June’s new music for Te Awe: Part 1


Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries (I also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month my colleague Neil and I cast our eye over the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. We pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres, and try to limit our reviews to a few lines only. Can we encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? [Ed. This is probably unlikely at this point]. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? [Ed. This is more than likely]. Read on to find out…

Savoy / Mahal, Taj
Mark: Blues legend Taj Mahal’s new album delivers a funky personal take on the Classic American Jazz songbook. On the opening track, ‘Stompin at the Savoy’, he recounts how his parents met at an Ella Fitzgerald/Chick Webb gig at the Savoy Ballroom, and how Jazz was the sound of his upbringing. He livens up these swing-jazz-Big Band era standards with a warm bluesy phrasing and energy that is sure to bring a smile to your face. Iconic folk-Blues singer Maria Muldaur duets on a fun take of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.
Neil: Taj Mahal, the American blues legend, releases an album of covers of 20’s, 30’s and 40’s classic old-school swing dance covers. Featuring tracks originally made famous by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan. Taj Mahal’s distinctive, elegant, smooth and smoky voice gives the tracks a new feel, and the resulting release is both very reverential to the original source material whilst also breathing new life and vitality into them.

Linger awhile / Samara Joy
Mark: More Jazz, if somewhat more traditional interpretations, with this 2022 album (reissued in 2023 with bonus tracks). A winner of the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Jazz Competition ‘Linger awhile’, her sophomore album, won her a double Grammy in 2022 for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best New Artist. An amazing voice with a timbre compared to Sarah Vaughan & Dinah Washington, and a huge TikTok following, she brings classic Jazz to zoomers with these tasteful and classy interpretations of well known and obscure standards. A great acoustic band backs her and she mixes things up with the alternate lyrics to the classic ‘Round Midnight’, a vocalese take on trumpeter Fats Navarro’s “Nostalgia – for which she wrote the lyrics, and a lovely closing duet with guitarist Pasquale Grasso. Definitely the next big Jazz star.
Neil: This is the second studio release from the American jazz singer Samara Joy, who already has two Grammy’s to her name at the age of twenty-two. Her vocal stylings and phrasings, as well as her song selections remind the listener of jazz legends like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and their works. A pitch perfect homage to the timeless golden age of jazz.

Aperture / Jadagu, Hannah
Mark: Hannah Jadagu is a Texan indie-pop singer clearly destined for big success. She gained attention for a series of singles released while she was at high school, which led to her being signed to Sub Pop and a 2021 EP recorded entirely on her iPhone 7 with GarageBand iOS, an iRig, a microphone, and a guitar. Her full length debut has a crisper and cleaner productions, but still retains that casual air of fizzy bedroom pop. A set of super catchy, warm, synthy, indie-shoegaze songs showcase her gift of hooky melodies and bouncy instrumentation, while the later half of the album captures a more reflective take on emerging adulthood. A really impressive debut.
Neil: Hannah Jadagu’s debut album ‘Aperture’ is a assured hybrid outing, mashing up indie-alternative pop & R&B, and there’s even a touch of punk in the mix. It’s a spectacular debut, made even more impressive by the fact that Hannah created it whilst still studying at college. And, despite its largely D.I.Y. roots, the production is sleek and highly polished. The songs are liberally sprinkled with memorable riffs and catchy hooks and often build up to warm and crisp multi layered crescendos. For reference it reminded me in parts of Arlo Parks. A confident and assured debut.

Tracey Denim / Bar Italia
Mark: This album from enigmatic London Trio is one that ended up on the Guardian’s Best Albums of 2023 So Far list recently. Their third album, and debut for major label Matador, it harks back to the early Brit-pop pop-punk sound of Elastica and bands like Linoleum, with their deadpan vocals & angular post-punk guitars. No one knew who the band was for their first couple of albums so, in a lot of ways, this acts as an actual debut, despite their music dating back to 2020. A bit of a triumph of style over substance, it favours a deliberately messy aesthetic and unpolished tracks and, with all three band members handling lead vocals, it manages to be interesting enough over the length of the album despite the narrow musical focus.
Neil: There’s been a lot of media buzz about London based band Bar Italia . Tracey Demin their new album goes part of the way of explaining why. The minimalist post punks latest release is in many ways a homage to key underground bands of the past that have inspired them . It’s a cool and surprisingly accessible album given the bands penchant for being elusive and mysterious. It’s a moody release with fuzzy and flanged guitar to the fore with layered boy girl vocals and clearly displays their love of genres like trip hop, dream pop and shoegaze.

