Albums: New music from Tones and I, Willow, David Crosby and Emma-Jean Thackray
TONES AND I – WELCOME TO MAISON DE FOU
TONI Watson was a busker in Byron Bay, Australia before her song Dance Monkey hit number one in 30 countries.
The synth-pop banger was notable for its weirdness and suggested that Watson had more in common with the eccentric Israeli Eurovision winner Netta than with Lily Allen or Sia. But there’s little of that on Watson’s debut album, Welcome To The Madhouse.
Songs like Don’t Sleep and Not Going Home are pop out of the box, despite tackling important issues like mental health and online abuse, and the unique, loud, energetic howl of Watson isn’t enough to lift uninspired cups like Dark Waters.
Despite this, she can still have the final say. “There’s no place for you in music, that’s all I hear,” she sings in Westside Lobby. “But my song went number one in over 30 f ****** countries / And I’m sorry if that offends you, my dear.”
WILLOW – LASTLY I FEEL ALL
WILLOW is back and brings the 90s with her on her new album Laately I Feel Everything.
The daughter of Will Smith, 20, evolved from her R&B and pop roots and turned to a pop-punk sound reminiscent of My Chemical Romance, Blink-182 and Paramore, which she notes are inspirations.
Already acclaimed opening track Transparent Soul, starring Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, sets the tone for Willow’s new era. But it doesn’t eclipse the powerful and balanced harmonies of Come Home or the brooding rap of Xtra.
After 11 tracks, the sonic palette might wear down a bit if it weren’t for Willow’s energy and raw talent.
Avril Lavigne, the album’s most obvious influence, / 5 on the powerful duo Grow, a caring hymn that could easily make the soundtrack to a mid-2000s teen drama.
“I just need to grow up,” Willow sings and it really feels like she’s made a name for herself with her latest album.
DAVID CROSBY – FREE
THE King of Soft Rock continues a creative streak that began with Croz in 2014, his fifth solo record since the end of a 20-year hiatus since recording.
The 80-year-old star calls on Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz as he tackles both covers and originals, including Joni Mitchell’s song that gives the album its name.
Rodriguez For A Night, written by Fagen, an archetypal jazz rock odyssey, wouldn’t seem out of place on one of Steely Dan’s early records. The debut albums 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 a producer and gives For Free a brilliant shine that complements the tight and varied writing. He also wrote the last track on the album, I Won’t Stay for Long, a desolate ballad inspired by Marcel Camus’ film Black Orpheus in 1959.
EMMA-JEAN THACKRAY – YELLOW
EMMA-Jean Thackray approached her debut album trying to simulate a “psychedelic life changing experience” where for an hour viewers “see behind the curtain a hidden dimension” in which we are one.
Big ambitions, but if anyone can achieve them, it would be Thackray – a singer, radio host, DJ and record company boss.
Like a Yorkshire-born Sun Ra or Pharoah Sanders, his music combines spiritual elements with psychedelia and contemporary sounds, in this case raw breakbeat and house.
Host of DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM, Thackray is part of a growing movement of mainstream jazz revivalists (see Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia).
His love for dystopian sci-fi shines through in tracks like Say Something, the psychedelic house radiator, but it’s not just jazz for geeks.
The shared human experience is the bond that unites Yellow, an exemplary first album of a nascent talent.