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MUSIC Album reviews

Latest releases from Elina Duni and Rob Luft, The Hold Steady and Lael Neale

 

Elina Duni and Rob Luft
Lost Ships
(ECM)
★★★

WITH the  ECM label’s oeuvre dominated by instrumental jazz music, Lost Ships showcases the talents of Albanian-Swiss vocalist Elina Duni.

She is accompanied by 20-something British guitarist Rob Luft, along with Fred Thomas (piano, drums) and Matthieu Michel (flugelhorn).

It’s a varied set, with Duni singing in English, French, Italian and Albanian. She and Luft note the album is about two pressing contemporary issues: “The tragic story of the migration crisis in Europe and beyond” and “the impending ecological fallout owning to the destruction of nature.”

The slow-paced cover of The Wayfaring Stranger makes more sense in this context, as does the title track’s refrain: “I wanna be a fish but there’s no more fish in the sea.”

Standouts include their striking take of I’m a Fool to Want You and the gorgeously original Brighton, with some beautiful playing from Michel.

 

The Hold Steady
Open Door Policy
(Thirty Tigers/Positive Jams)
★★★★

FOLLOWING their comeback with 2019’s Thrashing Thru the Passion, Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady have knocked out another record, the more cohesive Open Door Policy.

The album sticks closely to the  six-piece’s winning formula of indie rock, with the emphasis very much on the ringing E-Street Band end of rock, overlaid with frontman Craig Finn’s dense, literate bar-room tales.

He explains that the songs explore “power, wealth, mental health, technology, capitalism, consumerism, and survival issues.” They are also very good. Riptown swings like their best tunes, while story song Unpleasant Breakfast includes backing vocals sounding a lot like pretty fireworks.

Family Farm is a classic Steady jam, its rocking guitar licks underpinning a tale set in a mental-health institution, including references to Van Halen and Talking Heads.

It’s always good to have some new The Hold Steady in your life.

 

Lael Neale
Acquainted With Night
(Sub Pop)
★★★★

HAVING honed her craft in Los Angeles over the last decade, US singer-songwriter Lael Neale has produced a wonderfully lo-fi record exploring isolation, death, romantic yearning and transcendental experiences.

Nearly all the songs are played on an electronic Omnichord — a kind of keyboard that can be played without any prior musical knowledge — and recorded on a four-track cassette recorder in her bedroom.

Every Star Shivers in the Dark is a brilliant existential ode to LA (“Making my way through the grocery/Talking to the man at the cash machine/I work in service too/So I feel for you”), while How Far Is It to the Grave sounds like a well-known folk song. Her countrified vocals on the title track point to her childhood growing up on a farm in Virginia.

Poetic and shot through with loneliness, it’s a magical listen.

 

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