M Ward — ‘Think of Spring’
THE GOOD: Giving us his 11th solo effort, singer/songwriter M Ward has love and Billie Holiday on his mind.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The last album legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday released during her all-too-short lifetime was 1958’s “Lady in Satin.” Here, Ward covers 10 of its 11 tracks, swapping out “Glad to Be Unhappy” for the Frank Sinatra classic “All the Way.” Ward gives the tunes an intimate treatment, with just his reserved voice and some delicate guitar work. The music doesn’t simply end up as “jazz goes folk,” but it’s close.
The guy also recorded the album on an old four-track cassette recorder, so this is a true DIY project. It works. You can tell Ward has a genuine respect and affection for the classic material. When he’s singing standards such as “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “I’ll Be Around,” Ward isn’t exactly warbling uncomfortably. He displays how timeless and malleable these great songs truly are.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Yukon Blonde — ‘Vindicator’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Yukon Blonde continue to shake up their formula on a flashy fifth.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Vindicator” is simply the latest chapter within an unpredictable catalog. When this dusty outfit started releasing music in 2009, the whole “bearded bands” folk/rock trend was waning. And while Blonde never fully fit into that category, it could have. But this crew wasn’t satisfied with one sound or sonic dimension. It also flirted with synths, pop melodies and even dashes of funk.
“Vindicator” now finds the group morphing a little further. Keyboardist Rebecca Gray is out front more often, not changing, but rather enhancing, Blonde’s style. When sharing the spotlight with front man/guitarist Jeff Innes on tracks such as “It’s What You Are” and “In Love Again,” she lightens the mood and adds a welcome spark to these mostly upbeat proceedings.
Yukon Blonde still possesses an earthy vibe, but it isn’t afraid to embrace a catchy melody or infectious groove, making “Vindicator” its most memorable and accessible album yet.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Fleet Foxes — ‘Shore’
THE GOOD: The Seattle folk-rockers adjust to COVID-era life while creating their fourth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/songwriter/front man Robin Pecknold began putting “Shore” together in 2018. He worked on backing tracks with guest musicians, but just when it was time to bring in the other band members to do the vocals, the pandemic hit and lockdowns began.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Lyrically, Pecknold was blocked and needed time away from everybody to clear the air (and his head). Late last spring, the words suddenly came, the music was completed (unfortunately without other Fleet Foxes), and the digital release happened last September. The physical release is here now.
“Shore’s” spirit fits within the band’s catalog. However, this album is bolder and livelier than previous releases. Pecknold describes it as his least personal; the man looks outward for inspiration. The music also is a hopeful celebration of life. Outside musicians and overdubs make it the least intimate of the Foxes’ sets.
BUY IT?: Definitely.