Where she explored Río with a knack for progressive jazz tones, Silvana Estrada strikes something more personable and intimate with Marchita. She thrives in a minimalist environment, giving her ample room to explore with her powerful timbre. Various instruments are present throughout the album’s runtime, from the ever-present acoustic guitar to atmospheric, resonant drums.
Although, its instrumental presentation never surmounts Estrada’s vocal delivery. Instead, piano riffs tastefully dance around the songstress’ smooth performance on “La Corriente”, “Te Guardo” presents cinema in its string movements with the artist at its center, and opener “Mas O Menos Antes” strips everything back to just light, percussive guitar for a tender performance.
Marchita nixes grandiosity for simplicity. The result is an emotionally stirring new work from the celebrated Veracruz songwriter, and her best work to date.
Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
If the name alone didn’t give it away, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is one of Big Thief‘s most ambitious efforts. That’s saying a lot for the Brooklyn trio, who have dished top-shelf, expectation-melting folk-rock since their formation several years ago. Impressively, in 20 songs, Big Thief never feel like errant wanderers despite their incredibly broad subject matter and runtime. It knowingly lacks the precision of past releases, retaining the eerie grit and odd beauty that is Big Thief along the way.
Their offbeat jubilee is felt everywhere, from the crunchy unconventional percussion of “Time Escaping” and bouncing jaw harp of “Spud Infinity” in its opening minutes to the dirty, digital soundscapes of “Blurred View” transitioning immediately into a down-home folk jamboree with “Red Moon” later on. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is, by design, the biggest Big Thief that Big Thief have ever been. That’s not a bad thing.
The Sorrow Songs (Folk Songs of Black British Experience)
The Sorrow Songs opens in a public square. A rustic squeezebox melody paints the background for an uncomfortable scene expressed through the mouths of white British townsfolk: “Perhaps if there were less of them, and more of us….”
So are the unsettling truths explored at length in Cornish artist Angeline Morrison’s The Sorrow Songs, aptly subtitled Folk Songs of Black British Experience. Her musical delivery accentuates traditional British folk music, with warm vocal harmonies and a collection of strings throughout—from guitar, violin, and banjo, to the unmistakable glean of the autoharp. Their easy melodies and sticky choruses encourage retention of these stories while paying due respect to classic British song structure.
Morrison’s Sorrow Songs is an expert telling of the Black experience, woven between blunt and discomforting spoken word segments that lend further context to the beauty and integrity of the performances that they bookend. Even at its most musically joyous, Morrison and company are singing their sorrows into the light and dismantling folk music’s whitewashing along the way.
Beyond the Reservoir
Despite the complex realities that Julian Taylor shepherds into view on Beyond the Reservoir, he’s working just as hard to find that hopeful string—a shred of light in a dark situation. Lead single “Seeds” is an allegory for unmarked graves located at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in 2021, ultimately drawing reverence past the tragedy in its chorus: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
The album often feels like a sequel to his previous effort, The Ridge, sharing many of its overarching themes like heritage and reflection. Growing up in the 1980s as a Black, Mohawk, West Indian in predominantly white Ontario, Taylor has numerous ruminations to share regarding his upbringing and how it has shaped who he is today. For every heavy examination of historical and present-day racial injustice (“Stolen Land”), there’s a moving homage to what built him—like in “Wide Awake”, a sweet tribute to his parents. Taylor doesn’t shy away from raising a fist and making a striking point, but he just as often exemplifies why his life is worth living, too—and to smile while Black and Indigenous is in itself a brilliant form of protest against the institutions raised against him.
The New Faith
The New Faith is as multisided in its musical composition as in its human nuances. As an exploration of Black roots music, it excels as Jake Blount always has; since he first started perking ears with his adroit fiddle, he has made it a point to highlight the whitewashed history behind the traditional folk music that he often showcases. But here, it’s a deeper dig.
A queer, Black folk artist and scholar, Blount calls himself as an “unlikely devotee” to Christianity in the record’s liner notes. The New Faith is reverent in its religious emphasis but with an Afrofuturist lean. The story is told not just through song but from the pulpit. Blount delivers speeches during intermissions telling the tale of Black pioneers—people who have survived the environmental destruction of the world as we know it and are revisiting vintage roots songs through new eyes.
It’s deeply spiritual, musically rich, and not quite like anything that’s come before it. Blount expertly weaves elements of folk, gospel, blues, and more into a hopeful, unsettling, idiosyncratic package. Coming along for the ride is a captivating drama told through vignettes and song—and by connecting this post-apocalyptic future with our present, Blount presents at his most ingeniously human. As a concept album, The New Faith presents discomforting truths told through fable—and as a strictly musical experience, it sure does sound good.