So you bought that Adele album, hoping you’d satisfy your need for powerful, soulful femininity in song, just as millions of others did. You listened to it a lot at first, but gradually, stopped. It has been a few weeks now. Can you remember any of the tunes, singles aside?
If the answer is no, and you’ve found that the safe-as-milk Adele material has failed to stick to your ribs, head to wherever it is you buy your music and pick up Trixie Whitley’s just-released “Porta Bohemica” (Scamparty3000). It’s 10 times the album “25” is, and delivers on the promise associated with Adele – powerful, soulful, passionate songwriting punctuated by virtuosic singing. But that’s where the similarities end, for if “25” is a failure because it refused to take chances, Whitley’s “Porta Bohemica” succeeds because it so consistently shows its bravest face.
I have to cop to having rooted for Trixie all along. Her father, the late great mystic soul-blues visionary Chris Whitley, was a favorite of mine from the release of his 1990 debut straight through to his too-soon death in 2005. I first heard his daughter singing as a preteen on her father’s brilliant “Rocket House” album, and followed her career as she became a member of the Daniel Lanois-led Black Dub, a band that offered a hypnotic blend of gospel, R&B, soul, rock and experimental dub on its often stunning 2009 self-titled release. (The album won a Juno award in Canada, but was unduly ignored down here. Find it – you’ll be glad you did.)
So when Trixie launched her solo career, I was banking on her having inherited some of her father’s elegant otherworldliness and unflappable musical wanderlust. “Porta Bohemica” cashes that check, decidedly. Throughout its nine songs, Trixie consistently colors outside the lines, but never loses the plot of what at its heart is an album of soul music.
From the opening strains of the gorgeous minor key lament “Faint Mystery,” the listener is seduced by her emotion-soaked contralto voice, an instrument over which its owner claims full control – if anyone could oversing in the vocal gymnastic style that remains the rage these days, it’s Whitley, but she refuses to do so, knowing that the true power can be found in under-statement and subtlety.
“Soft Spoken Words” will appeal to fans of Kate Bush’s blend of earthiness and yearning; “Salt” is supple and funky and has a seductive sway in its hips; “Witness” finds Whitley rolling in the deepest of the deep, as a chanteuse with a deeply ingrained art-soul streak. This is music that in a better world would not be considered underground or purposely artsy, but in this one, is likely to be considered peripheral. That’s a shame, but it shouldn’t stop anyone with a pair of adventurous ears from welcoming into their lives what is likely to be one of the very finest pop records released this year.
By the way, if you’re digging the Adele record, that’s totally cool. There are certainly far worse things you could be listening to. Enjoy it, but keep your ears open for music that is not heralded by massive media blitzes and anchored by the financial expectations of a board of directors. The less well-lit corners tend to be where the real action is taking place.
I’ve been waiting for a truly great Santana album for what feels like forever. Though Carlos Santana has always assembled killer bands and has never been a disappointment in the live concert setting, the truly gritty and soulful Latin/rock gumbo of his finest work has not been captured in the recording studio for a few decades.
When the news broke last summer that the surviving members of the lineup that gave us “Santana,” “Abraxas” and “Santana III” would be reuniting for the first time since 1971, my heart skipped a beat. Greg Rolie (vocals, keys), Neal Schon (guitar), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums) came back together at Carlos’ request, and have recorded an album of new music that will be celebrated with a tour this summer. The album, to be called “Santana IV,” doesn’t arrive until April 15, but the first single, “Anywhere You Want To Go,” is streaming now.
Man. These guys haven’t missed a beat. The single is simply crushing, a sultry and striking Latin-based groove peppered with soulful guitar interplay between Santana and Schon, and bolstered by a killer Rolie vocal. This is the best Santana has sounded in the studio since 1981’s “Zebop”. If the whole album is as strong as this, we’re in for a treat.