Album Review – Bettye LaVette – Blackbirds

Recently there has been a noticeable trend of artists releasing cover albums – some choose to feature songs from one artist like Emma Swift’s take on Bob Dylan, or Juliana Hatfield’s tributes to Olivia Newton John and The Police; while most go for a mixture of songs that have inspired them or influenced their music like recent releases from Tanya Donelly and Molly Tuttle.

Most of these projects are recorded as a diversion from their usual path of original songwriting. What you see rarely now are singers for whom interpretation is their sole focus. The few artists who make this choice tend to belong to classic genres like folk, jazz or blues. Singing old songs, for them, remains a vital way to communicate with history, and seek answers from the pioneers of the past.

On her new album ‘Blackbirds’ Grammy nominated blueswoman Bettye LaVette has chosen to record songs made famous by other black women, paying tribute to the legacy of the many iconic musicians who paved the hard road before her. This album shows that she has the talent and skills of interpretation to match even the best of them. Continue reading “Album Review – Bettye LaVette – Blackbirds”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Eagle When She Flies (1991)

The nineties would turn out to be a decade where Dolly achieved huge success on the pop charts, albeit thanks to Whitney Houston. A year before that Bodyguard soundtrack took over the world, Dolly released her 31st solo album Eagle When She Flies which was another strong collection of country songs, after her welcome return to the genre on the Trio project and previous album White Limozeen. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Eagle When She Flies (1991)”

Album Review: Emma Swift – Blonde on the Tracks

In his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture Bob Dylan discussed how he first began learning old folk songs, eventually internalising them into his own songwriting. ‘You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details,’ he explained. By singing these songs he discovered ‘the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries’, concluding that ‘songs are alive in the land of the living’. Old songs are meant not just to be heard, but to be sung anew by the next generations.

Emma Swift began ‘Blonde on the Tracks‘, her project of Dylan covers, as a way to recover her artistic inspiration after experiencing depression. Mainly recorded in 2017 these versions were not even intended to be an album but when the pandemic destroyed Swift’s plans for touring she decided to release the recordings. Continue reading “Album Review: Emma Swift – Blonde on the Tracks”

Album Review: Lindsay Ell – Heart Theory

In summer I always crave a big sugary country pop album – one that has ambition, blends contemporary sounds with quality songwriting and real personality. Last year Maren’s ‘Girl’ did the trick and this summer that album is ‘Heart Theory’ by Lindsay Ell. I’ve always admired Lindsay as a rare mainstream artist in the country genre who is known equally for her guitar playing as her vocals. It really depresses me to see women putting their instruments aside to appeal to the mainstream charts. So I am happy to report that this new album ‘Heart Theory’ sounds a million times better than most big Nashville pop releases because of Ell’s fantastic guitar riffs. Continue reading “Album Review: Lindsay Ell – Heart Theory”

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers

I started listening to this album on a cloudy summer’s day, with rain brewing in the stormy afternoon skies. As Courtney sang Some days are good, some days are bad / some days we want what we once had / some days I talk myself into a lie, I smiled in wry understanding. She might have been singing about the break up of a long term relationship which inspired this gorgeous new album Old Flowers but the words meant so much more now. On the cover she’s pensive as the sky darkens behind her; it’s almost like she knew this year would be spent in the shadows of what our lives could have been. As the songs swept their way across my living room in a sigh of sadness I admired their fragile perfection even more deeply knowing what we’ve all been through to get here. Continue reading “Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers”

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