Overlooked Albums of 2017 - Weekend

Overlooked Albums of 2017

The Associated Press takes a look at some overlooked albums of 2017:


“Elwan” (Anti/Epitaph)

Tinariwen is a band on the run, forced into exile by political upheaval in their Northern Mali homeland. Nearly every song on “Elwan,” the Grammy-nominated album they released almost a year ago, reflects on their pains and yearnings of wanting most of all to get back home. It’s a poignant wonder.

Recorded in Morocco, France and, back in 2014, at the Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, California, the Tuareg band’s mesmerizing brand of desert blues is presented in nuggets rarely exceeding four minutes, making it almost pop-like in its compressed efficiency.

Not for the first time, there are some rock and roll guests, including Kurt Vile and Matt Sweeney, whose electric guitars enhance the density of the already guitar-heavy arrangements, all driven by layers of percussion dynamic enough to challenge any “Stomp” cast.

Mark Lanegan adds vocal to the ethereal “Nannuflay” (“Fulfilled”), where the lyrics in Tamashek, the Tuareg language, talk about “pursuing memories built on a dune that’s always moving.”

Other songs directly reference the conflicts on their native soil — “My own people have abandoned their ancestral ways/All that’s left is a groaning land;” the goal is “the unity of our nation and to carry our banner high” or “you can read the bitterness on the faces of the innocents.”

“Elwan” is in the running for best world music album at the 60th annual Grammy Awards, to be held Jan. 28. Other nominees in the category include Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Vicente Amigo.

The album’s title means “The Elephants,” but even without a pachyderm’s memory this is music you aren’t likely to soon forget.

Various artists

“Sunday in the Park with George (2017 Broadway Cast Recording)” (Arts Music)

Annaleigh Ashford is a revelation as Dot in this outstanding recording of the cast from the 2017 revival of “Sunday in the Park with George,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.
Her voice makes Sondheim’s tongue-twisting lyrics glow and at the top of her range is superior to that of Bernadette Peters, who originated the role of the model/girlfriend of French impressionist painter Georges Seurat.

Peters and Mandy Patinkin gave indelible performances during the initial run that started in 1984, which is preserved on an RCA audio recording and a video. Paired with Jake Gyllenhaal, Ashford has a more powerful and effortless top that soars in songs such as “Move On” and “We Do Not Belong Together,” and is more crystalline and less breathy in “Children and Art.”

Known more for his film roles, which include an Academy Award-nominated performance in “Brokeback Mountain,” Gyllenhaal like Patinkin conveys the introspective and tortured aspects of Seurat, a pointillist innovator who died at age 31 in 1891. The show uses his great “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, to focus on the meaning and place of art and artists in life.

Lydia Loveless

“Boy Crazy and Single(s)” (Bloodshot Records)

Lydia Loveless is her own brand of outlaw. The 27-year-old Ohioan is fearless and direct and, if you haven’t had the privilege of being introduced, last year’s reissue of her five-song “Boy Crazy” EP — updated with six more tracks recorded between 2012 and 2015 — is an excellent primer.

Loveless combines rock, country and honky-tonk with a punkish attitude that avoids artificial ingredients.

The 42-minute collection came out in October, just days after the passing of Tom Petty, and Loveless seems to possess his similar sort of unflinching candor and resilience. If, in contrast to some of her more high-sparkle contemporaries, she sounds much more real it’s also because she writes some of the funniest, down-to-earth songs you’ll hear anywhere.

The characters — they can’t possibly be all her, can they? — are in a constant state of turmoil, regrets on top of regrets and romances that glow with a nearly unbearable intensity before ending badly. On “Come Over” she has thoughts like “I don’t want to wreck your home/Could she have an accident/I mean something small to her out of the way,” even if the inevitable conclusion arrives when “it turns out I don’t look that good in bright lighting anyway.”

Loveless also has a sharp ear for covers and her interpretations of Kesha (“Blind”) and Elvis Costello (“Alison”) are fresh and unvarnished while her brilliant take on Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” has echoes of Pat Benatar at her most rocking and intense.

This compilation is an absolute winner and just as on her albums, including the 2011 modern classic “Indestructible Machine” and “Real” from 2016, she sings like she means it.

The Clientele

“Music for the Age of Miracles” (Merge Records)

The Clientele are often described as “autumnal,” so it seemed apt that their first full album in eight years — a glowing specimen of gently orchestrated pop — was given a late September release. “Music for the Age of Miracles,” however, is a thing of beauty that sounds just as good in the cold of the new year, a perfect balm for bomb cyclones and the assault of winter weather.

The London-based band has also been tagged as pastoral, erudite, mystical and spooky and the album stays on those paths while also deepening the echoes. Anthony Harmer, an old friend of bandleader Alasdair MacLean, helps execute a gentle renovation of the band’s traditional sounds with his breezy arrangements and instruments like the santur, a Persian hammered dulcimer.

The melodies sweep in from many directions and perfectly match MacLean’s literate lyrics full of mystery, beauty and fresh nostalgia. Three brief instrumental interludes written by drummer Mark Keen are an opportunity for reflection, to let the songs penetrate even more fully into the senses.

The album’s bookends are among its strongest tracks. “The Neighbour” is youthful, dreamy and romantic — “The crowds thinned out until we were alone” — while MacLean says “The Age of Miracles” is in part about being a father. Like with many of his songs, however, you can probably find phrases and moods that fit your own story and circumstances. (AP)

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