Stereo mind game / Daughter (Musical group)
Mark: Another entry on the Guardian’s Best Albums of 2023 So Far list, London indie alt-pop trio Daughter return with their 3rd album, the first in 7 years following on from 2015’s Not to disappear. If, as a first time listener, their music reminds you a bit of Phoebe Bridgers & Julien Baker it’s because Daughter have been around for a long time, releasing their debut 4-track EP in 2011, and have thus acted as influences to the younger generation of female songwriters. The band now all live in different cities, so the new album naturally explores the effects of distance on connections, as well as getting sober and the heavier weight of relationships and missed chances as you get older. Mellow, ambient, shoe-gazy 4AD pop, with some clever orchestral layers, reminiscent of early 90s female bands & singers.
Neil: Indie folk rock trio Daughter’s third album embraces a stripped back vulnerable and dreamy shoegaze approach. The songs feel very personal with lyrics largely about longing ‘often from a distance’ and dealing with alcohol, and their interconnectedness. It is a delicate and sadly romantic outing that wistfully looks at romantic disappointments and lost moments. Restrained and strangely soothing .

Jarak qaribak / Tassa, Dudu
Mark: Israeli singer, musician and producer Dudu Tassa teams up with award-winning composer and guitarist Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead, The Smile), for this slinky, atmospheric & sinuous album of Middle Eastern grooves. The album is really a collective, as the two bring together vocalists and musicians from throughout the Middle East to cover a range of traditional Arabic love songs. While the different vocalists recorded live in different countries, Greenwood and Tassa recorded between Oxford and Tel Aviv with brass, strings, keyboards, and Middle Eastern instrumentation. The album manages to fuse the sound of Middle Eastern scales (which don’t conform to western major/minor scales) with Western harmonic touches, so the songs are more like interpretations rather than cover versions. A nice Pitchfork piece digs deeper into the historical, familial & political aspects involved in the album, with its aim of building & reinforcing connections via shared musical perspectives and experiences.
Neil: A collaborative album in every sense of the word, featuring songs from the ancient and rich tradition of Arabic love songs. These modern interpretations employ a wide range of modern singers and musicians from the middle east, overseen by the celebrated Israeli musician Dudu Tassa and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. As you would expect the arrangements are done with skill, care and sensitivity and combine traditional instrumentation with additions of electronic or western instruments. A rich and rewarding listen, that is also a conscious act of musical bridge building.

Oscar’s Motel / Cash Box Kings
Mark: Cash Box Kings are purveyors of old school Chicago style Blues, and this is their 11th album overall and third for the famed Alligator Records label. Helmed by bandleader/harmonica player and chief songwriter Joe Nosek & big-voiced vocalist and songwriter Oscar, “Mr. 43rd St.” Wilson, these light-hearted blues boogies update the history & sound of vintage blues with retro stylings and modern situations and stories. Mostly original tunes, with covers of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Pontiac Blues” and Muddy Waters ‘Please Have Mercy’, this is a lot of fun, especially when Chicago soul-blues singer Deitra Farr swaps barbs with Wilson on the Facebook beef ‘I Can’t Stand You’.
Neil: A perfectly executed, straight down the line, traditional blues rock album, very much in the old school mould delivered with passion and panache. The songs are mostly originals, but the sound is very much of American Blues music from the 50’s and 60’s. If you are a fan of high calibre rock out blues tunes, you can’t go wrong with this release.

The girl is crying in her latte / Sparks (Musical group)
Mark: There has been a bit of a Sparks revival of sorts recently, with a string of critically well received albums (2015’s Franz Ferdinand collaboration FFS, 2017’s Hippopotamus, 2020’s A steady drip, drip, drip), followed by the 2021 documentary The Sparks Brothers, directed by Edgar Wright. No one sounds like the cult duo, with their theatrically pompous vocal stylings, offbeat melodies and idiosyncratic brand of pop. ‘The girl is crying in her latte’ is another mix of musical styles and wacky pop stories told from the point of view of The Mona Lisa, jaded newborns, DJ Dictator’s and more. They are a musical universe unto themselves, always manipulating the history of pop into new and fun dimensions. Or as Russel Mael sang at one point on ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’: ‘Our inconsistency is our consistency/our insincerity is our sincerity’…
Neil: There are lots of compelling reasons as to why Sparks are one of the most distinctive, versatile and long-lasting bands around. Amazingly this is their 26th release. And if you look at their back catalogue, one of the most notable aspects of their output is the consistently high quality of their work no matter which musical style they are adopting at the time. ‘The girl is crying in her latte’ finds them in top notch form using their own brand of madcap, electronic experimental rock, perfectly balanced with hooky lyrics, catchy melodies and passages of complex layered arrangements. There are also moments of joyous strangeness and existential dread. Unmissable if you are already a fan, and if you are unfamiliar with their work well worth checking out.