Since Bruce Springsteen published his autobiography in 2016, he has been in a creative phase where he can keep up with any time in his 40+ years at the top.
There was a one-man Broadway show, first-time cinematic directing, and even a Lockdown-inspired twist as a radio DJ.
So far he’s held back two pocket aces, career companions of the E Street Band and his trademark passionate rock and roll.
Letter To You once again emphatically welcomes both of them, and the boss’s old colleagues are back on deck to deliver a series of stadium-sized performances that were recorded live in the studio in just five days.
Ghosts turns Springsteen’s lyrical nostalgia into a white-hot riot, while Rainmaker takes up the political and anthemic styles of his post-9/11 classic The Rising.
The most surprising and rewarding are three “lost” epics from his playbook from the early 1970s, which were dusted off, polished up and finally saved from the bootleg pile.
The best of them, the poetic, if I were the priest, the song that made him a star could have been if he’d released it for the first time.
Review by Rory Dollard
MAJOR LAZER – MUSIC IS THE WEAPON
After five years of waiting, Major Lazer are back with their highly anticipated album Music Is The Weapon.
It’s a return to reggae and dancehall inspired sounds for the electronic trio.
The dance floor fillers Sun Comes Up – starring Busy Signal, the singer of 2013 hit Watch Out For This (Bumaye) – and Tiny are loud, colorful and lively, the hallmark of Major Lazer’s previous successes.
Group members Diplo, Walshy Fire, and Ape Drums have invited both returning and new employees to mark their return.
Nicki Minaj and Mr Eazi make the energy bounce, dances Oh My Gawd, while the hearty singer Khalid slows the pace in Trigger.
But it’s the influences of reggaeton in the second half of the album, including tracks with Latin American artists Paloma Mami and J Balvin, that put the fire on Music Is The Weapon.
Whether it was worth waiting half a decade for it is controversial.
But for fans of Major Lazer’s international genre-shifting sound, the album is a weapon in the fight against a likely bleak winter.
Review by Emma Bowden
GORILLAZ – SONG MACHINE: SEASON 1 – STRANGE TIME
The latest offering from Gorillaz, the world’s most famous animated foursome, is unpredictable, incoherent, and sometimes quite chaotic, which is why it’s excellent.
Song Machine: Season 1 – Strange Timez combines a wide variety of genres, sounds and styles with an impressive selection of guest artists to produce an album that has something for everyone.
We get pulsating, reverberant beats on Pac-Man (ft. ScHoolboy Q), punchy, hectic rock drumming on Momentary Bliss (ft. Slowthai and Slaves) and even a melancholy power ballad in The Pink Phantom (ft. Sir Elton John ) and 6LACK).
Mastermind Damon Albarn’s distinctive croon comes through sporadically, but only to complement the scores of the most successful guest artists – from Robert Smith to Skepta – who each bring a different mood and personality to their track.
Unlike previous albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach, Song Machine doesn’t have a single theme or sound, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but sure to appeal to those who like a little bit of everything.
Review by Michael Bedigan
RUSSELL WATSON – Jan.
Russell Watson has been on quite a journey since his debut album The Voice was released in May 2001.
The English tenor rose from singing standards in backstreet clubs in the northwest to thousands at Wembley Arena.
The 53-year-old has overcome two brain tumors through extensive rehabilitation.
At 20, the second decade since his debut, Watson is celebrating his remarkable journey with a mix of crowdpleasers and personal cuts.
Well-worn pieces like Nessun Dorma, a slow motion version of Volare, and half-covers of themes from Gladiator and Enterprise will keep the listener updated.
For longtime fans, every song will mean something.
Senza Dorma, the aria from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, helped launch Watson’s career.
During the lockdown with Watson’s producers in his native New Zealand, a socially distant orchestra in Christchurch, and Watson himself in Wilmslow, the proceedings were organized via Skype.
The result is a sophisticated affair that serves as a winning lap rather than an innovation exercise.
Review by Alex Green
JOE BONAMASSA – ROYAL TEA
Four months after Dion’s excellent album Blues With Friends was released on his KTBA label, Joe Bonamassa celebrates his influences on Royal Tea.
This time around, the 1960s British blues albums are the inspiration he stumbled upon in his father’s vinyl collection at the age of 12, from Jeff Beck, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and Eric Clapton and Cream.
He flew to London in January just before the lockdown to record at Abbey Road Studios. The album cover proclaims “Made in England” and contains a teapot and two tea cups.
Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden co-writes several songs, with Cream lyricists Pete Brown, Jools Holland and Dave Stewart also contributing to the 10 original tracks.
The epic, seven and a half minute album opener When The Door Opens builds from brooding beginnings to a Led Zeppelin style stormer with pulverizing drums and a screaming guitar solo in front of an acoustic coda.
The title track adds swirling organ and female backing vocals to the first blues song, inspired by a Piers Morgan segment on Good Morning Britain about Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Single Why does it take so long to say goodbye? It’s a breakup ballad. Bonamassa warns: “If I go, I’ll go for good, no turning back, like you said I would”.
Lookout Man starts with a growling bass and menacing harmonica and begins with a radio-friendly chorus. High Class Girl is a classic R&B strut, while A Conversation With Alice returns across the pond, hinting at the South American sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers band.
Savannah shows Bonamassa on the mandolin and Reese Wynans on the organ and Wurlitzer and again shows the fresh view of the album on the source material.
Review by Matthew George