FOREVER ENDEAVOUR Ron Sexsmith (Warner) *****
The latest album from one of Elton John’s favorite singer/ songwriters is being hailed by some as a return to form. While there is some truth to that, it sounds to me like another step in Ron’s journey- a richly textured one- and we get to come along for the ride.
Forever Endeavour was produced by Mitchell Froom, who handled Sexsmith’s first 3 records and 2006’s Time Being. “Mitchell’s someone I’ve always looked up to” says Ron, “they don’t make producers like him anymore. This is probably the most personal album I’ve made, so it felt appropriate to do it with him.” All of the album’s musical parts, from drums to guitars, to pedal steel, horns and strings, were written out. Sexsmith has never made a record that way before, but judging from the results I’m sure he’ll work this way again, and often.
The heart of Forever is a batch of philosophical songs like Deepens With Time sparked by an unexpected health scare in the summer of 2011, when a lump was discovered in Ron’s throat. “The specter of death was sort of in my head” he says, understandably. “It was like ‘either next year I’m going to be battling something, or this is the last record I’m going to make’.” I don’t think Ron has ever made a frivolous record but this looming darkness, which thankfully turned out to be nothing to worry about, helped form one of his sharpest, most personal musical statements to date.
“I really do think this is the record I’ve been trying to make my whole career” Sexsmith notes, “but for some reason either I wasn’t singing good enough or didn’t have the right songs. It really came together this time- I’m just really proud of this record.” Some albums you like right away, others feel like they’ll be a deep part of your personal and musical journey- for me, Forever Endeavour is both. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect album than this. Watch for it in stores and at digital retailers on February 5th.
TOP TRACKS: Snake Road, Nowhere To Go, Life After A Broken Heart
‘TIL YOUR RIVER RUNS DRY Eric Burdon (Abkco) ****
A new solo effort from the voice of The Animals. He may not have the power he once had but on this, a record hailed as his most personal to date, he wears the weight of the world on his shoulders with grace.
In his keynote speech for SXSW in 2012, Bruce Springsteen praised Eric Burdon & The Animals by saying “For some they were just another beat group but for me they were a revelation.” Rolling Stone magazine lists Burdon on their list of 100 greatest voices of all time so the man has skills. ‘Til Your River Runs Dry is certainly reminiscent of his old group- the presence of a glorious Hammond B-3 and a song like The Devil & Jesus recalling the slinky groove of Spill The Wine, but Burdon is singing like an old hotrod with high mileage- the cover photo, if you’ve seen it, says it all.
The blues is still a touchstone for Eric’s music, along with some gospel- it’s in the sonic textures of the record and in the things he’s singing about on songs like Memorial Day and Old Habits Die Hard. There’s still a definite 60’s spirit in these tracks too… not so much the ‘summer of love’ happy crappy, more like ‘the world is going to hell in a hand basket and we’d better do something about it- music with a conscience. But best of all? Eric Burdon is making the music he feels in his heart- you can’t go wrong doing that.
TOP TRACKS: Devil And Jesus, Bo Diddley Special, Memorial Day
SCORPION MOON Sora (Ash) ** ½
Sora is a singer/ songwriter from Calgary. In a postcard that was included with the CD when it arrived on my desk a couple of weeks ago, she describes her music as “a medley of world, new age and neo-classical (Loreena McKennitt meets Sarah Brightman). I call it new world music.” The influence of both those artists are evident in Scorpion Moon, her 4th album.
Blues and rock & roll are more my comfort zone, but this is a decent listen. The neo-classical tag fits, and the spiritual flow of Scorpion Moon feels quite new age-y. It came as no surprise to note in her bio that Sora has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, along with a deep interest in mythology, fairytales, feminism and society’s collective consciousness. As a singer she is quite reminiscent of Brightman, and the dark Celtic undertones in a song like The Tower are rather appealing. Lyricist are supplied in the CD booklet so you can delve even deeper into each tale, should you so desire.
Scorpion Moon is not an album I will listen to often, but on a spare afternoon with nothing to do but dream, I can imagine having these songs surround me, Sora’s gorgeous voice an invitation to let go and find the desire to explore a universe other than the one I usually inhabit. Past, present and future, her songs have that kind of quiet power, and I will return.
TOP TRACKS: Scheherazade, The Tower, Savage
GET UP! Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite (Stax/ Concord Music Group) *****
Let’s get straight to the point- blues or otherwise this is one of the deepest, most satisfying blues albums I’ve heard in quite a long while.
“Blues is a feeling” notes Mississippi born Musselwhite, one of the most revered harp players in the world. “BB King could sing Mary Had A Little Lamb and it would be the blues.” He and Harper have been friends since Ben begged for an introduction to the harp virtuoso when they were both on the bill at Australia’s Byron Bay Blues Festival. They’ve been friends since then, and have guested on each other’s records sever times.
Get Up! Is acoustic blues-often pensive, thoughtful and angry, occasionally all at the same time. The centerpiece of the album (for me at least) is I Don’t Believe A Word You Say, a blast of angry electric blues. It could be directed at anyone who hasn’t lived up to their promises, lover or otherwise. “I could fit those words to political imagery” says Harper, “and it would almost work better than (with) matters of the heart.”
You could call this disc lo-fi- recorded down and dirty, fast and live, Get Up! Is an old school creation that captures lighting in a bottle. I know Charlie and Ben have their own successful solo careers, but after spending the day with this album I hope this is the first of many full length collaboration for the two- this is the sweet stuff!
TOP TRACKS: I Don’t Believe A Word You Say, All That Matters Now, I Ride At Dawn