Album reviews: new music from Violent Femmes, Hazen Sage, Loretta Lynn and Kendrick Lamar
Punk rock, folk, country and rap go under the spotlight this week
We Can Do Anything
Reunited after their public rift and legal squabbles over advertising rights, Violent Femmes’ founding member Brian Ritchie and lead vocalist/guitarist Gordon Gano are joined by Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione on the Wisconsin punk trio’s ninth album, We Can Do Anything. Sixteen years on from their last album, Freak Magnet, this high-spirited set certainly hides any potentially lingering animosity among the veteran punk-folkers, even though original drummer Victor DeLorenzo quickly departed after their 2013 reunion gigs claiming “disrespect, dishonesty, and greed”. Rehashing the songwriting formula of wonky silliness that drove listeners to either love or hate them more than 30 years ago, it’s fresh and wacky and full of (often schoolboy) humour, Ritchie’s bass driving Gano’s sneery and snarling vocals but unsurprisingly, there’s nothing close to equalling Femmes classics, Add it Up or Blister in the Sun. Colourful and curious, the trundling gypsy numbers and bar-room sea shanties often teeter on the precipice of novelty, but Holy Ghost and the jaunty Foothills prove that Gano and Ritchie haven’t lost their knack for a rollicking chorus.
As a man who lives in the back of his truck with his faithful canine companion Ziggy, it comes as no surprise that the debut album from nomadic Canadian songwriter Hazen Sage is blessed with a wanderer’s spirit. Home truly is where the heart is for Vancouver’s folk soul brother, and embracing the life on the open road certainly brings an expansive freedom to the “world gypsy rock” of Thrive. Cut from a similar cloth to that of Tom Petty and Aussie roots man John Butler, Sage sings the blues with a wondrous excitement for Mother Nature. Partially written holed up in a log cabin in northern British Columbia, from where Sage channelled an “amazing cosmic energy”, the 11 tracks of stoned and Stonesy rock were produced by blossoming indie knob twiddler Winston Hauschild and recorded in less than a week at the Vancouver producer’s rural island studio. Swinging effortlessly from the reggae-lilt of Wretched, to the driving beat of the hook-laden Puzzles, Sage’s husky vocals really smoulder on the slow-burning Tea for Two, and the Black Mountain-esque Dead N’ Gone.
It’s been 12 years since the queen of country music Loretta Lynn released her previous album, the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, and despite the persistent rumours of her knocking on heaven’s door, Full Circle sees the 83-year-old singer in rude health and fine voice. With a career now in its sixth decade, the Nashville alumni returns with a collection of new songs, covers and a few reworkings of her older tracks. Opening with a new rendition of Whispering Sea, the first song Lynn ever wrote way back in the late 1950s, Full Circle bristles with an unexpected youthful vibrancy, the simple acoustic melodies allowing Lynn’s unmistakable voice to shine on through. Co-produced by her daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash (the son of the Man in Black) Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven and the rousing Black Jack David sees Lynn at her most spirited. Sombre closer Lay Me Down, a duet with Willie Nelson contemplating mortality, is a fitting climax to Lynn’s latest, but surely not last album.
Following quickly on from his angry and hard-hitting To Pimp a Butterfly, voted by many as the best album of 2015, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar unexpectedly drops his fourth album untitled unmastered with surprisingly little fanfare. Apparently encouraged somewhat by the insistence of NBA superstar LeBron James, these eight new untitled tracks, named only by a date which seemingly signify when they were recorded, work as a companion piece to last year’s critically acclaimed album, but are far more than a collection of demos and B-sides. “I got a chamber of material from the album that I was in love [with], where sample clearances or something as simple as a deadline kept it off the album,” says the Grammy-winning emcee. On the opening track, Lamar continues along the spiritual path in his typically dark apocalyptic tone but where Pimp ... overflowed with ideas, almost to the point of congestion, untitled unmastered feels relaxed and nimble in comparison to its ambitiously dense predecessor, especially on the spaced funk groove of track No 8.