• How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?

    How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?

    Big Red Machine (Musical group)

    Arriving three years after the project's full-length debut, How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? takes the form of a star-studded, over-hour-long follow-up by Big Red Machine, a collaboration between Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner. More collaborative and less experimental than its predecessor, it adheres to a dreamy, wistful, midtempo universe, one where guest vocalists float in and out of duets with and takeovers for Vernon as various themes relating to the lifecycle languidly unfold. A consistently subdued, reflective affair with minimal chord movement and delicate production touches, its selection of "Latter Days" as the opener -- a song nostalgic for innocence -- is fitting. A duet with Anaïs Mitchell, it also establishes the record's spartan approach to arranging, with electric piano, simple drums, and evaporative electronic atmosphere. Mitchell soon turns up again, this time alongside Fleet Foxes on the modestly jauntier "Phoenix." Also making more than one appearance here is none other than Taylor Swift, on the heels of her own folklore and Evermore, which were co-produced by Dessner. She takes the lead on the compassionate "Renegade" after providing harmony vocals on "Birch," a soaring highlight for Vernon. Along with the improvisatory "Easy to Sabotage" (featuring Naeem), among the album's more animated entries is "Mimi," which layers noodly guitar and vocal rounds by Vernon and guest singer Ilsey (Ilsey Juber) over an odd time signature that might best be described as 5/8. That song was co-written by Vernon, Dessner, and Ilsey and features drums by Big Thief's James Krivchenia. Among other contributors are Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Nova, who join forces as backing vocalists on a gospel-informed tribute to Scott Hutchison ("Hutch"), and Ben Howard and This Is the Kit, who appear together on "June's a River." Elsewhere, "Brycie" -- dedicated to Aaron Dessner's brother and National bandmate, Bryce -- is one of three tracks to feature Aaron on lead vocals for the first time in his career. After an hour, the album is bookended with another Anaïs Mitchell appearance, the nostalgic "New Auburn." While How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?'s mellow poignancy is likely to stick more than any of its songs; its pathos is genuine and immersive. ~ Marcy Donelson (syndetics)

    Format: Music CD

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  • Downhill From Everywhere

    Downhill From Everywhere

    Browne, Jackson

    Jackson Browne albums don't come around all that often anymore. During his prolific years in the 1970s and '80s, he had plenty to say and said it with the sensitivity and poetic candor that is his stock-in-trade. Released in July 2021, Downhill from Everywhere is Browne's fourth studio album since the turn of the millennium, and it's a pretty good one. One of the defining voices of the boomer generation, he epitomized the laid-back singer/songwriter sound of the West Coast and in that respect, little has changed. At 72, Browne's musical legacy remains undiminished and if Downhill isn't a particularly radical entry in his catalog, it has the heart, craft, and veteran presence of an artist who has little to prove, but still a bit more to say. Warmly arranged in the lean manner of his best '70s work, the ten-song set is a delight of tasteful guitar work, folk-rock charm, and perceptive lyrics befitting the singer's current position on the timeline. Among the reflections on mortality (the wistful "Still Looking for Something") and late-in-life romance ("Minutes to Downtown") are more topical concerns like the environment (the title track's punchy anti-pollution plea) and immigration (the poignant "The Dreamer"). In this way, Downhill adheres to Browne's late-period album template of presenting a fairly even balance of the personal and political. Captaining the expected band of L.A. studio stalwarts with easy grace, it's an album full of strong performances, few missteps, and the weary charisma that has been one of the singer's hallmarks. A half-century into his career, that timeless feeling that signified even Browne's earliest releases is still present, if ever-so-slightly more shopworn by time's passing. ~ Timothy Monger (syndetics)

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  • Blue Weekend

    Blue Weekend

    Wolf Alice (Musical group)

