wears the trousers magazine

joan armatrading: this charming life (2010)
March 2, 2010, 12:45 pm
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Joan Armatrading
This Charming Life •••

Each new Joan Armatrading release can be expected to impress with its top-notch musicianship, but what might surprise about This Charming Life, especially this late in the game, is how inspired and passionate much of it is. Following on from 2007’s Grammy-nominated Into The Blues, Armatrading fleshes out the blues influence with songs of real rock energy and vigour. Her rich, warm timbre is all-pervading on a selection of tunes that showcase an impressive stylistic diversity and a keen eye for everyday, yet often wonderfully evocative, detail. It’s a shame, then, that it’s something of a top-heavy experience, with most of the better songs taking up residence in the album’s first half.

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kathryn williams: the quickening (2010)
February 22, 2010, 11:12 am
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Kathryn Williams
The Quickening ••••
One Little Indian

There seems to be a general consensus that artists, in particular singer-songwriters, produce their best work near the beginnings of their career; Kathryn Williams makes a good case for the opposition. The Quickening, her seventh album – or eighth if you count her collaboration with Neill MacColl on Two – is perhaps her most accomplished work to date. Recorded mostly live, unrehearsed, over four days in a North Wales studio, The Quickening proves to be a fitting title, not only for the album’s speedy genesis but also for the brevity and succinctness of the songs themselves. They do not outstay their welcome, but neither are they insubstantial; Williams deftly gets the balance just right. And while it can be filed broadly under the acoustic folk bracket that would be home to the rest of her catalogue, there’s a healthy dose of experimentation in the writing and arrangements.

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beth nielsen chapman: back to love (2010)
February 9, 2010, 9:04 am
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Beth Nielsen Chapman
Back To Love •••

Texan singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman had an eventful 2009. Last Spring, while writing the songs that were to form this, her eighth studio album, she discovered she had a benign but fast-developing brain tumour, for which she underwent successful surgery. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that a real sense of life affirmation pervades this wholly pretty and ultimately optimistic record. Though perhaps best known as an adult contemporary country writer, Nielsen Chapman’s own voice possesses quite considerable beauty; it’s not the most distinctive instrument but it is unfailingly strong and clear, and it’s her warm and honeyed tones that provide the main draw for Back To Love‘s gentle musings on life. And there is a real joy to proceedings as she allows some of her laughs and giggles to remain in the final mix.

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suzanne vega: close-up vol 1, love songs (2010)
February 8, 2010, 11:14 am
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Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Vol 1, Love Songs •••½
Amanuensis Productions

For her first project after 2007’s critically lauded but commercially unsuccessful Beauty & Crime, Suzanne Vega revisits her back catalogue to give fresh spins on some classic material. The first in a planned four-part series of themed albums “to be released over the next two years”, Close-Up Vol 1, Love Songs does just what it says on the tin – offering up some of Vega’s finest “love” songs in a stripped-down style. Of course, some might argue that an acoustic rendering of Vega’s material, which so often was acoustic and stripped-down anyway, is redundant, but you can’t fault the sublime grace and quiet power of the writing. Fortunately, Vega does include some surprise song choices that are obviously more revelatory than those that stay closer to their studio originals. The subtitle Love Songs is not quite as simple as it may seem where Vega is concerned; a writer of literary sophistication, she is of the Leonard Cohen school of evocative imagery and poetic inventiveness. There is rarely a word out of place, and each song is delivered with a cool poise. Here, she explores, among other topics, erotic sensuality (‘Caramel’, ‘Stockings’), romantic anxiety and anguish (‘Song In Red & Gray’, ‘Bound’), and existential musings (‘Small Blue Thing’) with a keen eye for detail, and anyone who has followed her 25-year career will know that there has never been a dip in quality.

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map to the treasure: a buyer’s guide to laura nyro
January 25, 2010, 2:36 pm
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map to the treasure: a buyer’s guide to laura nyro

These days it’s a term we all know well, but back in the late ’60s Laura Nyro (1947–1997) was among the first in an exciting new wave of artists called the “singer-songwriters”. Not only that, she was among the very best of them, imbuing her often personal, introspective songs with a sophisticated metropolitan pop/soul sheen. Nyro was a New York poet through and through, standing apart from her Laurel Canyon peers by incorporating elements of jazz, R&B, gospel and Broadway styles into her broad pop sound. To mark this week’s reissue of her 1971 sizzling collaboration with soul trio Labelle, Gonna Take A Miracle, Wears The Trousers takes a look through the entire back catalogue of this inventive, experimental and unique artist, and rediscovers why she is so well respected as one of the most arresting, and challenging, pop artists in history.

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the watson twins: talking to you, talking to me (2010)
January 18, 2010, 11:35 am
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The Watson Twins
Talking To You, Talking To Me ••••

The Watson Twins came to prominence in 2006 as the backing vocalists on Jenny Lewis’s solo turn Rabbit Fur Coat, a throwback LP loosely inspired by Laura Nyro’s collaboration with soul trio Labelle on 1971’s Gonna Take A Miracle. They took a more countrified course with their own album, Fire Songs, in 2008, but now Chandra and Leigh are back with second LP Talking To You, Talking To Me, a sumptuous glory that appears to find the two singers their niche. It’s an album that brings out a much more sophisticated, sleek metropolitan soul sound to The Watson Twins’ palette; ‘60s inspired and lushly arranged, Talking To You, Talking To Me is a wonderfully contemporary update of some familiar styles. Cynics might accuse the Twins, on a couple of songs, of jumping on the retro-pop bandwagon of recent years, but while there’s little water held in comparisons with the more commercial sounds of Duffy and Amy Winehouse, something like the sultry ‘Forever Me’, with its slow, reverb-laden drum beat and moodily-strummed jazz chords does recall some of Winehouse’s earlier material, like ‘Take The Box’ from Frank.

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sounding off: january 2010 (i)

In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.

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Lauren Hoffman
Interplanetary Traveler •••

On her fourth album, Interplanetary Traveler, Virginia-born singer-songwriter Lauren Hoffman doesn’t so much warp between musical worlds as gently hop between familiar acoustic styles. But the good news is that, for the most part, she does it very well. Boasting cleaner production than her earlier releases, the title track makes for a brilliant opener with a strong melody and some warm horns couched in a tight arrangement. As ever, Hoffman’s voice is gorgeous; effortless and smooth, and the perfect match for her material. Other high points include ‘Surrender’, which transforms from pleasant sunny pop in its verses to a much more sensual chorus, its simplicity allowing the melody to breathe, and the haunting ‘Pictures From America’, which even has a slight touch of Ennio Morricone about it.

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