Andrew Paschal: It’s easy to get completely lost in the interplay between Skyzoo and Joell Ortiz’s verses, and the elegant and alluring string sample weaved throughout the track. Hip-hop has never been an easy genre for me because I’m not really a “lyrics person”, in the sense that my brain often seems to encode lyrics only as sound rather than words the first couple times through. As frustrating as this is, “A Couple Dollars” is a wonderful listen even when treated only in this capacity. Each element here is impeccably chosen and seems to have an almost loving relationship with the larger production. The track oozes charisma and magnetism. There’s much to be gained from interrogating Skyzoo and Ortiz’s lyrics, but the fact that you can also just sit back and let the whole thing wash over you to excellent effect makes this track successful indeed. [8/10]
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New Zealand folk artist Jackie Bristow released her fourth album, Shot of Gold, back on October 7th and garnered praise from Stuff, who said “her tunes have a dark, classic quality to them, set off by haunting melodies and thoughtful acoustic guitar chording. The songs are so perfectly formed that their titles sing themselves.” Bristow seems primed for success on the now global Americana scene with beautifully composed music and straight from the heart lyrics that should thrill fans of Holly Williams, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley. Having previously opened for the like of the Steve Miller Band, Bonnie Raitt, John Oates, John Waite, Marc Cohn and Rick Springfield, Bristow’s profile is sure to rise over the coming year as she tours extensively with Raitt. Here’s hoping we see her next September at AmericanaFest in Nashville as she’s sure to find scores of new fans there as well. Check out her amazing, atmospheric sound on this live take of album highlight “Whistle Blowin’”.
Last Friday, Grant-Lee Phillips released a digital-only deluxe edition of The Narrows, which we gave an eight and named a PopMatters Pick back in March when the record came out. The new edition includes four previously unreleased demos and to celebrate Phillips is releasing a new video for album highlight “Smoke and Sparks”, a track that we called the album’s bread and butter, an “introspective, memorable, slow-tempo ballad”. Indeed, it’s that and Phillips shows music shows a renewed confidence following his family’s move from the Los Angeles area to Nashville. “Smoke and Sparks” is a stunner, a truly gorgeous, spare song with a beautiful video that suits the music to a tee.
San Diego’s Rafter, otherwise known as Rafter Roberts, concocts little, brilliant nuggets of off-kilter pop with an experimental spirit. No two songs on Rafter’s new album XYZ sound alike and ideas aren’t repeated as the album exhibits a real flash of originality blending Beatles, XTC and Queen influences with electro pop and really inventive rhythms and texture. Tossing a bit of R&B into the mix as well, XYZ is a super fun album that should be a true delight to all pop fans who appreciate out-of-the box thinking.
There’s a well-worn adage which states that great art can be born from pain. That’s certainly the case with Solas, the latest from the Answer. Coming off a 2015 tour, the band returned to Northern Ireland to face dire circumstances. The members faced dire emotional and financial circumstances that drove the collective to the precipice, wondering if there would ever be new Answer music again. Eventually, the collective returned to what it had done for the previous 15 years, making music. Determined to come back with a stronger effort than ever before the quartet set about making Solas. Taking its name from the Gaelic word for light, the LP shows a markedly improved and mature band examining both the light and the darkness that light has to offer.
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