-- Below, English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware drops her third album, 21 years after the fact Tracy Bonham and a whole bunch of friends pay tribute to her classic debut album, country singer Margo Price returns with her second album and grunge-revivalists Bully also release their sophomore full-length.
Jessie Ware’s “Glasshouse” (Deluxe Edition) ****1/2
In the U.S., Jessie Ware probably gets the most exposure through music licensing or through tastemaker critics. If anything, her third album, “Glasshouse” continues to show that the British R&B-flavored balladeer deserves to be a much bigger deal here.
Like her previous albums, this is an impossibly smooth, semi-sultry, mature set. Opener “Midnight” sounds like a cousin to Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” with its rhythmic pounding and its measured chords, while “Thinking About You” is warm like previous benchmarks “Wildest Moments” and “Champagne Kisses.” “Stay Awake, Wait for Me,” simmers with an R&B energy, while “Your Domino” showcases a mellow, club-ready backdrop.
The orchestral, almost flamenco-driven “Selfish Love,” sounds like Ware’s approximation of trip-hop duo Bitter:Sweet’s sound and ends up being a true winner. “Sam” (a song about her pregnancy, named for her husband) ends with a very jazzy trumpet solo while “Last of the True Believers” has Ware joined by Paul Buchanan of Blue Nile.
The deluxe edition of this album contains five extra tracks: three acoustic versions (though there may be still some electronic beat-work) and two standard bonus tracks.
Ware is indeed the real deal. She’s a mighty talent, whose sometimes whispering voice can convey a whole range of emotions. She can also take a sudden turn and belt with the best of them. “Glasshouse” is a welcoming, highly recommended set of songs.
“Thinking About You” If given the airplay it deserves, this has strong hit potential.
“Hearts” When Ware sings, “If I could ask a smoking gun how it feels to hurt someone,” it makes a damning statement in this heartbreaking ballad, especially when combined with the chorus, “Hearts aren’t supposed to hurt like that.”
“Alone” You can immediately imagine this being a highlight on the soundtrack to a romantic movie and not in a cheesy way. Ware knows how to be soft and mellow without laying it on too thick or losing momentum.
Tracy Bonham’s “Modern Burdens”
Tracy Bonham’s 1996 debut, “The Burdens of Being Upright” is an underrated gem of the alternative/grunge era. It spawned the alt-rock radio hits, “Mother Mother,” “The One” and “Sharks Can’t Sleep” and put the violinist and guitarist on the map with visceral tracks like “Navy Bean” and “Bulldog.”
In honor of “The Burdens of Being Upright” celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, Bonham and producer John Wlaysewski of Late Cambrian re-recorded the entire album. Some of the tracks feature Bonham on vocals. Some feature guests taking the lead. Both peers and Bonham-influenced artists get to partake.
Nicole Atkins’ helps make a stripped-down version of “Tell It to the Sky” still somehow pack a lot of twisting, dark power, while the New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder is able to seriously expand the originally brief “Brain Crack” into something haunting and ethereal. Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley brings the rock on her bubblegum-flavored take on “Every Breath” while Belly’s Tanya Donelly is able to make “Sharks Can’t Sleep” sound like a woozy daydream. Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis makes “The Real” sound like her Sad13 side project, while the album offers more quality work from the likes of Rachael Yamagata and Frente!’s Angie Hart.
Most of these songs are slower than the original versions. Bonham updates “Mother Mother,” originally an anthem about the rebellion of her twenties, into a reflection of the state of the world and the chaotic political climate. She turns the punky “Bulldog” into a very synth-driven exercise. She turns “The One” into a bit of a jazz ballad and reconstructs “Navy Bean,” while still maintaining an edge. She even adds a bonus interpretation of “Free,” the first song from her second album, “Down Here,” at the end of the record for good measure. (The version on “Down Here” is different and called “Freed”)
Bonham’s sound is maturing well. Like any tribute album, this one isn’t meant to openly completely replicate its source. Instead, it serves as a fitting companion-piece to a classic.
“Navy Bean” Even though this is played at a more glacial in pace, this one of the few tracks that maintains the world-weary, cyanide-fed drive of the original. In a way, slowing it down makes it sound more ominous.
“Sharks Can’t Sleep” (Featuring Tanya Donelly) Donelly was a perfect choice to pay tribute to this track and like her “Swan Song Series” collection last year, this furthers the excitement for Belly’s upcoming reunion album next year.
“The One” It may be hard to imagine a hard-edged rocker could take such a mellow approach, but this is a solid reinvention.
Margo Price’s “All American Made”
Margo Price is holding a classic country torch on her second album, “All American Made,” and she doesn’t lose a step, summoning associations with the likes of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. When Price is joined by Willie Nelson on “Learning to Lose” it seems like a very natural fit.
Price also isn’t afraid to make statements with her music. “Pay Gap” is an anthem to financial inequality drawn down gender lines, while the farm struggle and foreclosures discussed on “Heart of America” pack honest authenticity. Price’s America is one that puts the “big banks” and the powers that be on notice.
Tracks like “Nowhere Fast,” “A Little Pain” and “Do Right by Me,” show that Price is out to make some vintage country music in a classic mold. She was obviously raised on certain kinds of records and her music packs a lot of gumption.
If you like soulful, rich country with strong, narrative songwriting and substance, Price’s “All American Made” is recommended listening.
Focus Track:“Pay Gap” There’s no denying this is the main focal point of the record. It’s amazing we are still having this conversation in 2017. “Nowhere Fast” There’s a rustic quality to this track that gives it a nice edge. At the same time, part of the verse-section sounds like a country cousin to the Nirvana cover of the Meat Puppets’ “Oh Me.”
“All American Made” With lyrics like, “I wonder if the president gets much sleep at night and if the folks on welfare are making it alright,” this ballad is obviously about everyday struggles and how our political system lets the people down.
Nashville grunge-enthusiasts Bully return with their second album, “Losing," which shows the band exploring darker material.
The driving force behind Bully remains leader Alicia Bognanno, who not only wrote all the songs but engineered and mixed the record as well. She famously interned in Steve Albini’s studio and it is openly evident that she shares his sensibilities, from the off-kilter jamming in “Seeing It” to the rumbling eruptions of “Focused.”
This is a more mannered and less melodic record than their debut, but it still has a lot of interesting turns and Bognanno with her often explosive performances continues to be a standout star. The rickety bounce of “Either Way” and the bizarre swagger of “Guess There” make this sound like a lost '90s gem. There’s a fractured, bummed-out sensibility that permeates this record to its core as Bognanno frequently pushes her voice to a raspy scream.
“Losing” is the kind of record that needs a few spins to sink into your consciousness but once it does, it will leave you hooked. If you liked “Feels Like” two years ago, this is that album’s moodier sister.
“Feel the Same” After their first album began with the fast punch of “I Remember,” this record begins with this track that again is just under the two-minute mark but goes for the jugular. The members of Bully obviously spent years studying Nirvana and Pavement records and that really pays off as the band finds their own niche in that framework.
“Blame” As Bognanno sings that she is “trying to cut down on booze and you” and that “this isn’t the summer (she) wanted,” her bandmates Clayton Parker, Reece Lazarus and Casey Weissbuch help summon a wonderful dose of fuzzy rock.
“Seeing It” This song is almost celebratory in its unsettled nature and Bognanno harmonizes well with herself. When she yells at the 1:16 mark, it sounds like a mighty act of catharsis.
Coming up: New music from Weezer, Rachel Platten and more.