Image of album covers.

Album Reviews: September 2023

Council Skies / Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Sour Mash

A roundabout with buildings in the background

Noel Gallagher has been very successful with his post-Oasis group, High Flying Birds, and that will only continue with the release of their newest album, Council Skies. It’s what most would consider their most mature (and possibly most reflective) effort. Here, Gallagher adds textures to the music that only complement the lyrics and themes. Fans aren’t treated to the most profound lyrics (see the chorus for “Pretty Boy”), but somehow his delivery coupled with a more than capable band is more than enough to nestle in the hearts of many. I had an opportunity to catch the band on tour this summer (an opportunity I never had with Oasis), and these new songs really resonated with the audience, sounding gorgeous as daytime slowly closed at an outdoor amphitheater. The cover of Council Skies features a roundabout in Manchester—I’ll be eager to see what the band brings when they come ‘round again. Also enjoy: “Dead to the World,” “Open the Door, See What You Find” and “I’m Not Giving Up Tonight.”
Available in regular and deluxe editions.

Spectral Lines / Josh Ritter
Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers

Image of a man sitting in the lotus picture under a chandelier.

Contemporary Folk/Americana singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has released his eleventh album, Spectral Lines. What fans receive is art that is a bit more vibey than most would expect. This time around, the compositions leave more space between the words, and songs often find interesting ways to blend into each other. Additionally, expected instruments such as mandolin and fiddle are gone, substituted with synths, mellotron and more. Upon announcing the album, Ritter shared that he sought “to make a record that looked outward, following close on the heels of time as it traveled forward, looking toward the future, rather than backward at the record of things past.” “Whatever Burns Will Burn” is a beautiful, haunting reflection on love, particularly in terms of associated costs. Album closer “Someday,” is as cautiously hopeful as one may imagine, where Ritter asks if “today” will be the day that the change he hopes to see in this world will materialize. All in all, Ritter has crafted an enjoyable album that may or may not be regarded as a crown jewel in his catalog, but remains a gem nonetheless. Other key moments: “Sawgrass” and “Strong Swimmer.”

Folkocracy / Rufus Wainwright

Image of a child surrounded by blue lines and gold text

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright delights with an album of folk music covers reinvented with the help of a star-studded cast including David Byrne, Chaka Khan, John Legend and Susanna Hoffs, just to name a few. Neil Young’s “Harvest” features always-fantastic violin work from Andrew Bird, and Khan’s vocals on the standard “All of Me” are sumptuous to say the least. The album, which serves as a passion project-slash- birthday gift Wainwright gave himself, is as wondrous as one may expect, and aches to be performed live, at least for one grand ensemble performance. The album is what fans may have long projected or hoped for: the Baroque stylings the artist is known for, combined with the folk lineage from which he was literally birthed (dad is the legendary Loudon Wainwright III). Folkocracy is a mostly fun and always interesting listen, and hopefully can help the artist earn new listeners (and remind old ones that he remains relevant and committed to new ideas). Also check out “Down in the Willow Garden” featuring Brandi Carlile, and “Going to a Town” with ANOHNI.
Also available on Hoopla.

Time / Simply Red
Warner Music Group

Image of a man against a black background

Sophisticated soul-pop Brits Simply Red have returned with a new collection simply called Time, their thirteenth album since they debuted in 1985 to immediate critical acclaim and commercial success. Frontperson Mick Hucknall and band once again curate an LP full of introspective, heartfelt and timeless music—songs that pull from pop, R&B/funk and more. Produced by longtime collaborator Andy Wright, Time features many songs designed to move both the body and the spirit, such as the final track “Earth in a Lonely Space,” a riveting anthem that should be counted among their best. “Just Like You,” which is oddly separated into two parts on the album, features a sturdy groove and lyrics that make you wish it was one seven-minute jam. Elsewhere on the record, fans are sure to be touched with the type of stories that Simply Red has always included on projects, such as “It Wouldn’t Be Me” and “Hey Mister.” Overall, Time is a pleasantly strong album for a band that has existed for almost four decades now. Additional highlights: “Never Be Gone” and “Better with You.”
Also available on Hoopla.

DF 9/23