Here's two albums which have been getting a hiding c/o the home stereo of late, and barring any unforeseen circumstances - such as there being an absolute glut of killer releases over the next 5 months - they'll be sitting in my year-end Top 10 list come December 31st.
First up is Bruises & Butterflies, the debut solo album by California-based musician, ELISA RANDAZZO, released on the Drag City label. Never heard of her before? Neither had I, and such ignorance made for a hell of a pleasant surprise when it received a virginal spin just last month. She comes from solid musical stock, too: her parents were both successful songwriters back in the 1960s and '70s - her father penning tunes for everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Zombies, her mother the author of The Third Bardo's "I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time - as well as herself being the violinist in the '90s incarnation of the Red Krayola. OK, so the introduction's out of the way, and that probably gives one little idea of what this album actually sounds like. The music is lush and orchestral, though one ensconsed in the folk idiom. It sounds more like something which would've been released on the Topic, Asylum, Island or Elektra labels ca. 1972 than a typical indie release ca. 2010.
Although heavily indebted to the west coast school of songwriters of that period (as well as Brits who were obviously listening to some of that stuff), that doesn't make it an exercise in musical bedwetting. She has "legendary" (as they all must be) UK singer/songwriter, Bridget St. John, helping her out w/ co-songwriting and vocals on two tracks, which, assuming you've heard St. John before (I hadn't), will give you a closer musical ballpark to aim for. Most of all, she reminds me of Judee Sill and her two since-rediscovered-and-lauded albums from the early '70s, though the quality of songcraft strikes me as a whole lot stronger. The truth is: just about every song here reminds me of someone else - from Ian Matthews to John Martyn ("Can't Afford My Piece Of Mind"'s opening melody is an almost exact replica of Martyn's "Over The Hill") - though since all the (alleged) inspirations are people I'll personally vouch for, no complaints to be heard here.
Bruises & Butterflies has far more going for it than simply a recreation of a particular sound, or a sense of lush orchestration clouding a weakness of material: the songs here - just about every one of them - are first-rate. There's a beautiful sense of melody, sweeping choruses which never turn to cheese and hooks which have had me revisiting this album constantly the last four weeks. I'm convinced it's a very good thing, an album which isn't simply a case of revivalism or marching against the times, but one which sits perfectly as a record whose sole intent is the expression of the artist. You bet I'm impressed. I'm a sucker for this kinda shtick in the modern age when it's done to perfection - Frida Hyvonen's brilliant Silence Is Wild also springs to mind - and Elisa Randazzo's debut has floored me. Y' see, I can be a big softie.
The Afrobeat compilation has almost become the Back From The Grave/Nuggets/Pebbles/Boulders of the 21st century: a never-ending glut of releases spewing out year upon year, each one claiming to have unearthed yet more gems from the vaults. When this one fell into my hands - The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria, released on the excellent Soundway label - I believe I actually emitted an audible groan. Another one? Does the world really need another one of these things? Labels such as Soundway, Vampisoul, Analogue Africa, Strut et al have been churning these things out en masse the last five years (I know: I own a lot of them!), essentially to the point where surely the process of barrel-scraping must be taking place any moment now. Judging by the sheer awesomeness of this double-CD set, there's still gold in them thar hills. Soundway has released, what, five volumes already of rare Nigerian Afrobeat, funk, disco, psychedelia and hard rock? From memory, four of them are double LPs and one is a 2-CD/four-LP set. That makes for an exhaustive set of listening, yet no one has been dudded yet: it's all good. The World Ends..., housed in a snappy fold-out wallet w/ an insanely informative, well-presented and chunky accompanying booklet, once again collects together a wildly varying array of tracks - 33 of them - and slaps them together to tell the unique story of Nigerian rock music in the 1970s, when performers and bands with names such as The Hygrades, The Semi Colon, The Black Mirrors, The Actions, The Strangers and The Comrades were releasing records, both singles and LPs, on independent labels and putting their own slant on Western funk and psychedelic rock 'n' roll. The influence of James Brown looms large (obviously), though there's also a string of tracks which up the freak factor into a Parliament/Funkadelic groove, and many with the kind of fuzzed-out/4-track/basement vibe certainly lost in the West by the time much of this was recorded. I hope I'm not drawing too long a bow when I say that several tracks here, such as Reme Izabo's Music Research's(!!) "The Same Man" or The Action 13's "Active Action", possess the kind of hypnotic, percussive and trance-inducing qualities which Can achieved around the same era, and hey, even if I am... is it working?! You gonna take the plunge? Rich rewards await.