CD reviews: New from Mumford, and more
November 1, 2012
produced by Markus Dravs (Glass Note)If you liked “Sigh No More,” the enormously popular 2009 debut by British band Mumford & Sons, you should have no problem with “Babel.” Mumford & Sons’ second album has the same folk-rock sound, the songs marked by the same quiet-to-crashing propulsion, the earnestness of Marcus Mumford’s voice and words.If on the other hand you prefer to see a band capitalize on their popularity by showing a willingness to experiment and expand, “Babel” might disappoint. “Sigh No More,” for all its worthiness, bordered on formulaic. This confirms that maybe Mumford & Sons isn’t capable of more than that familiar formula.
produced by T-Bone Burnett (Verve)And then there’s Diana Krall, who, at 47 and after a few decades of doing more or less the same straightahead piano-and-vocal jazz, finds a sharp turn to take. On “Glad Rag Doll,” Krall allows producer T-Bone Burnett to guide her into bluesy Americana. The songs come mostly from the collection of obscure 78s Krall’s father collected; the inspiration comes from the South, the 1920s and ’30s, and Krall’s desire to do something dramatically different with her voice and piano.It’s a dramatic success. Surrounded by guitarist Marc Ribot (a frequent collaborator with Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello), drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch, Krall finds a musical corner that allows for stomping beats, rollicking New Orleans piano, winsome vocals, echoing guitars, straight-up singer-songwriter fare. It’s a whole new geography for Krall, and she didn’t seemed to need a map.
produced by Sollee (Tin Ear)Ben Sollee is no half-ass cellist; a few years ago, he played at the Wheeler as a member of the Sparrow Quartet, a stunning combo that included banjoist Bla Fleck and fiddler Casey Driessen. But under his own name, Sollee take the spotlight off the cello to make adventurous rock, focused on his voice and songs. “Half-Made Man,” which features My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel, and violinist Jeremy Kittel, formerly of the Turtle Island String Quartet, is at its best when it mixes vintage and modern, as on “The Healer,” which blends old-fashioned rock with contemporary edges, and “Slow Down,” which moves at a nice and easy country groove but gets some oomph from Broemel’s pedal steel sound. The “The Pursuit of Happiness” strongly recalls the roots rock of Dawes. Ben Sollee plays Nov. 16 at Belly Up Aspen.
produced by Matt Hales (Nonesuch)Born to a Greek father and Jamaican mother, raised in London, exposed to the American soul of Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott, and taught guitar in her teens, 23-year-old Lianne La Havas seems to have crossing over in her bones. “Is Your Love Big Enough?” her debut album, finds La Havas mixing ’70s-style soft pop with neo-soul, jazz with folk, grandeur with grounding. Her voice is certainly big enough, but for the most part she keeps her vocals on a human scale on these gentle songs of love, doubt and firstname.lastname@example.org