Turn Out the Lights
Baker is a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Memphis who captures the stories of our innermost anxieties on one of the most devastatingly stunning albums of the year. On Turn Out the Lights, Baker is grappling with her demons and learning how to cling to her beliefs in order to stay alive through dire hopelessness. Baker’s candid realizations—coupled with haunting, sparse guitar and drums—create a gentle landscape for her to unmask her anxieties in an act of pure catharsis. Her stripped down honesty and cutting vulnerability is rare and welcomed.
– Jane Morgan
Camille & Julie Berthollet
Camille (18 years old) and Julie (20 years old) Berthollet are French sisters who play violin, viola and cello. #3 is the third release from these overachievers. The cover pictures one holding her viola like a best pal, the other hoisting her fiddle like a gunslinger taking aim. The duo (with side musicians including “Ensemble Appassionato”) hits all 16 tracks running. They joyously attack every piece on their play list, which includes Brahms, J.S. Bach, Dvorak, Paganini, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and others. Sometimes they play it straight, other times they jazz it up with improv and quotes from other tunes. Exhilarating.
– Bruce Collier
In a Circle Records
Brooklyn Rider (two violins, viola, and cello) is a string quartet that’s been around 12 years. They’ve racked up impressive credentials here and overseas, recording with banjo wizard Bela Fleck and opera star Anne Sofie von Otter. Spontaneous Symbols offers eight tracks. All are originals, one written by Brooklyn Rider’s Colin Jacobsen, the rest by other contemporary composers. There’s some challenging stuff, but nowhere does the foursome jump the tracks into “we’re playing like this to make you feel stupid” territory. You can almost imagine four guys in 18th century Vienna jamming this way, once Haydn has left the building.
– Bruce Collier
Iiro Rantala & Ulf Wakenius
The cover of pianist Iiro Rantala and guitarist Ulf Wakenius’s album Good Stuff depicts what looks like Mickey Mouse crushed under a Technicolor casket. If that—and the fact that these guys are both Scandinavian—makes you expect a depressing glass of sour aquavit, you’re mistaken. Jazz from the Norsemen always surprises. Good Stuff is almost Christmassy in its good spirits. The 12 tracks reference and laud great cities—Berlin, Vienna, Helsinki, Milan, etc. Want to hear a lyrics-free cover of “What a Wonderful World”? Step right up. Stevie Wonder surely must love the duo’s “Sir Duke.”
– Bruce Collier
The Thrill of It All
Up until a few weeks ago, the only thing I knew about Sam Smith is that he had agreed to pay Tom Petty some major bucks after ripping off “I Won’t Back Down.” Then I heard “Too Good at Goodbyes” and realized Smith isn’t just another run-of-the-mill pop star. Dude has real talent and is totally legit—a bona fide musician. On the new album, Smith’s voice flawlessly climbs from deep and robust one minute to classic boy-band high pitch the next. He’s backed up by a lot of traditional instruments, with frequent infusions of piano as well as ample, good old-fashioned finger snapping. Though it’s probably not going to find its way onto any headbanger or metal maniac’s playlist, The Thrill of It All is an exceptionally good album for musical genre benders and pop-adult contemporary fans.
– Joni Williams
The third album from British singer-songwriter Ware feels like a love letter. Ware made Glasshouse in the overwhelming time surrounding the birth of her daughter, and the album explores the intensity of settling in and starting a family. Each love song on the record takes on its own style, telling a different emotional story. In her soulful, swaying pop, Ware finds the joy in a love so true that she continues to yearn for it, wanting the intimacy of her life with her husband and daughter to grow so big it becomes a world of their own. And on Glasshouse, it does.
– Jane Morgan
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