from his expansive catalog. His has not always been a luxurious life, and there were moments early on when it seemed it might never be. He was working the Jersey Shore circuit, after all, which guaranteed anonymity; and when lightning finally did strike, and he signed with Columbia Records, his first two albums didn’t exactly catch fire. “They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway/I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home they all say/But they’re wrong, I know they are/I can play this here guitar/And I won’t quit until I’m a star/on Broadway.”

I don’t wish to spoil the show for those who lucked into tickets but have yet to see it, so will do my best to remain circumspect. I’ll just say that, in a way, it’s reminiscent of the 2005 Devils & Dust tour: Bruce plays acoustic guitar much of the night, though there are a few sojourns on piano, too. Patti also lends her harmonies to two numbers, and provides the inspiration for Bruce to sing the first line of the Exciters’ “Tell Him.” But it’s not an all-music affair; no one should enter expecting a “concert.” Think of the (much-bootlegged) introductions to “Growing Up” and “Independence Day,” among other songs, when Bruce paints vivid word pictures that are often as riveting as what follows – that, translated to an acoustic setting, is what this is. The soliloquies are sometimes funny, often profound, and always spellbinding.

The show is biographical, but not biography, with the shared vignettes being both personal and universal. That it’s in an intimate (by Bruce standards) setting makes it all the more special. The Walter Kerr Theater seats 975 people, and the sight lines – aside from one very tall person thankfully not blocking our view – were great from our vantage point in row N. Pictures aren’t allowed, though by the last song many people had their cameras out. (Which explains the shot up top.)

For the set list, which has remained static thus far, scroll below the picture of Yours Truly…

  1. Growing Up
  2. My Hometown
  3. My Father’s House
  4. The Wish
  5. Thunder Road
  6. The Promised Land
  7. Born in the USA
  8. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  9. Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti)
  10. Brilliant Disguise (with Patti)
  11. Long Walk Home
  12. The Rising
  13. Dancing in the Dark
  14. Land of Hope and Dreams
  15. Born to Run