A great vote of thanks is due Nonesuch for making these performances available. This represents the SLSO’s first appearance on this label since the short-lived Saint Louis Symphony Commissions series in the mid 1980s. The engineering of this disc is first-rate, catching the warm ambience of Powell Symphony Hall along with plenty of detail. The orchestra surmounts the considerable technical challenges of the works with élan, matching the excellent Netherlands Philharmonic in the DVD recording of the opera for expressiveness and surpassing them in precision. The only complaint is the short playing time. That criticism aside, this release is warmly recommended.
After expanding his intimate indie folk sound about as far as it could go on the last Iron & Wine album, Kiss Each Other Clean, Sam Beam (and trusty producer Brian Deck) take a step back on Ghost on Ghost and deliver something less suited for large arenas and more late-night jazz club-sized. The arrangements on that album were stuffed with instruments and seemed built to reach the back row; this time there are still plenty of horns, violins, and female backing vocals in the mix, but they are employed with a much lighter touch. Working with jazz drummer Brian Blade and a standup bass and mixing together elements of country, jazz, indie rock, and soft rock, the album has a much more intimate feel that suits Beam's quietly soulful vocals much more naturally.
Natalie Merchant is marketed as the successor to 2001's Motherland, suggesting it's Merchant's first album since, but that isn't strictly true. She independently released a collection of folk covers called The House Carpenter's Daughter in 2003 and, most notably, the ambitious double-disc neo-children's album Leave Your Sleep in 2010 – distinctive work both but she hasn't dedicated herself fully to original material in 13 years, so Natalie Merchant is indeed noteworthy. Feeling neither pent-up nor fussy, the eponymous album is handsome, deliberate, and familiar; she's not picking up where she left off, she's merely resuming her career, not acting like any time or fashion has passed in her absence.
On their umpteenth release, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama mix some modern blues and R&B into their core gospel sound. The rhythm section, led by the organ of the legendary Booker T. Jones, keeps the accompaniment simple as the group soars through some traditional material ("Closer Walk with Thee," "Every Time I Feel the Spirit, "), a few originals by lead vocalist Clarence Fountain, and a transcendent version of Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You."
Cut swiftly – no more than two weeks at three different studios spread coast to coast – the Arcs' 2015 debut Yours, Dreamily does bear a spontaneous air, a record that enjoys its hazy detours as much as its sturdy foundations. This blend of airy sonic swirls and R&B-influenced rock formalism feels familiar, perhaps because it is the aesthetic that's driven Arcs leader Dan Auerbach during the heady mid-career heyday of his main gig, the Black Keys. Once the Ohio garage blues duo hooked up with producer Danger Mouse for 2008's Attack & Release, the Black Keys incorporated impressionistic soundscapes to their guitar growl but Yours, Dreamily flips the equation, favoring feel over grind.
This elegantly packaged 10 disc retrospective surveys four decades of work by Philip Glass, from his earliest solo pieces to his world-renowned operas to his Oscar-nominated film scores. In music, words and pictures, it traces the evolution, as critic Tim Page puts it in his liner notes essay, of 'the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music-simultaneously.' The long-awaited release of this set follows this past spring's triumphal new staging of Glass's 1980 Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Nonesuch Records labelmates mandolinist/singer Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau, longtime admirers of each other's work, first toured as a duo in 2013. At the end of 2015, they played a two-night stand at New York City's Bowery Ballroom before going into the studio to record Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, a mix of covers and original songs that Nonesuch releases on January 27, 2017, on two CDs / LPs. The vinyl edition includes a bonus performance of Fiona Apple's "Fast As You Can." You can watch a live performances of the former above and the latter below.
While Bill Frisell has released plenty of albums under his own name, this is his first true solo album – the first on which he plays all of the instruments himself. These include electric and acoustic guitar, six-string banjo, and bass, as well as the occasional looped sample. To call the music he creates on this album "introspective" would be something of an understatement. This won't come as a complete surprise to his fans – there has always been a gentle and meditative quality to his music, and even when he's gotten wild with his trio or with downtown pals like John Zorn or Vernon Reid, those moments of abrasive abandon have always seemed like detours from his more natural, but no less inventive and interesting, sweetness and good humor.
Singer/songwriter and visual artist Devendra Banhart emerged in the early 2000s and was soon considered an icon of the freak folk movement. In the years that followed, he expanded and experimented with his sound, perhaps hitting peak meandering with 2007's Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Still touching on multiple genres, 2013's Mala offered a more cohesive set. With Ape in Pink Marble, Banhart continues to reel in diversions and delivers his most understated album in over a decade. The palette is playful but restrained, with acoustic guitar, synths, mallet percussion, and Mellotron among its tools.