    Wolf Alice's immensely successful second album, Visions of a Life, suggested they could go in any number of directions, but the one they chose for Blue Weekend is big with a capital B. On the band's third album, they play to the back of the arenas and stadiums these songs were designed to be performed in. Wolf Alice announce their ambitions -- and their ability to deliver on them -- with the vast two-part song "The Beach," which opens the set by swelling to ever-greater peaks and closes it on a sweetly philosophical note. In between, Blue Weekend demonstrates just how much the group's power and control have grown in the four years since Visions of a Life. The extra time they spent polishing the album in the studio with producer Markus Dravs during the COVID-19 lockdown was well spent: though songs like the luxurious Los Angeles homage "Delicious Things" reach a massive scope quickly, Ellie Rowsell always maintains a connection with her audience as she and the band zoom in and out from intimacy to majesty with cinematic skill. Even as they take their dream pop to epic new heights on the hauntingly seductive "Lipstick on the Glass," they're still capable of capturing tiny nuances on songs such as "Feeling Myself," where Rowsell's introspection also reflects the voyeuristic nature of witnessing someone else's self-expression. Even more so than on their previous albums, Wolf Alice stretch themselves emotionally as well as musically, particularly on "How Can I Make It OK?," a striking power ballad equally indebted to Cocteau Twins and Olivia Newton-John that surges forward on a huge riff as Rowsell sings "to live in fear isn't to live at all." Though Blue Weekend is dominated by slower songs, its outbursts are just as vital. "Smile"'s collage of funk, industrial, pop, and acoustic elements is muscular and vulnerable at the same time, with Rowsell snarling "I ain't ashamed of the fact that I'm sensitive," then declaring "If you don't like me/Well, that isn't f*cking relevant" soon after. The band's famed stylistic shifts feel more natural than ever, whether they're rocking out or harking back to their folky roots on "Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)" and "No Hard Feelings," a song about acceptance that skips away from heartache with deceptive ease. Songs like these ensure Blue Weekend never feels overwrought despite its ambition and lengthy creative process -- instead, it's the kind of big, unabashedly emotional album that people make memories to, and some of Wolf Alice's most confident and fully realized music. ~ Heather Phares (syndetics)

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  • Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert

    Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert

    Harris, Emmylou

    The band played on the road for several months before making their Nashville debut at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) on September 28, 1990. That concert was recorded and shelved, while another live run at the Ryman Auditorium the following spring was released as Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers At The Ryman to great acclaim, winning a Grammy and spurring public interest in saving the beloved music hall. Now, more than thirty years later, Rhino's James Austin has unearthed the 1990 TPAC recording and Nonesuch releases Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert for the first time on September 3, 2021. (syndetics)

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  • They're Calling Me Home

    They're Calling Me Home

    Giddens, Rhiannon

    Rhiannon Giddens is a celebrated artist who excavates the past to reveal bold and candid truths about our present. A MacArthur 'Genius' Grant recipient, she has performed for the Obamas at the White House and acted in two seasons of the hit television series Nashville. (syndetics)

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  • Aretha

    Aretha

    Franklin, Aretha

    Released three years after Aretha Franklin's 2018 death -- and timed so its appearance coincides with the unveiling of Respect, a biopic featuring Jennifer Hudson as Franklin -- Aretha is the first-ever attempt to chronicle the Queen of Soul's entire career in one box set. Indeed, Aretha unfolds a little bit like a musical biography, taking a full 15 tracks before we get to "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," the 1967 single that kicked off her golden era on Atlantic. Prior to that, the set works through Columbia sides, a period where she was finding her footing, adding a couple of live tracks and demos for good measure. There are rarities all through the set, ranging from live performances to outtakes to demos, all of them functioning as appealing and worthy bait for collectors who already have Aretha's essentials. What really makes this box set attractive is how the rarities are integrated into a narrative where Franklin has to work to achieve the grace of her Atlantic period, makes a sprightly and stylish comeback in the 1980s with "Jump to It" and "Freeway of Love," then settles into a gilded groove where she rests on her laurels but can still deliver great performances. Not every hit from every era is here, but ultimately that doesn't matter: Aretha captures the arc of her career in a way no other album ever has. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (syndetics)

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  • Exit Wounds

    Exit Wounds

    Wallflowers (Musical group)

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  • Epic Ten

    Epic Ten

    Van Etten, Sharon

    Upon its release, epic laid a romantic melancholy over the gravel and dirt of heartbreak without one honest thought or feeling spared. Van Etten's songs covered betrayal, obsession, egotism, and all the other emotions disliked in others and recognize in oneself. Her grounded and clenched vocals conveyed a sense of hope-the notion that beauty can arise from the worst of circumstances. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of this special album's release, and to acknowledge the convergence of Van Etten's present and past work, she asked fellow artists she admired to participate in an expanded reissue, where each artist would cover one different song from epic in their own style. The result is a double album featuring the original plus the new album of epic covers and reimagined artwork. (syndetics)

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  • Home Video

    Home Video

    Dacus, Lucy

    Format: Music CD

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  • Alligator Records: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music

    Alligator Records: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin' Music

    The king of blues labels turns 50! This anthology celebrates 50 years of classic, genre-defining recordings by a star-studded Who's Who of American blues and roots music artists past and present. Features tracks by Hound Dog Taylor, Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram, Koko Taylor, Johnny Winter, Tommy Castro, Marcia Ball, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, James Cotton, and many more! (syndetics)

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