Album reviews: Ghostpoet, JoJo, Caleb Landry Jones, Damien Jurado, Wendy James
I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep
GHOSTPOET follows up 2017's Dark Days + Canapes with an album for these much darker days – ominous, paranoid and unsettling. Obaro Ejimiwe, twice Mercury Prize-nominated, has managed to evoke the state of the nation despite recording before the full horror emerged. His laidback delivery, often spoken more than rapped, won't get the party started, but is perfect for lockdown listening while the walls close in. Song titles reflect the bleak mood – Black Dog Got Silver Eyes, Nowhere To Hide Now – while Ejimiwe veers further into alternative and post-rock sounds on an album he has written, arranged and produced himself. Opening track Breaking Cover starts with moody guitar before the vocals kick in, "it's getting kinda complex these days, we better get our hard hats ready". In Rats In A Sack, Ejimiwe, whose parents are from Nigeria and Dominica, warns of the "far right on the jukebox" while the refrain of "out means out" evokes the Brexit debate. The title track asks "Who knows what will awake if I fall too deep?" as Ghostpoet makes a significant step forward with this album, released on May Day and sounding like a distress signal.
Good To Know
THE American chart-topper returns with her fourth studio album in her third decade of making music, since her breakout pop song Leave (Get Out). This edition is certainly a step in an adult direction in comparison with her work as a child star in the mid-noughties however, both in its explicit lyrics and complex and dynamic style. JoJo's undoubted talent – her songwriting won a Grammy for best R&B song earlier this year – is showcased again in a soulful album which feels both classic to her style and an evolution of her work at different moments. Those among her devoted fans will have already heard hits such as Man, released as the lead single to the album in March, and Lonely Hearts, the music video for which appeared recently. Of course, there is music to dance to, but there is a depth and reflective mood as well, with her nimble voice celebrated in the lighter-raising Small Things and matched with booming bass and samples in Think About You. This is R&B with style and thought.
Caleb Landry Jones
The Mother Stone
CALEB Landry Jones's debut is as dark and inscrutable as the films and TV shows he's appeared in – Twin Peaks, Get Out, Breaking Bad and more. The Texan actor-cum-musician releases his first full-length months after his 30th birthday. Surprising and captivating in equal measure, The Mother Stone is a schizophrenic ride through Americana. The one-two gut punch that opens the album – Flag Day/The Mother Stone – sets the tone, jumping from ragtime to marching music and Beatles psychedelia. It's as if Nick Cave had decamped to New Orleans in search of inspiration. Landry Jones's voice recalls that of John Lennon's – nasally with a keening emotion – and the sharp falsetto of Marc Bolan. The Mother Stone's 15 songs jackhammer between fuzzed-out rock and soaring orchestral sounds. It's an album that appears to have dropped out of the sky fully formed. Landry Jones reportedly has an unheard back catalogue of nearly seven albums recorded inside his parents' barn. Let's hope we get the chance to listen.
What's New, Tomboy?
ON HIS 15th solo album in two decades, veteran singer-songwriter Damien Jurado offers an unflinching personal portrait and a collection of lush, full-bodied compositions. What's New, Tomboy? is a different beast to last year's In The Shape of A Storm – a sparse and abstract album. Instead, the Seattle native reintroduces the drums and vintage production characteristic of his back catalogue, augmented of course by his acoustic guitar. Lyrically, he dispenses with allegory in favour of plain-spoken tales inspired by his own life and those around him. Tracks like Ochoa, a tribute to his late friend Richard Swift, recall Lou Reed's quieter moments, while Arthur Aware demonstrates Jurado's knack for creating atmospherics without resorting to pedal effects. The result is a collection of songs that feels direct and feather light. By returning to his roots, Jurado has honed in on something new, something fresh. No mean feat after two decades in the game.
Queen High Straight
WENDY James, best known as the voice of 80s pop-punk darlings Transvision Vamp, draws on her lifelong musical inspirations for her latest solo effort. "The music that excites me now, ultimately, is the same as when I was starting out songwriting and back through my days in Transvision Vamp," says the 54-year-old Londoner. But Queen High Straight, her fourth solo album since her band's split in 1991, does little to inspire, or even engage. James cribs from Motown, indie, rockabilly and French musette but her magpie-like approach comes off as pastiche rather than homage. Stomp Down, Snuck Up sounds like the theme to some obscure American sitcom crossed with a Lily Allen offcut. Queen High Straight does little to indicate an artist with over 30 years' experience.