August new music. Pink skies at sunset on a tropical beach.

Album Reviews: August 2023

Weathervanes / Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

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He may or may not agree, but Alabama-born Michael Jason Isbell only seems to be getting better—as a musician, and as a human being. His material certainly confirms this sentiment. Like most of us, he appears to be trying his best to navigate what seems to be an increasingly hot and hostile environment—but unlike most, Isbell has the uncanny ability to turn thoughts and feelings on a variety of difficult subjects into art. In turn, these songs (like nearly all of Isbell’s material) can soundtrack pensive moments alone in the car, an outdoor amphitheater with thousands of other folks, or anything in between. There’s something to be said for being raised in such a way (like Isbell has alluded to) where you’re expected to be strong and silent, and to begin to deconstruct that thought process in a very public manner. Weathervanes, Isbell’s ninth project under his own name or with his band the 400 Unit, has many highlights, including “Save the World,” “This Ain’t It,” and “When We Were Close.”

Linger Awhile (Deluxe Edition) / Samara Joy

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Samara Joy McLendon, a Bronx, NY-born jazz vocalist still in her early twenties, has already achieved a lot. She graduated magna cum laude from State University of New York at Purchase. She won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2019, won the Best New Artist Grammy in 2023, and of course, has dazzled audiences across the globe. On Linger Awhile, her second release, it is evident on how touring in other countries has helped Joy further hone her skills. The album consists of material composed well before Joy was even thought of—mostly well-known songs, but some rare tunes as well—and it provides an odd but lovely context for listeners young and old alike. We are treated to Joy’s deep and honeyed voice on standards such as “’Round Midnight,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Guess Who I Saw Today.”

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What Matters Most / Ben Folds
New West

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Ben Folds thankfully returns for his first studio album since his collaborative project with the yMusic Ensemble, So There (released in 2015). According to Folds, What Matters Most is his most true album to date. He states in a conversation with American Songwriter that “Sonically, lyrically, emotionally, I don’t think it’s an album I could have made at any other point in my career.” Fans of Fold’s solo and group work with Ben Folds Five have no reason not to believe this. Folds has always masterfully crafted stories that make you feel and laugh deeply, unlike anyone else from his generation. One may wonder how he would have fared if he’d decided to be a screenwriter or fiction author instead of a singer/songwriter. Fortunately, there’s still time if he decides a pivot is in order. Fans are treated to such story-songs as “Exhausting Lover,” “Kristine from the Seventh Grade,” and launch single “Winslow Gardens.”

Dream Box / Pat Metheny

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Beloved guitar virtuoso Metheny releases a mostly quiet suite of solo recordings that he put together while on tour. Metheny considers these recordings more as one-offs or “moments in time,” as he states in the project’s liner notes. “I have almost no memory of having recorded most of them,” he shares. In addition to the album’s original offerings, the album presents some covers (always a treat from Metheny), among them: “Never Was Love” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” This album is a great addition to Metheny’s solo discography. He always delivers and has long been trusted to convey his ideas and brilliant technique in a wide variety of ways. I don’t know if he has ever disappointed fans under those terms. Also enjoy “The Waves Are Not the Ocean” and “Clouds Can’t Change the Sky.”

Also available on Hoopla.

DF: 8/23