January’s New Music for Te Awe


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 buy music for the CD & Vinyl collections, and also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). My Music Specialist colleague Sam, and Fiction Specialist (and avid music fan) Neil, join me every month to cast an 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…

Come around and love me / Ngonda, Jalen
Mark Says: The debut album from this London-based Washington DC singer is fully steeped in vintage soul influences, with his falsetto floating over a pulsing Motown styled groove of bass, conga’s, orchestral strings and sax flourishes. Released on the Daptone label, it’s smooth sound & romanticism harks back to The Delfonics & The Impressions but, like a lot of the music in this ‘Retro-soul’ genre, it perhaps checks a little too many boxes along the way. A great voice, though.
Neil says: Jalen Ngonda’s debut album is a deep and heartfelt sonic love-letter to the music he grew up with, and which formed him as a musician. It is a vibrant, smooth and sophisticated album, deeply immersed in the R&B and soul music of the late sixties and early seventies. His self-professed love of the Beatles and Beach Boys makes very occasional appearances to. What really makes the album soar is his charismatic, truly fabulous voice, which is in places reminiscent of the legendary Marvin Gaye.

Jelly road / Mills, Blake
Mark Says: Mills is an American songwriter & guitarist, who has done production and guitar work on numerous albums from Fiona Apple, to Lana De Ray, Weyes Blood, & Bob Dylan, and worked as a touring musician with artists such as Lucinda Williams & Band of Horses. He is perhaps best known for being the songwriter/producer for Aurora, the album of original songs performed by the fictional faux-’70s soft-rock group Daisy Jones & the Six, the television adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel. This is his 4th solo album from 2023, and was rated as a high point of his solo releases. Gentle, meditative ruminations surrounded by textured guitar work, Jazz inflections, Americana & Beach Boys psychedelic era influences.
Sam Says: Blake Mills is a California-based singer/songwriter who has largely made a name for himself via his production and session contributions to the work of other artists, including Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, Beck, The Killers, among many others. As a solo artist, he has released several albums over the past decade and a half, with ‘Jelly Road’ being his latest offering. Towing the line between indie-folk and experimental pop/rock, Mills offers an enigmatic musical vision that feels expansive and exploratory, whilst remaining grounded and accessible to a wide audience. The arrangements are peppered with subtle yet intricate details, while the songwriting is nuanced and complex, with Mills clearly having a taste for unusual and angular chord progressions. Overall, ‘Jelly Road’ is an intriguing and immersive listen that is well worth checking out.

Black classical music / Dayes, Yussef
Neil says: The debut solo album by record producer and drummer Yussef Dayes is an adventurous, complex, lush outing that never loses sight of its ultra-cool soul and remains seamless throughout. It boasts a veritable host of special musical guests including Shabaka Hutchings, Leon Thomas, Jahaan Sweet, Chronixx, Masego, Tom Misch and a posthumous appearance from Barbara Hicks. The overall vibe, at times, is slightly reminiscent of a mid to late 70’s Herbie Hancock jazz funk album. But the work also very much its own musical beast; grooving on, reaching out and connecting with a dizzying array of musical styles in its journey.

Looking for the magic : American power pop in the seventies
Mark Says: A great tribute from Cherry Red to the bands that kept the 3-minutes pop song alive in the 70s. Never really as defined a sound as the genre label may imply, ‘Power Pop’ elements appeared in a wide variety of music, so here you have MC5, The Ramones, Television & Sparks, next to the Raspberries, Cheap Trick, the Rubinoos and Todd Rundgren. Includes some very rare tracks, as well as less well know tracks from the more obvious artists. Plenty of enjoyment here for fans of the genre. The compilations title ‘Looking For The Magic’ is from a song by genre pioneer Dwight Twilley who sadly passed away suddenly a the end of last year, so this in part is a fitting tribute to the ongoing legacy of the music he helped define.

Ozarker / Nash, Israel
Mark Says: The 7th album from this Missouri-born Texas-based American singer-songwriter was hailed as a career highpoint, proudly flying the ‘heartland rock’ flag in a series of melodic, cinematic rockers with fist pumping chorus’. Full of widescreen character studies drawn from his own family history and stories he heard about real people, he weaves a great set of rockers in the Bob Seger/Tom Petty/Springsteen mould, full of guitar solos and ‘sha-la-la’ backings. It’s all hard won victories and dusty roads heading away from trouble or toward it…

Fly or die fly or die fly or die ((world war)) / Branch, Jaimie
Neil says: The untimely death of jazz trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 39 leaves a void in the modern jazz world. ‘Fly or die fly or die fly or die (world war)’ was nearly finished when she passed, and was completed according to the careful notes she left. This multi genre crossing Jazz album is both populist and avant-garde at the same time. In the way that some of Miles Davis’s mid seventies albums were, after the extreme experimentation of earlier 70’s works like Bitches Brew. The album has elements of dancehall, reggaetón, and Caribbean influenced rhythms. It has real drive, like a jazz fusion of punk and funk, while in places its jaunty and danceable. If this all sounds like a bit of an odd mix, it’s Jaimie’s ability to combine them into her own cohesive vision that makes her loss all the more poignant. It is an album that makes you reflect on where her considerable musical talents might have taken her in the future.

Yacht soul 2 : the cover versions
Mark Says: We really enjoyed the first entry in the Too Slow To Disco label’s Yacht Soul series, so we had to pick up this one for the collection also. This sequel serves up a pretty similar vice to the previous entry, as Black artists inject some much needed soul into a series of (sometimes very) white bread AOR tracks. Like most compilations not everything works, and some songs are just perhaps too familiar in their original form to benefit from a genre re-interpretation, like Richie Haven’s attempt at Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, for example. However there are plenty of highlights, including Billy Paul’s take on Carol King’s iconic ‘It’s too late’, Spinners lead singer John Edwards’ sweet-soul take on America’s ‘Tin Man’, the Isley Brothers reworking of the Doobie Brothers staple ‘Listen To The Music’, and Kenni Burke’s great version of Todd Rundgren’s ‘Love Is The Answer’.

Thank God we left the garden / Martin, Jeffrey
Sam says: After six years since his last release, Jeffrey Martin returns with ‘Thank God We Left the Garden’, his fourth full length record. A stark and stripped back affair, the album unambiguously sits within americana and folk stylings, with an essence that invokes a sense of nostalgia for times gone by. Humbly recorded in a shack in his backyard, the music is remarkably bare, with Martin’s voice and acoustic guitar for the most part being the sole elements. However, this is occasionally embellished by subtle electric guitar work by co-producer Jon Neufeld. Martin’s evocative storytelling is the real star of the show here, carried by his croaky, rough-edged voice which feels somewhat reminiscent of Bob Dylan during his hey-day. This is definitely a record that succeeds in utilising a less-is-more approach, and as such makes for a quietly powerful listen

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