“High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana/We are the new Americana,” sings Halsey, aka Ashley Frangipane, during “New Americana,” one of several uber-catchy hits-in-waiting on her full-length debut, “Badlands.”
And with that, the clarion call to unite social media-savvy millennials (is that redundant?) around ideas meant to be interpreted as unique to their age group has been sounded.
Maybe this is nothing new, but Halsey is a bit of a watershed artist – not necessarily for her music, which is skewed but still mainstream electro-pop, but rather, for the fact that she doesn’t need a boardroom of media analysts to help her hit her targets. She can do it herself, thanks very much.
Halsey is not the first artist to make a name for herself via YouTube and Soundcloud recordings made on her own dime, and then parlay that social media success into a record deal. She is perhaps the first to have so fully embraced the social media success model, however, to the point where she doesn’t need any help selling herself. The New York Times noted as much in a recent feature that read, in part: “Halsey could be mistaken for a millennial built in a lab: Not only is she fluent in the language of modern marketing, but her openness on social media feels authentic and inextricable from her personality.”
It also helps that she’s a dynamic and engaging live performer, as her recent Buffalo appearance opening for Imagine Dragons at the First Niagara Center made plain. But does “Badlands” deliver on this substantial buzz? Partly, yes, though I’m not sure anything could truly live up to the “savior of the music industry” hyperbole common to early reviews. Fans of Lorde will find the glacial electro-pop atmosphere favored by Halsey familiar and comforting – songs strut atop artificial rhythmic constructs, ebbing and flowing with occasionally overdramatic stops and starts (“Castle”) or indulge in what sounds like a collage of ringtones from the cell phones of hipsters (“Drive”), forsaking the warm and organic for the icy and plasticized.
This would be only a mildly inventive drag, if not for the strength of Halsey’s singing – breathy, sensual and blessedly not overly processed – and her lyrics, which tend toward the darkly reflective and, on occasion, the surprisingly inventive. It’s that voice, and the “outsider-as-insider” persona offered by the lyrics, that suggest that “Badlands” is more than just this week’s flashy click-bait.
– Jeff Miers
The Club Album From the Yellow Lounge
German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter usually gets on my nerves. She’s so flamboyant and often, hearing her play, I think her ego gets in the way and her playing gets erratic. But on this album, for what I think is the first time, I kind of like her.
Maybe it’s that she is in a club atmosphere, which is informal anyway, so it’s more acceptable just to let ‘er rip. Maybe it’s that the freewheeling repertoire makes the unpredictable twists and turns more acceptable. Whatever the reason, though I didn’t find every track listenable, I had fun with it. Mutter sounds happy in this club, which I understand is legendary in Berlin. She digs into that Strad for pieces of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with zest that can only be described, as the notes do, as electric.
A Brahms Hungarian Dance can take all the rubato she gives it, which is a considerable amount. Debussy’s “Clair de lune” is pretty and Copland’s “Hoe-Down” is a kick. The Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” lends a nice quiet reverent touch, and on the opposite side, I liked her take on the 1938 duo-piano classic “Jamaican Rumba.” Accompanying Mutter are Mutter’s Virtuosi, a group of young musicians she mentors. It’s a cute name considering that “Mutter” is German for “mother.” Also, I understand that the Strad had to go into the shop after exertion in this environment. I say it was worth it.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Cecile McLorin Salvant
For One To Love
There’s no argument about the best jazz singers these days. They’re loved – sometimes deeply but, in any case, differently from the ways in which their instrumental brethren are usually perceived.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, at 25, is, by common assent, the best new thing to come along in jazz song in the past few years. Listen to this, her second disc, and you’ll understand why she has blown people away.
She has the confident sense of jazz show business of a 30-year veteran and the exuberant, infectious young show-off that she sometimes is (listen to her version of Blanche Calloway’s “Growlin’ Dan”.) Anyone who told her that was “too theatrical” for jazz singing would probably be met with her replying “thank you.”
And like all the best jazz singers, her choices of what to sing are joyously idiosyncratic.
You say you haven’t heard Burt Bacharach’s shamelessly retro “Wives and Lovers” for a while? Well here it is, armored by three feet of irony, on her follow-up- to “WomanLove.”. You say, you never heard a jazz singer do Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Stepsister’s Lament” (from their “Cinderella”)? Well, after listening to this disc, you will.
When she appeared in Bruce Eaton’s incomparable Hunt Real Estate “Art of Jazz” series at the Albright-Knox Gallery, the Thelonious Monk international jazz competition winner made a huge impression in the same way she has, since the beginning, been making on fellow jazz musicians.
“I only sing for those I love,” she tells us on the back cover of this disc.
That it seems, includes us.
– Jeff Simon
London, Meader, Pramuk and Ross
The Royal Bopsters Project
Just hold the phone – here, yes, is a 21st century disc in which you’ll hear performances by two-thirds of the greatest jazz vocal group in the long distinguished 20th century history of jazz – namely Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. All right, maybe the nonagenarian Hendricks and octogenarian Ross don’t sing together. But then, back when LHR was an ongoing miracle of jazz, their specialties – Ross’ much-sung lyrics to Dexter Gordon’s “Twisted,” Hendricks’ versions of Monk’s “In Walked Bud” and Miles Davis’ “Four” – were often sung by each individually inside the group.
This disc is spectacular beyond that, though. Would you believe Hendricks, Ross, Sheila Jordan, Bob Dorough, and the great Mark Murphy on the same disc?
For all that, it’s a bit of a disappointment (anything less than musical paradise would be). Ross, for instance, has long been a fraction of her former “Twisted” self and the basic fact is that this record belongs to a new jazz vocal quartet whose co-producer Darmon Meader was a founder of New York Voices. That, despite the stupendous guest stars, is the area this disc settles in most comfortably and that’s a long way from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross who defined one way of being hip for all time.
True hipness is a thing of eternal coolness. Museum hipness is something different altogether.
A great place to visit is this disc but you don’t really want to live here.
– Jeff Simon