Arts

Albums: New music from Tones and I, Willow, David Crosby and Emma-Jean Thackray

David Crosby's album For Free

TONES AND I – WELCOME TO THE MADHOUSE

TONI Watson was a busker in Australia's Byron Bay before her song Dance Monkey went number one in 30 countries.

The synth-pop banger was notable for its weirdness and suggested Watson had more in common with eccentric Israeli Eurovision winner Netta than Lily Allen or Sia. But there is little of that on show on Watson's debut album, Welcome To The Madhouse.

Songs like Don't Sleep and Not Going Home are chart-ready pop, despite addressing important issues like mental health and online abuse, and Watson's unique, squealing, energetic yowl is not enough to lift uninspired cuts like Dark Waters.

Despite this, she may still have the last laugh. "There's no place for you in music's all I hear," she sings on Westside Lobby. "But my song went number one in over 30 f****** countries / And I'm sorry if that offends you, my dear."

RATING: 2/5
Alex Green

WILLOW – LATELY I FEEL EVERYTHING

WILLOW is back and bringing the 90s with her on new album Lately I Feel Everything.

THE 20-year-old daughter of Will Smith has evolved from her R&B and pop roots and turned to a pop-punk sound reminiscent of My Chemical Romance, Blink-182 and Paramore, whom she notes were inspirations.

The already acclaimed opening track, Transparent Soul, featuring Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, sets the tone for Willow's new era. But it does not overshadow the powerful, balanced harmonies of Come Home or moody rap of Xtra.

After 11 tracks, the sound palette could wear a little thin if it wasn't for Willow's energy and raw talent.

Avril Lavigne, the album's most obvious influence, /5 on the powerful duet Grow, a self-help anthem that could easily soundtrack a mid-2000s teen drama.

"I just need to grow," Willow sings and it really does feel she has come into her own with her latest album.

RATING: 3/5
Naomi Clarke

DAVID CROSBY – FOR FREE

THE king of soft rock continues a creative hot streak that began with 2014's Croz, his fifth solo record since ending a 20-year hiatus from recording.

The 80-year-old star enlists the help of Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz as he tackles both covers and originals – including the Joni Mitchell song that gives the album its name.

The Fagen-written Rodriguez For A Night, an archetypal jazz rock odyssey, wouldn't sound out of place on one of Steely Dan's early records. Album opener River Rise and Secret Dancer, meanwhile, capture the wide-eyed harmonies of his folk-rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Crosby's son, James Raymond, serves as producer and gives For Free a glossy sheen that complements the tight and varied songwriting. He also wrote the final track on the album, I Won't Stay for Long, a desolate ballad inspired by Marcel Camus's 1959 film Black Orpheus.

RATING: 3/5
Alex Green

EMMA-JEAN THACKRAY – YELLOW

EMMA-Jean Thackray approached her debut album by trying to simulate a "life-changing psychedelic experience" where for an hour viewers "see behind the curtain to a hidden dimension" in which we are all one.

Lofty ambitions, but if anyone can achieve them it would be Thackray – a singer, radio host, DJ and record label boss.

Like a Yorkshire-born Sun Ra or Pharoah Sanders, her music combines spiritual elements with psychedelia and contemporary sounds, in this case raw breakbeat and house.

A host on DJ Gilles Peterson's taste-making Worldwide FM, Thackray is part of a growing movement of jazz revivalists breaking through into the mainstream (see Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia).

Her love of dystopian science fiction seeps through on tracks such like the psychedelic house music heater Say Something but this isn't just jazz for geeks.

Shared human experience is the tie that binds Yellow, an exemplary debut album from a burgeoning talent.

RATING: 4/5
Alex Green

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