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Every Single Star
Rare is the Dori Freeman review that doesn’t mention her producer, Teddy Thompson. And, to be fair, whatever he’s doing or isn’t doing certainly isn’t hurting. But, frankly, the Americana-country that Freeman purveys is so pure, simple, infectious, and direct that the only way a producer could do her wrong is to get in the way. And no producer worth his salt would even dream of getting in the way of “I’ll Be Coming Home” and “Like I Do,” the motherhood songs of the year, hands down.
Not counting the two a cappella Jack Black tracks (one a Passover ditty) that bookend this semi-reverent tribute to the Maccabean miracle, no two cuts sound alike. Bluegrass and jazz spell the synth-pop and the dream pop, and that WASP’s WASP Loudon Wainwright III (of all people) discerns in the eight nights of oil a prefiguring of the multiplication of the loaves. Each cut sounds good, with the exception of Haim’s performance of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will.” It sounds great.
Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
The smoothest and brightest hook among these heartland folk-rock delights belongs to “Make It Look So Easy,” a husband-to-wife love song of impeccable emotional well-roundedness. The deepest wisdom belongs to “You Want What You Can’t Have” and “Maybe,” Beatitudes-echoing explorations of the importance of not always (and maybe not ever) allowing one’s reach to exceed one’s grasp. Most of the others toe the thin line between lighthearted and lightweight. Time-saving tip for vinyl purchasers: The weighty stuff is on Side 2.
Load the music of this Illinois combo into a time capsule not to be opened until everyone who could possibly know better has died, and it could easily pass not only for an authentic ’60s sample of what has come to be known as “baroque pop” but also for an example of why revivalists—which is one thing that these psychedelic Furs are—kept such music alive. They have the verbal idioms down too. And when they deign to romp and stomp, their pop gives way to rock.
Why does From Out of Nowhere (Columbia), the second 10-cut, 32-minute album credited to “Jeff Lynne’s ELO,” feel more like vintage Electric Light Orchestra than its 2015 predecessor, Alone in the Universe? One reason is its sound. As a producer, Lynne (who wrote every song, sings every vocal, and plays every instrument except shakers and tambourines) has reembraced the sonic density that, as much as their tenacious hooks, distinguished ELO’s greatest hits from everything else on the radio.
But, more importantly, it’s easy to imagine these songs as having been staples of the vinyl-era airwaves. Which one you’ll have the hardest time getting out of your head depends on whether you prefer Lynne the British Invasion melodist to Lynne the pedal-to-the-metal rock ’n’ roller. Fans of both, however, will find lots to like. And for those who think that Lynne has run out of new ways to wax catchy, there’s “All My Love.” —A.O.